Hancock (Peter Berg, 2008)
As a political allegory, Peter Berg's Hancock is utterly shameless. Hancock (Will Smith, who is still charming despite his outward asshole composure), the obnoxious, highly destructive yet undeniably effective superhero as symbol for the vehemently unwanted yet arguably noble United States of America is a tad too dubious; and when Ray (Jason Bateman), that kind-hearted publicist who takes Hancock in, scolds everyone for criticizing Hancock for the millions of dollars worth of destruction Hancock's rescuing methods cost when he saved a life of a human being, I can't help but cringe at the political implications of that seemingly innocent speech: that it's fine to blow up a country, as long as we get the job done. Of course, interpretations are a matter of perception. For a red-blooded Republican, Hancock may prove to be that ultra-popular film that might evoke reason behind the madness in Iraq but for me and the millions of munchers of pop cultural extravaganzas, it's just another summer flick: entertaining, loud, partly well-thought of, mostly dumb, but essentially trite and forgettable.
Probably the best thing about Hancock is that it is set in an America that thinks, feels, and reacts like the America I know of. Hancock's Los Angeles is composed of citizens that are fed up, annoyed, and unimpressed of shallow heroics. Unlike in recent comic book flicks like Jon Favreau's fairly enjoyable Iron Man and Louis Leterrier's hyperactive and noisy The Incredible Hulk where cars, streets, buildings and almost anything are exploded for spectacle's sake and despite the blown up structures and rising death tolls, superheroes are treated like celebrities because of the simple fact that that is just how the world works, Berg's cityscape has a price tag attached and the superhero involved has to deal with it like the rest of us, mortals. Each luxury vehicle, each train engine, each street lamp that gets destroyed notwithstanding whatever greater good the destruction was meant for cost Los Angeles a lot of money, which is then converted into public outrage and lawsuits against the superhero.
Initially, I thought Berg sought to revolve the film around that idea: a man gifted with the ability to do without the laws of physics but is under attack by real life social and political physics. For at least the first half of the movie, Berg convinces me that he might have something very good brewing with his perpetually mad, gruff, and alcoholic superhero who requires the help of an image consultant to straighten out his advocacy, or the lack of it.
Towards the end of the film however, Berg decides to expand the movie's mythology and involves in his superhero a back story that includes angels, immortality, and a fated yet ill-fated romance with a white woman, which isn't exactly bad but could've been handled with a little bit more restraint with the romance angle, and probably more of the comedy that Berg is very competent with (don't believe me? watch The Rundown (2003)). Right after that hilarious kitchen scene where a deliriously surprised (and mad) Hancock bashes each and every kitchen utensil against the indestructible body of Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron), the film devolved into something that is annoyingly trying so hard to be emotionally resonant that it turns into something nearly incoherent and downright unfunny.
Still, one can't deny that Hancock trumps both Favreau and Leterrier's comic book movies by its sheer audacity and ambition. While it may not have been that genre-bending work that this oversaturated sub-genre of cinematic superhumans and maniacal villains needs very badly, it is at least a step to that direction. At least with this failed attempt, we've become aware that there are still bigwigs in Hollywood who are capable of thinking outside the box and not adapt every silly comic strip into a full-length feature.