evadne_noel: A man and the cresent moon in a rowboat (Random pirates by songstressicons)
[personal profile] evadne_noel
I really liked the first half of this movie, so let’s talk about that first (that’s right; you have to read the boring nice stuff before getting to the funny mean stuff).

Will Smith plays his standard 4th-of-July-Character (named Hancock this year), with the added bonus traits of superpowers and a drinking problem. Will Smith has trouble dealing with the fact that he is the only superpowered being on the planet, and tries to assuage his existential angst with vast amounts of liquor and massive property damage. Perhaps not the best way to deal with it, but at least it’s not crappy poetry, right?

Into his life comes Jason Bateman, playing Michael Bluth if the rest of the Bluth family were occasionally altruistic drunks with the ability to fly, who believes strongly in Will Smith’s ability to put aside the alcohol and angst, and become a true force for good in the world. He uses his PR training to improve Will Smith’s public image and his boundless optimism to convince Will Smith that world wants to love him.

I just want to point out for a second that, though I was being mocking, I don’t really mind that both Will Smith and Jason Bateman are playing the same characters they always do. They’re both good at their type, and I would be honestly disappointed if I went to see a Will Smith movie in July, and he was playing a soft-spoken accountant who loves puppies and thinks that wise-cracks are a conversational refuge for those with nothing substantial to add. Jason Bateman is the quintessential nice guy on-screen, and I like that. If Smith and Bateman are disappointed with typecasting, it’s their problem, not mine.

Charlize Theron plays Jason Bateman’s wife, the last important character in the movie, though, unfortunately, in the good half of the movie she exists only to cast foreshadowy aspersions on Will Smith and tote around the “Hi! I’m so adorable!” child. This is a pity, because what goes wrong with her character in the second half isn’t her fault; it’s the screenwriters. But I’m skipping ahead.

So, to wrap up the nice half of this review, Hancock starts out with a really good premise and a pretty good execution. After all the comic book movies we’ve be getting recently, and will be getting in the future, it’s a good anti-superhero (not anti-hero, mind you) antidote. Will Smith and Jason Bateman are funny and engaging, and you can really see Will Smith’s character dealing with his bitterness and antipathy. Of course you know that Will Smith is eventually going to improve as a superhero and, um, human being, but his first attempts are hilariously stilted. He’s uncomfortable in his new role as a “real” hero, but not so much that it becomes an embarrassment squick (and I have a really refined squickometer). It’s a good progression, and I only wish it could have continued, because it’s right at this point that movie starts to go downhill.

The problem with the second half of the movie is the major tone shift. Or rather, tone shifts. It starts with the introduction of the movie’s “supervillain” at the end of Will Smith’s first hero scene, though this will by no means be the lowest point in the movie. Will Smith has been called to stop a bank heist through the power of a competent action sequence, and up until we meet the “supervillain,” it’s a very good scene. All the characters in the movie up to this point have been average people, even Will Smith. They don’t have the posturing or weird personality quirks that you find in comic book characters.

But the new bad guy is totally a comic book character, and in a universe full of normal people, he comes across as really, really jarring. Not only does he speak with a strange cadence, but he gives a ridiculous “Ha ha! I am so clever, you foolish superhero!” speech. And my biggest problem with him is that he’s a gigantic moron. He’s holding a dead man’s switch that will blow up hostages, and giving his huge list of demands, and all the while Will Smith is preparing a circular blade to cut his hand off. I mean, it takes Will Smith an entire minute to build the blade, and the idiot keeps talking. I’m sitting there thinking “Does he not see where this is going?” Of course, the bad guy then ends up with a hook for a replacement hand, cementing his place as a Gimmicky Villain.

If he was a parody of supervillains, I wouldn’t have minded so much, but judging by his competency at the end of the movie, I suspect that, even if he started out a parody, the screenwriters decided to play him straight by the end. He successfully recruits two thugs, causes a riot at a prison, escapes from prison, plans his revenge against Will Smith around a carefully chosen time and plot point, and almost gets away with it. That crosses the line of parody into actual use. Given the anti-superhero movie tone of the first half, I think this was a wasted opportunity.

However, all this pales in comparison to how drastically things change around Charlize Theron’s character. A problem with the first half of the movie is how underutilized she is. I mean, it’s Charlize Theron. You don’t waste a star like that (unless you’re filming Aeon Flux, of course). So, it’s no surprise that she’s important in the second half. In fact, it’s not even a surprise that she’s also superpowered, as that was competently foreshadowed in the first half (though, if they hadn’t shown clips of her with superpowers in the trailers, perhaps it would have been a better reveal. Just a thought).

The surprise is how badly they handle her superpowers. The reveal itself is pretty good, but in the very next scene when her backstory is expanded, she’s in this super-villainess-vixen makeup and costume, and acting like a bad guy for no apparent reason. It’s like a scene from My Super Ex-Girlfriend was randomly cut into the film. Then there’s a big, property damaging fight scene, which ought to show that she’s just as irresponsible as Will Smith was at the beginning, but the implications of this are entirely ignored, as if we hadn’t spent the first half of the movie expanding on why acting like a superpowered asshole was wrong. And then, just as quickly as this part of the movie began, it ends, and she’s a totally rational person again.

WHUT

When they finally get around to the reasons she was fighting him, the fight scene becomes totally unnecessary. Before the explanation, she goes on about how he wasn’t going to hurt her anymore, so you’d think there was bad blood between them. But no! It’s stupider than that! You see, Charlize Theron and Will Smith are married immortals who become mortal when they’re together. When they start to become mortal, other people try to kill them, because their lives just suck. Charlize Theron is more powerful than Will Smith, but she’s always the one needing protection because Will Smith is the Designated Security Guard of the Gods. The last time Will Smith got beat up while mortal, he lost his memory, and she went away to keep them both safe and immortal. Now that they’re near each other again, they’re becoming mortal.

The explanation makes some vague sense as an origin story, but that means that they had a gigantic fight because…she wants him to be safe? Huh? Couldn’t she just explain this and not destroy downtown L.A. and reveal herself to Jason Bateman? She seems to recognize that beating him up isn’t going to make Will Smith go away without an accompanying explanation, but she does it anyway.

Once the whole origin story comes out, the movie can no longer decide if it wants you to be sympathetic with Will Smith and Charlize Theron or Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Jason Bateman’s character sort of fades into the background as Charlize Theron and Will Smith make eyes at each other and worry about Hook-Handed Dude’s big revenge attempt. The big sacrifice of the movie isn’t for the world or L.A. or even friends and family, but for each other. Charlize Theron and Will Smith become the emotional center of the movie. But Jason Bateman has been established as the legitimately nicest guy ever, so they can’t just ditch him. So what do they do?

They have an epilogue. This is never a good idea.

After the Amazing Competency Switching Villain is defeated, we flash forward to one month later where everything is fine. In fact, it’s as if none of the emotional drama in the climax ever happened. Jason Bateman isn’t worried about Charlize Theron’s feelings for Will Smith, Charlize Theron isn’t worried about Will Smith’s feelings for her, and Will Smith has picked up an eagle sidekick.

See? Everything’s hunky-dory. And no couples’ therapy needed.

Honestly, the second half of the movie isn’t that bad, and it’s not like changing the tone between acts isn’t a legitimate device. However, the tone does a complete 180 from a story about a hero who’s bad at it, to a traditional superhero story. The emotional drama part of the movie seems to have amnesia by expecting the audience to accept the tone at that moment without taking into account what already happened and how we were supposed to feel about it then. There are some great scenes at the end, but a little emotional consistency through the second half would have evened the movie out.
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evadne_noel: A man and the cresent moon in a rowboat (Default)
evadne_noel

March 2009

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