Sunday, 16 November 2008

DVD Preview: Hancock

Imagine you’re a superhero. You can go anywhere, do anything. You can fly, you have super strength, you can control the weather. Cool. But you’re alone. You have no idea who you really are, where you came from and, worst of all, you’re immortal. Everyone else ages and dies but you stay exactly the same forever. Not so cool. What if you find yourself living in LA at the beginning of the twenty-first century, righting wrongs and beating up the bad guys? And what if the people of LA (and the world) don’t appreciate your efforts because you end up causing chaos and carnage wherever you go? You’d probably turn to drink…

This is the premise of Hancock, a neat twist on the indestructible superhero genre which has, let’s face it, swamped our cinema screens in the last few years. John Hancock (Will Smith) is the eponymous hero; he saves the world in sloppy sweat-shirts and shorts, generally swigging from a bottle of whiskey, forgetting to shave and swearing at the people whose lives he’s saving. Forget the angst of Batman and the growing pains of Spider-Man, Hancock is probably closer to the truth of what it would be like to be the last and only super-powered person on the planet. Hancock is on a downward spiral and it’s only when he inadvertently saves the life of struggling PR guru Ray Embrey (the superb Jason Bateman from TV’s Arrested Development) who persuades him that its about time he started rehabilitating himself in the eyes of the public that he’s able to start to face himself and come to terms with who he is and what he can do. On Ray’s advice – and extremely reluctantly – Hancock hands himself in to the law to answer for the trail of destruction he’s left in his wake and he finds himself in prison. Hancock and Ray decide to play the long game as the crime rate in LA soars in his absence, until the right crisis comes along and the city realises that maybe it needs its hero more than it thought. As Hancock becomes closer to Ray’s family it seems that Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) may have her own very special reasons for being uncomfortable around the rehabilitating superhero.

Hancock is a great little film and really just a whisker away from being a terrific one. It’s an odd beast and it wouldn’t be too far from the truth to say it’s a bit of a paranoid one. Despite his potty mouth (Will Smith cussing and swigging booze takes some getting used to) and his dishevelled appearance, it’s hard not to like Hancock. He’s dismissive of everyone around him, despite the fact he spends his life saving their lives (probably because he’s literally got nothing better to do with his time) and his wariness around other people, used to living his life in splendid isolation, is quite touching. For its first hour Hancock just crackles along; the set FX sequences are as impressive as we’ve come to expect in these CG-heavy days, and Smith sparks wonderfully off the excitable Bateman. Hancock himself is smart-mouthed and irreverent, resistant to all Ray’s efforts to change him until slowly, ever so slowly, he starts to take his advice on board to the extent he even finds himself poured into a tight-fitting leather superhero costume as the LA police call him out of incarceration to foil a spectacularly-vicious bank robbery (masterminded by, of all people, pint-sized UK actor Eddie Marsan, currently on screen in the UK in Little Dorrit).

But it’s only at around the sixty-minute mark that Hancock does a bit of a narrative U-turn and starts to lose what made it so different, so special. I won’t divulge the ‘twist’ here (you may have already heard it and if you haven’t it’s not exactly difficult to work out what it is) but when it’s out in the opening the film suddenly loses its wit and its smarts and its self-deprecation and drifts inevitably down the run-of-the-mill superhero movie road with two super-powered beings beating seven bells out of one another as the citizens of LA run screaming and cars fly around the place.

Suddenly Hancock has become an entirely different film – and sadly a less compelling one. There are a few nice moral questions posed once Hancock discovers he’s not the last of his kind – it turns out that close proximity to another super-powered immortal robs each of their special powers (no wonder they died out!) – and a shoehorned-in battle against some escaped convicts in a hospital isn’t quite the denouement we might have been expecting (or deserving) in a film which appeared to have a bigger heart than this.

Despite its shortcomings and its disappointingly-mundane final act, Hancock is never less than an entertaining movie, one of the more thoughtful blockbusters in a summer packed with more traditional action fare.

The DVD: Available in three formats. The single disc edition boasts the film itself and its ‘unrated’ version – which amounts to a couple of deleted sequences edited back into the movie (including one slightly-bizarre romantic encounter for Hancock at the beginning of the movie) and the second disc of the 2-disc version contains an hour or so of interesting, if not hugely revealing behind-the-scenes stuff which has a whiff of the Electronic Press Kit about it. However, some of pre-visualisation compare-and-contrast stuff is fascinating and the short features on visual FX and set design are worth a look. There’s also a Blu-Ray version but Stuff’s not bought into all that yet.

Hancock is released on DVD in all formats on December 1st in the UK. Review copy supplied by Greenroom Digital.

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