Film note: Will Smith cashes in with unimpressive “Hancock”


Will Smith has rocked the box office since his breakout performance in the summer action flick Independence Day in 1996. Well, 12 years later, Mr. Smith is back with another summer action flick opening two days prior to Independence Day, Hancock. The premise is intriguing: Smith plays a superhero who fights crime when he feels like it and isn’t always respectful to Los Angeles County—destroying streets, buildings, freeways, and cars over and over. In fact, he might not even be sober while fighting against evildoers. This seems like a great character, but director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights) requires a superheroic feat from his own audience by asking us to care about this ambitiously flawed film.

Hancock, a film directed by Peter Berg. Opens July 2 at multiple theaters. For details, see

Not ten seconds into the film, street thugs are shooting guns, cursing, and making mayhem on the freeway. Seeing the coverage on some TV sets in an electronics store a few feet away, Hancock is lying on a bus stop bench, presumably sleeping off another hangover—but he’s able to fly up in the sky and handle the situation. He flies to the thug-bearing car, picks it up, and throws it on top of the needle on the Capitol Records Building.

Moments later, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) is rescued by Hancock as Embrey’s car is about to be destroyed by an oncoming train. Hancock saves Embrey’s life, but other witnesses to the event are bothered by the fact that he destroyed other cars and property. Hancock is obviously not your typical superhero, but how exactly are we supposed to sympathize with Smith’s character? Neither the thugs nor the bystanders at the train collision seem to like him. Why has he stayed so long in Los Angeles and not flown off to a different city to refurbish his image? It’s an interesting concept for the public to be against a superhero, but as it turns out, Embrey works in PR and wants to recreate Hancock’s image with the city.

Does Hancock have a chance to become a “good” superhero? Will we ever know why Hancock is able to have bullets bounce off of him, pick up cars, and toss whales hundreds of feet back into the ocean, yet can’t sleep off a hangover?

Smith does an admirable job of creating a character who is against the norm set by previous superhero films, but co-writers Vince Gilligan (who wrote some of the best X-Files episodes) and Vy Vincent Nago are at fault here for trying to reinvent the story every 20 minutes and not providing any clear indications nor answers of what Hancock’s true intentions are.

Berg has a knack for explosive action sequences and makes the most of the CGI special effects, but clearly has pacing issues: he struggles to help the viewer identify with Hancock and supporting characters such as Embrey’s wife, Mary—played by Charlize Theron, who has a significant role in the film, but you wouldn’t know it from the trailer. A lone bank robber is the only “real” villain in a flimsy and somewhat laughable storyline. There are a few twists in the narrative that are either obvious from the first moment or so incredibly incidental to the story that they don’t even seem to matter. All that seems to matter is that Smith will receive yet another big paycheck.

Jim Brunzell III ( writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk.