2/3 of a masterpiece
HANCOCK (Peter Berg, USA, 2008) — 8
For about an hour, HANCOCK is one of the best summer popcorn films I’ve ever seen¹ — it’s basically GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, the tale of a giant among small men, only reconceived as a modern superhero movie with a heaping helping of pomo sarcasm. It’s also one of the few movies with an identifiable political subtext (it’s hardly “sub”-text in fact) that is unapologetically pro-war. Or more precisely, unapologetically anti-the-(purported)-reasons-many-claim-to-be-anti-war. The details in this movie — the eagle on bumbling, nasty superhero Will Smith’s cap; complaints about collateral damage; civil lawsuits; carping TV reporters and talking heads ranting about “lawless”; encounter groups and the phrase “conflict resolution”; the Woodstock concert poster in Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron’s bedroom; a bully who (a) is French, and (b) is played by Daeg Faerch, who played the boy Michael Myers in the recent HALLOWEEN remake; a Greenpeace boat — there are just too many signifiers here for it to be a coincidence, or one or two eager-beaver conservatives overinterpreting a detail. And it’s surely relevant that Peter Berg directed last year’s THE KINGDOM, which gave the usual liberal-critic suspects the usual fact-free vapors.
Just read what Kyle Smith had to say … he really did say it all and I have nothing to add on the point except my word that I did catch much of it myself. And the title of his post refers to exactly what came to my mind in this discussion here: TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE²:
Let’s just say there is a speech at the end of TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE … that is … well … MASSIVE WARNING ABOUT … weeeeellllll … keep in mind that it’s by the SOUTH PARK guys, and read the first direct quote. If you can read through the vulgarity (and know the movie’s plot), it’s one of the greatest defenses of Foreign-Policy Hawkishness in movie history. (I am quite serious.)
I was tickled with joy and laughing my butt off for the first hour as Hancock blunders around and is taken in by a liberal-yuppie suburban couple concerned with improving Hancock’s image and making him a more sensitive hero, a la John Kerry, who remembers to say please and thank you, and agrees to submit to international law a prison term. Predictably, Hancock has to be called in in a crisis (and ask permission to lift up a wounded policewoman from fear of traversing sexual harrassment rules). But that scene was obviously the climax of the HANCOCK I’d been expecting, but I looked at my watch and the movie was less than an hour old. “It can’t be over yet … where is this gonna go.” And in a few minutes, I found out and my mouth was literally agape — first in “ohmigawd, where can THIS be leading??? I believe this will be awesomest thing ever if they can pull it off” mode (I was thinking it could go in the direction of a certain TV show — SPOILERS!!! if you click). But then my mouth was agape in “ohmigawd, is THAT where it’s led. I can’t believe they pissed away some much awesomeness” mode.
I will tread vaguely — suffice to say that the last half-hour is just a routine “origins” story that isn’t particularly germane to this mode of representing a superhero; it doesn’t continue, deepen or even (explicitly) take back the satire of the first hour; it goes for warm and fuzzy pathos in a movie that should have a cold, pitch-black heart; and the feeble stab at “explanation” for how Hancock gets his powers are literally insulting in its desultory lameness (“some say gods, some angels, some superheroes”). It just feels tacked on, and curiously Kyle Smith barely mentions it in his formal review of HANCOCK. It’s been reported that the end was being reworked at the very last minute, and boy does it show.
¹ Yes, I don’t see them all or even many because I am a snob, etc.
² Unsurprisingly, TEAM AMERICA occasioned maybe the worst review Roger Ebert ever wrote, admitting that he couldn’t figure out what has been perfectly obvious even to non-critics to the right of Hubert Humphrey.