Hancock (2008)

Most superheroes have a certain amount of grace and control, whether they're leaping from tall buildings or stopping speeding bullets or spinning webs. Hancock is more anti-hero than superhero, and he's more of the smashy-smashy type, not exactly light on his feet, and generally doing more harm than good. This is partly because he's almost always drunk, and partly because he's almost always angry. He's a human-sized despicable Hulk who generally leaves everyone wishing he'd go do his superhero thing somewhere else.

Everyone except Ray Embrey, a do-gooder PR guy whom Hancock (Will Smith) rescues from a speeding locomotive. It's a particularly destructive rescue effort, but Ray (Jason Bateman) is grateful nonetheless, and takes his hard-living savior home for spaghetti and meatballs with the family. Ray's kid Aaron (Jae Head) thinks Hancock is pretty cool; Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) disagrees, and gives the stinky hero the dirty eyeball and a wide berth. Ray decides to put his PR skills to use giving Hancock an image makeover -- his efforts to turn the angry, disheveled crimefighter into a truly super guy gives *Hancock* a goofy, sharply comical and edgy originality that sets it apart from most movies about brooding, tormented superheroes.

Screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan are a little vague about the details of just what sort of super-being Hancock is exactly, but they're to be commended for giving Hancock a compellingly poignant backstory, and one with unexpected depth (turns out there's a reason his name is John Hancock). Hancock, though far from perfect, and not exactly human, is vulnerable to certain forms of emotional kryptonite, and all-too-human frailties. Hancock's weary and mad, with a supersized chip on his shoulder, but he's got a curious penchant for doing the right thing in spite of himself. He also does the right thing very badly, and often while doing very bad things to bad people, so it doesn't hurt that he's got Will Smith's bulletproof charm, even if Smith does his best to hide his light under a layer of grime and stubble.

Director Peter Berg (*The Rundown*, *Friday Night Lights*) has a taste for the dark, violent, and twisted in his comedies, and *Hancock* is no exception. (Parents are duly cautioned that this is a movie in which the gastrointestinal epithet that really ticks off Hancock is frequently uttered by children.) The director, and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler, go for a lot of extreme close-ups in *Hancock*, which gives the movie intensity and intimacy to go along with the big action and yuks. About halfway in, the movie takes an unexpected and surprising turn, with a plot twist that marks a change in tone and mood, and adds a layer of complexity to what had been, for the most part, a genuinely weird (and genuinely satisfying) superhero comedy.

*Hancock* has an adequate amount of adequately staged action sequences, but it doesn't turn into a big, loud, stupid spectacle at the end -- the ending is plenty chaotic, but it's also strangely intimate. Some things that can rarely be said about action movies these days can be said about *Hancock* -- the movie is consistently interesting and satisfying, but it's a little rushed, a little clipped, and it really could have been a little longer.