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Hancock (2008)
Rated PG13

Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Jason Bateman

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

Superhero movies, as of late, have become rather predictable. The first movie gives us an origin story, then the sequel gives the hero the chance to really get a grip on his or her powers and face his ultimate nemesis, and then the third movie -- if it gets made -- is a big let down that tries to be all things to all people. Hancock is a different kind of superhero, so the movie poster tells us. And Hancock, the movie, is definitely a different type of of superhero film. We don't get an origin story, the hero goes out of his way to be unlikable, and the change in formula almost works. Almost.

John Hancock (Will Smith) is an alcoholic superhero. In the opening scene, a small boy wakes him from a drunken stupor to get him to chase some bad guys. When he does manage to shake off the cobwebs long enough to take action, he dispatches the criminals by impaling their car on the tower of the Capitol Records building in downtown Los Angeles. News reports of the event conclude that Hancock's escapade will cost the city about $9 million. Hancock should be L. A.'s favorite citizen, but he's largely despised.

When Hancock saves Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from an oncoming train, he does so in a fashion that highlights everything he does wrong compared to the public's idea of how a superhero should act. Ray, who works in public relations, dreams up a campaign to re-introduce Hancock to the public as a hero rather than a public nuisance. Both Hancock and Ray's wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), think it's a bad idea.

Hancock is a welcome respite from the typical superhero formula. The foul-mouthed protagonist shares the formulaic "tortured soul" syndrome of other heroes, but he handles it in a much different fashion. He's a cynical Superman in a way. Will Smith seems to have a good time with the character and it's Smith's likeable persona that keeps the movie from being too abrasive. It's supposed to be funny but, if any another actor was in the title role, it could have come off as mean-spirited.

The only downfall to the whole thing is a plot twist -- which I won't reveal -- that takes the movie from its exploration of a superhero's daily struggle to stay motivated and turns it into a rather unfocused tale of duality. Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) has made a good superhero movie that could have been a lot better with a stronger final act.

If you're tired of the typical comic book movie, check out Hancock.

Trivia: Mary can be seen wearing a Macalester College T-shirt when she is getting ready for bed. The director, Peter Berg, graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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