Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Hancock: The reluctant superhero movie which got mistaken for a movie about a reluctant superhero
This summer, with everyone busy raving about Dark Knight, not many realized that there was another superhero movie with comparable depth, originality and poignance in theatres at the same time. That movie was Hancock, and it made its millions by confusing viewers into believing that they were going to see a bona-fide summer action movie, with Will Smith doing his charm thing. What they got was a strange amalgam of big-budget blockbuster and low-budget character study, mixing scenes of crude humour and hard-won redemption, without bothering to make it look seamless. Hancock was, to say the least, an unsettling experience.
The first thing that stands out is the genuine hurt in Smith’s eyes, a change from his normal confident twinkle, and an indication that he may have approached this a lot more seriously than is evident. In the trailer, the scene where the PR agent calls a press conference and gives Hancock cards to read out is cleverly cut and presented as an emphatic, heartfelt moment; in the movie we notice the flat monotone in which the lines are delivered, and realise that 'You deserve better from me, I will do better" is a con, he’s past caring. He is taken to jail for destruction of property, and opts to stay in, even though he could break out anytime he wants. Finally the police call him for help, and he gets a new look, a new attitude, and a new suit. But just when redemption seems at hand and the audience settles down for some good-old-multi-million-dollar-digitally-enhanced-fun, the movie turns again.
The central twist in the tale is a masterful setting up and subsequent defying of audience expectations. We see the tension between Smith and Theron build in a series of impossibly close-shot, ridiculously tense shots, shading what would normally have been very normal scenes. Just when you think the filmmaker is going to hand the very sexy Charlize Theron the job of romantic foil to the uncharacteristically (and deliberately) uncharismatic Smith, he introduces a twist rife with apparent comic potential, and uses it instead for tragic effect. What follow are scenes of unexpected violence, which again deny the audience the simple pleasures (if they still exist beyond the realm of stupefying cliché) of a Hollywood action movie and bring the story to a jarring end. I know this may not be the best way to persuade people to see this movie. I can only say that this movie has been lingering in my mind (this despite my being blown away by Dark Knight that same evening) and still sits there today, obstinate and refusing to submit to audience expectations without a fight.