Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hancock's Hour and a Half

We went to see Hancock at the cinema tonight. And, I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised. I was expecting dumb-arsed dialogue and a silly plot about a superhero on the skids. What I got was a nicely-scripted, tightly-directed rollercoaster of fun, effects and social commentary. Yes, we did get the big dollop of fluffy pathos at the end but it was never over-sentimental. There was a strong moral message that ran through the movie and Will Smith did it justice. He gives a much better than in I am Legend (which in itself was never a patch on Charlton 'prise the gun from my cold, dead fingers' Heston's Omega Man version).

Smith was very watchable as the mysterious John Hancock, a misanthropic drunken layabout whose just happens to have superpowers. He can fly, he can lift very heavy weights. He is impervious to harm and, apparently, immortal. Unfortunately, however, his careless, clumsy (and expensive) good deeds may save lives but they also decimate big chunks of LA. The police are after him. The DA is after him. And the public are fed up with his antics. Then into his life comes PR wannabe Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) - and his gorgeous wife Mary (Charlize Theron) - who decides that he can turn Hancock's life around and make him the superhero he probably should be. It's just a matter of changing people's perceptions. And changing Hancock's view of himself.

The first half of the film was so much better than the second, the plot being a clever twist on the standard 'man in a cape' type superhero scenario and all the better for it. Here was a smart, character-driven film. But about halfway through, just as we've got the set up and understand the characters, they drop in a ridiculous and frankly unnecessary back story. Why? The mystery of Hancock's origin was great! Certainly, it was so much better than the explanation we're finally given. It's disappointing, but I can understand why it happened. Hollywood loves to insult its audiences' intelligences by assuming that we're all thick as pig poop. We're not. Honestly! We can cope with complex storylines! That's why we loved The Matrix and hated its crummy populist sequels. It also explains why Hancock languished in Production Hell for over a decade.

But I am glad that it finally emerged. It's a great superhero movie for exactly the same reasons that Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Daredevil weren't.

Hancock is a brave movie as it has no real precedent. There's no existing fan base to draw on. There's no comic book from which it sprang with one mighty bound. The hero is damaged and dysfunctional but in a very different way to your Peter Parkers, Tony Starks and Bruce Waynes. And Hancock is a smart movie. In fact, 2008 looks like being the year of the smart action movie. Iron Man was excellent and Hellboy II: The Golden Army looks great too (I'm seeing it at a press screening next week so I'll let you know if it's as good as I think it will be). We've had a pretty good fourth outing for Indy and soon we'll be seeing The Mummy 3, The Dark Knight and ... oh ...

The Incredible Hulk.

I'm finding it hard to get excited about that one, I'll admit. If the trailers are what the studios put out to generate interest, I'm hugely disappointed. It looks dire. But we'll see.

Meanwhile, go and see Hancock. Not as bitingly satirical as I'd have liked it to be ... but it is a bit of good old-fashioned fun - the scene in the kitchen where Hancock is trying to get a tight-lipped Mary to discuss a particular subject is hilarious. The special effects are great and not too top-heavy that they smother the dialogue and characterisation. And all of the performances are pretty good. It's also not a long film. At 1 hour 32 mins, it seemed to fly by as quickly as Hancock himself does.

Just one criticism ... as is often the case, Hollywood assumes that everyone in the world shares its culture and history. We don't. When a film references American TV personalities, TV shows, baseball, basketball and football stars, we often really don't have any idea who or what you're talking about. Just as all of you Americans will probably not know who The Chuckle Brothers, Jonny Wilkinson, Andrew Flintoff, Dara O'Briain, Frank Lampard or Sue Lawley are. Or, indeed, what a Ruby Murray is.

I mention this as the film is partly-based upon the assumption that everyone knows that 'John Hancock' is a common Americanism for a signature. It all dates back to the American Declaration of Independence upon which the aforementioned Mr Hancock - Governor of Massachussets - left his large and much-flourished signature. Now, I knew this fact. Judging by the reaction of most of the audience, they didn't. It's just a little niggle, but worth mentioning. Whoever you are and whatever country you live and work in ... if you're going to make a film for international release, think twice before popping in a parochial reference. I have some personal experience of this in that my new book is currently being considered for the overseas market. Consequently, I am re-writing parts of it so that people outside the UK won't be sat around scratching their heads and saying 'Who was Lena Zavaroni?' or 'What on Earth is Blue Peter?' *

So Hollywood - think about your wider audience. Sometimes we'll get the reference. But a lot of the time, we don't. And that just creates frustration.

*Lena Zavaroni was a Scottish child star and singer from the 1970s/80s whose life was tragically cut short by depression and anorexia. And Blue Peter is a popular children's TV magazine-type show that is a staggering 50 years old this October.

9 comments:

The Factory said...

Who played Sid James ? Or Bill Kerr for that matter.

Stevyn Colgan said...

My point exactly. Who else but a Brit (albeit a displaced one in your case) would get my 'Hancock's Half-Hour' reference?

willow said...

The Chuckle Brothers? Really? You are right...I've never heard of any of them.

This isn't the kind of movie I would generally like, but really nice review! You've made me want to see it.

Stevyn Colgan said...

I have to say that it is head and shoulders above the average action movie. It explores some very powerful issues such as isolation, being different from others, prejudice ... but it's still a fun action flick with plenty to laugh at. Charlize Theron in particular is superb. You can cut the sexual tension with a knife. Yes, the film could have been even better ... but it could have been a damned sight worse.

And the Chuckle Brothers are a very popular brace of slapstick children's enertainers who have their own TV show on BBC1 called 'Chucklevision'. The others I mentioned are well-known football (soccer), cricket and Rugby players and TV presenters. And a Ruby Murray is a curry - the nation's favourite takeaway food!

Matt said...

I read last week that the original ending to this movie didn't go down well with test audiences ( who makes up these test crowds anyway? like all humanity thinks the same!)

Anyway as I recall that's why the suits decided to change things around, which I guess is why it appears disjointed

Looking fwd to seeing this though- thanks for the review. Will Smith makes some very good choices - I liked Pursuit of Happyness - even it if it should have been called 'Pursuit of Money'

Matt

Stevyn Colgan said...

Enjoy it Matt. The film has taken some bad criticism (some of it deseredly) but it is a brave and very different kind of action film. I reckon it will be viewed more kindly as time goes on.

Minx said...

I was wondering about this one. The very bankable Mr Smith has been in some dire excuses for entertainment but I may give this one a whirl.

Me said...

Dire or otherwise in the shallow puddle in which I sit - a few hours of escapism looking at a very scrummy specimen is fine by me in eye candy desiring world!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Minx - Not everyone's cup of tea but it worked for me. But then again, I am shallow and easily pleased.

Me ... whatever floats your boat!