Sunday, March 08, 2009

BuboBlog Reviews 'Watchmen' 'Hancock'

I can't provide a "Watchman" review, since we weren't able to see it this weekend. However, we did watch the "Hancock" DVD — so if you're looking for a review of a superhero movie that came out last year, you've come to the right place!

"Hancock" got a fairly bad reception (the Rotten Tomato rating was 39 percent), so I was hesitant to see it. But the New Yorker called it "by far the most enjoyable big movie of the summer."

Having now seen the film, I would say the New Yorker was definitely overselling it. It wasn't bad, though. In fact, what made the movie frustrating was how good it was — before veering off on an ill-conceived tangent.

The first hour of "Hancock" is almost pitch-perfect. Will Smith, who plays a drunk, foul-mouthed superhero, manages to make him lovable. Jason Bateman does a fine job as a public-relations man who wants to fix Hancock's image. Charlize Theron, who plays Bateman's wife, is great as well.

Then comes the "second-act reveal," which is a disaster. It turns out (spoiler warning) that Charlize Theron is also a super-hero and that she and Will Smith are the last two of their kind — they're gods or angels or whatever — and they're meant to be together. But they lose their powers if they spend too much time in each other's presence. After Hancock and Theron's character both get shot, Hancock has to leave town in order to keep them from becoming mortal and dying.

The twist totally doesn't work, and it's a wonder that it wasn't fixed by a script doctor (since at least one worked on the screenplay). I can name at least three reasons why it was a mistake:

1. The movie spends a good portion of the first half getting you emotionally invested in Jason Bateman's marriage. You are rooting for him and his wife to stay together. So you're not going to be moved by Hancock's ancient love affair with Theron's character Mary. It just leaves you cold and slightly creeped out.

2. It clutters up the premise. Here you have an interesting idea: What if a superhero were a drunk asshole? There's a lot you can do with that concept, and the best parts of the film are spent mining its potential. So then when you have all the stuff about him being one of the last two gods, etc., it muddles the story. It takes what was most fun about "Hancock" and complicates it with elements that don't reinforce the main premise.

3. Every superhero movie needs a way to make the protagonist vulnerable. That way, when he has a final showdown with the villain, the stakes are high. This movie accomplishes that by having Hancock lose his powers after spending too much time with Mary — just as a trio of escaped convicts decides to take their revenge on him. But the actual mechanism of his losing his powers totally overshadows the showdown itself, which gets short shrift. The villains aren't given much personality or screen time, and you have no idea what motivates them (aside from revenge) or why you should care.

So if you watch "Hancock," enjoy the first hour. And maybe then use it as a case study on how not to do the second half of a movie.

BuboBlog Rating: 2.5 asterisks (out of four).