The big Will Smith vehicle for the summer, Hancock didn’t exactly astonish critics but it certainly raked in the dough, no doubt due to the draw power of Smith alone. With a decidedly much more dramatic and real world approach to the superhero genre, Hancock gave a clear glimpse into what the world would be like should a superhero really exist—which isn’t something everyone fell in love with. Despite a $227 million intake, the film will no doubt go down as a missed-opportunity film that split its attention in too many different directions.
Academy Award® nominee Will Smith (Best Actor, The Pursuit of Happyness, 2006) stars in this action-packed comedy as Hancock, a sarcastic, hard-living and misunderstood superhero who has fallen out of favor with the public. When Hancock grudgingly agrees to an extreme makeover from idealistic publicist Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman, Juno), his life and reputation rise from the ashes and all seems right again–until he meets a woman with similar powers to his and the key to his secret past.
I purposely omitted the final portion of the above description, as printed on the back of the Blu-ray casing (which the cover itself spoils a major portion of the film). I’m not entirely sure why Sony opted to completely drop the bomb about the female character in the film as that was truly the only remaining “surprise” that it had going for it. The entire third act of the film hinges upon this plot surprise and Sony has gone and ruined it both visually and textually for those coming into the film fresh. Nice going guys.
Complaints about the cover art aside, Hancock itself is a pretty unique film. Although we know what it’s about from the trailers (in fact, the trailers paint a pretty clear picture of what it’s about in more ways than one—although it’s certainly shown to be much more humorous than it actually was), but the way it merges the fantasy with the real world is quite well done. Never once did I not believe what Hancock was doing wasn’t actually possible, so for that element alone the form scores a dozen points with me. That element aside, however, the film stumbles in a few too many places to be really considered at the top of its game. By the end of it, it becomes so convoluted and wrapped up in the supernatural world of Hancock’s origins that it begins to feel completely tedious.
What dragged the film down the most was its insistence on being a dramatic film more than a humorous action/adventure piece. This would normally be fine if it didn’t keep interjecting action-packed sequences randomly, from the bank heist to the big superpowered show down. Both of those sequences, don’t get me wrong, were quite a sight to behold, but it created such an uneven landscape in the film that I felt unsure of what to expect next. While that can be a good thing, when it comes to this film not knowing whether to gear up for more fist slamming or more uber-dramatic scenes, it becomes a bit too much of a sudden change that it hurts the overall impact of whichever sequence ends up popping up.
By far the most entertaining portion of the film is the second act with Hancock reforming in prison and the ensuing bank heist for which he’s released to stop. This is really the only time we get to see the sober Hancock acting like a hero in the film, as the remaining action bits are mixed into various fights with the female version of he and their convoluted past. It’s such an incredibly strange back story for the two, which while it makes some sense, it completely lost me into how their being close to each other made them powerless. That I get, but if they stayed together for so many years, shouldn’t their mortality have made them age? When does that come in? The montage at the end of the film with Hancock getting the crap beat out of him and the woman being put through similar kinds of pain made me think they shared some kind of bodily connection that just made for some absolutely confusing cinema.
I had no real feelings toward the film going into it and I felt the same way after watching it. I knew it had gotten some mediocre critical reviews, but it still is a Will Smith vehicle so I knew it had to have some entertainment with it. I wasn’t wrong about that, but it was a lot darker and dramatic than the trailers would have led you to believe and it was definitely not the “feel good” July 4th type of film that Smith usually puts out. The entire first act of the film is spent making Hancock the most unlikeable man imaginable, that you genuinely get tired of his jerk attitude and it takes awhile to come around to caring about his reform. It was interesting how far the film took that aspect of the character and how it was able to pull him around with the aid of Jason Bateman’s character.
Surprisingly the differences between the theatrical and unrated cuts are rather major. One scene in particular may…erm, shock you a bit in the opening minutes of the film that involve Hancock taking a woman back to his trailers and…well, I’ll leave it go there. This sequence was apparently in a few of the screenings of the film and was removed and…well, I can’t really blame them. It’s not exactly something you’d expect from a PG-13 movie and while it’s a bit humorous at first, it quickly turns into a rather depressing scene. For that reason alone it’s good since it helps you feel for the Hancock character early on in the film, but it’s so…explicit, even if it’s shot from a distance that I’m surprised they actually filmed it. In fact this unrated version very well could be near R in terms of the language that’s peppered throughout it as well as a few new sequences (not a great deal, however; there’s only a 10 minute difference between the two cuts). Fundamentally they’re the same, but the newly added footage doesn’t hurt the film—although I certainly wouldn’t let anyone who hasn’t had the bees and the birds talk watch the unrated cut…it’ll just create an uncomfortable air in the room.
Overall Hancock is a terribly uneven film that I felt could have been executed a bit better if it had decided if it wanted to be a drama or a comedy/action film. Not to say it couldn’t have been both, it just set itself to be either one or the other and instead tried to accomplish both and the end result just wasn’t satisfactory enough. It’s not a terrible film and nor is it worth skipping; it is, simply put, just a “meh” film. There is some genuinely interesting characters in the film, however, and the cast of Jason Bateman, Will Smith and Charlize Theron really is top notch. I just wish the origin story was a bit clearer and that we would have seen a cleaner vision for the film. In the end, it still comes Recommended as even though it’s about as bumpy as a road under construction, it’s still kind of fun to experience.
Sony is bringing out Hancock a few flavors, but the Blu-ray edition comes with both the theatrical and unrated cuts of the film. The aforementioned cover art and synopsis on the back completely ruin the majority of the film for the audience, so be prepared to know too much going into it. I guess Sony wanted to market the film a different way for its home video release, but one would have thought going the less-spoiler route would have been a better idea. On top of that the cover art in general is dumb as hell as it focuses on a short fight in the film itself that has no real purpose other than to be a showy beat-em’-up sequence. Inside the standard Elite Blu-ray case are the two discs (one of which is the digital copy, complete with an insert containing the code to redeem it) and the Blu-ray disc which mimics the cover art (sans Theron).
Video for Hancock comes in an AVC encoded 2.40:1 1080p transfer that manages to simultaneously astound and offend. While the majority of the film boasts a terrific level of detail, the saturated and subdued colors of Los Angeles never really pop off the screen in a way that makes you feel truly impressed with the picture. With the muted colors comes the occasional ugly Vaseline smeared sequences, notably during the discussions between Smith’s and Theron’s characters at the Embrey household at the beginning of the third act. The close ups look pretty good for Smith, but whenever it cuts to Theron, her face lacks detail and looks incredibly waxy. I’m not sure if it’s just the makeup she’s wearing or what, but there’s very little detail to glean off of this image when it comes to close ups. Distance shots look great, as do all of the special effects in the film, but other than that the film doesn’t really astound with its picture. It looks great for the most part, but isn’t anything that will truly have you pumping your fists over the format.
The audio, a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, is sadly the same way. For a superhero film, it is really quite an uneventful and uninspiring audio mix. The surrounds only pick up during the action sequences and even then their impact is minimal. You only truly hear some good surround usage during the stormy fight, with winds howling around the room and trucks being slammed into the ground. The rest of the film, as dialogue driven as it is, remains front channel focused. Only the random rap songs that pop in provide any real bass in the film apart from the action bits, so overall don’t expect to be bowled over by the video or audio on this one—it’s all pretty standard. It’s neither good nor bad and, like the film, is merely just “meh.” Alternate French TrueHD 5.1 and DD5.1 Spanish, Portuguese and Thai tracks area available, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Korean, Thai and Indonesian subtitles.
Moving onto the extras we first have an “On Set Visual Diary Picture-in-Picture” on the Blu-ray end which plays over both the rated or unrated versions of the film. It’s a nice piece to follow along with the film and offers up plenty of cool tidbits about the production of it, so if you’re feeling like a second viewing, flick this one on. It fills in for the lack of commentary track, at the very least.
The rest of the extras are all presented in high-definition and fall under the generic “making-of” category. Included are “Superhumans: The Making of Hancock” (12:52), “Seeing the Future” (15:12, eight total), which covers the pre-vis done on the film, “Building a Better Hero” (8:15) talks about the character, “Bumps and Bruises” (10:28) discusses the stunts, “Home Life” (10:48) talks more about the characters, “Suiting Up” (8:23) delves into the suits in the film (that we see oh-so-briefly) and finally “Mere Mortals: Behind the Scenes with ‘Dirty Pete'” (3:57), a quick look at the apparently crazy director for the film.
Overall the extras for the set aren’t bad and the films worth picking up on Blu-ray if only because it doesn’t cost much more than the DVD and you are still getting a decent picture and audio mix for the format, but it’s simply nothing to write home about. You may want to give it a Rental first, however, to see if this is the kind of film that you really want to add to your collection. For many I imagine it will be a strict one-time-viewing.
Hancock arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on November 25th.