Monday, December 29, 2008

Hancock: Delivers Too Much & Too Little

After being repulsed by rich, white guy, Bruce Wayne running around in a rubber suit in The Dark Knight, I was ready for a down and out black superhero in the latest Wil Smith video release, Hancock. I loved the last Wil Smith film I saw, I Am Legend. And, what? Shit blows up and the superdude doesn’t like cops or ridiculous uniforms? Sign me up.
Well, not quite.
Sure, Hancock has some funny bits – the armor piercing ejaculation was worth a guffaw and his drunken flight, bouncing a vanload of baddies off nearby buildings. I love that stupid shit. The whale toss? Classic.
There were even a couple of good stories in there – the hated superhero who needs a publicist to improve his image and the superhuman who’s lost his memory and now wanders alone and embittered imagining that he is the only of his kind. But that’s where the problem started. When you’ve only got an hour and a half to two hours – unless you’re making Batman films – you’ve got to be efficient and that means one story only. The result here is that neither story gets its due and none of the relationships are properly developed.
Charlize Theron spends the first half of the film throwing looks and/or jibes towards Wil Smith, setting us up over and over for something significant to happen. But then we have to wait until we’re over halfway into the film to find out what the deal is. By then we’re getting bored.
Boredom is especially a problem because the director, Peter Berg, has chosen to truncate the first story – the recuperation of Hancock’s self-image and public popularity – largely through a montage sequence, in which events are more or less repeated with slight variation. This prevents any drama or identification from developing. Then Hancock is redeemed in the eyes of the public – after years of being a much-hated public nuisance – with one daring rescue that takes up perhaps five minutes of screen time. Suddenly his anger issues are resolved and we move onto the next story between he and Charlize (never mind the total disappearance of the Jason Bateman subplot that drove the first half of the film).
Beyond these story issues, I have to ask, does anyone else out there think that it’s stupid for a superhero who is immortal, can fly, stop bullets, etc. to spend his time stopping dudes from robbing banks and liquor stores? Is that really the best use of their time? I dunno, how about that war in Iraq, or the Congo, or Afghanistan. Why not, you know, stop Israel from bombing the shit out of Gaza. And why not break the siege that is starving the population? How about those death squads killing trade unionists in Colombia and other places?
Instead, we’re led to believe that the biggest problem facing us is petty crime by (usually) black and brown people. That might make sense if you’re trying to sell homes in gated communities but its pathetic in a superhero story. I wouldn't pay to see this film in a movie theatre, I admit. But a five dollar video rental isn't so painful. Besides, it isn't as long as that stupid movie about the guy in the bat suit.

5 comments :

CZ said...

Wow Shawn, you take this stuff so seriously. It's supposed to be a dumb fun superhero/comedy/action flick! I agree though, it was just OK. But have you seen Iron Man? Awesome!!

Laroquod said...

No way man, the characters didn't make any sense in Iron Man and the love story was about as compelling as a cold wet sausage in the ear.

redbedhead said...

Laroquod - you say that like a cold, wet sausage in the ear isn't a good thing!

CZ - If someone's gonna spend a hundred million bucks making it, I'm gonna take it seriously. Or, maybe I spent too much time in university cultural studies courses...

Editorial Collective said...

I'm not going to lie, I enjoyed this film - and it was the most explicitly benign of all the bullshit comic book/superhero films that came out in 2008. That said, I still think it had its weak spots.

I just don't think this genre has the ability to really satisfy in political terms unless the genre takes the turn that Westerns did by the mid/late 1960s. This would mean making a film that follows how someone gains superpowers and how they use the powers for evil - based on their class position in society. I guess IronMan already did this - but just making it fucking bloody blunt to the point where mass demonstrations erupt against the superhero and the corporations and governments that he is propping up. And make the good guys win - ordinary people overthrowing governments and stringing up the protagonist like Mussolini.

redbedhead said...

I agree that Hancock was pretty benign - besides the usual crime hysteria. And I wanted to enjoy it - but it was boring because it couldn't decide what story it was telling.

That's an interesting point you make: can a superhero story/film be politically satisfying. In a comment on my review of Batman Laroquod discusses the geneology of Batman type superheroes viz. notions of royalty and infallible, authoritarian leaders versus, for instance, superheroes like Spiderman and the X-Men, who are consciously "subaltern". Unfortunately, at least in recent history, none of the potential that exists in these alter-heroes is realized.
X-Men, as a collective of "racially" oppressed heroes, arguably has the most potential but it never really breaks out of the liberal discourse to challenge true social power. It becomes a matter of bad politicians and bad ideas requiring education and exemplary behaviour on the part of the oppressed. This is explicitly opposed to the militancy of those like Magneto (the Jewish Holocaust survivor) who would fight their oppressors.
I think we could envision a more radical approach to the superhero - either exposing him/her as the embodiment of evil, as you suggest, or as the personification of the inherent power of the oppressed to free themselves. But I won't hold my breath...

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