In the pantheon of Fourth of July Will Smith blockbusters, Hancock, directed by Peter Berg, will rank significantly higher than Men in Black 2 but far lower than the granddaddy of them all, Independence Day. In other words: It isn't horrible, but it's far from classic. Actually, it does pretty much everything it should do for what it is: explosions, romance, laughs, heroes, villains, and gobs of patriotism.
The name of the film is actually one of the least patriotic things about it. It's simply the surname our hero stumbled upon. Go figure. But I'll be darned if the film as a whole is not something President George W. Bush will gleefully enjoy.
Now I do not know Peter Berg's politics, but it is interesting that the films he's directed have thrown the unusually conservative bone to red state America. Friday Night Lights celebrates Texas football, The Kingdom glories in killing vicious terrorists, and Hancock—stretch though it may be—seems to be an apologetic for President Bush. The film is all about a good-at-heart guy with super powers (played by Smith) who tries to do good things but often leaves a messy trail of destruction in his wake.
To put the kibosh on a highway chase, Hancock inflicts $9 million in damages on the city of Los Angeles; in rescuing a beached whale, he destroys a sailing yacht. And so on. Naturally, the people get angry and are not thankful in the least—repaying Hancock's clumsy heroics with jeers and protests. They are not tolerant of heroism when there is a cost involved, just like the many Americans clamoring for an exit in Iraq. Is Hancock some personification of Bush? Probably not, but it's a thought.
First and foremost, though, Hancock is a popcorn superhero movie. The plot is fairly standard, though unlike most superhero movies there is no laborious "how did he get to be this way" prologue. We are thrown into the middle of what has apparently been a long and rocky relationship between Hancock and the denizens of Los Angeles, and the back story comes out only in the film's third act.
In the meantime we get to watch the fantastic Jason Bateman take Hancock under his wing and perform a much-needed PR makeover on the celebrity superhero. He teaches Hancock to be a little nicer, less destructive, and to smile more. Eventually Bateman's character, Ray, convinces Hancock to spend some time in prison (there has been a warrant out for Hancock's arrest since his latest do-good debacle) to make the public miss him. Sure enough, it works. But just when it looks like Hancock will sail happily into a Santa Monica sunset, a major twist throws his life for a new loop.
The twist comes about an hour into the film, and it has to do with the third major character: Ray's girlfriend Mary (Charlize Theron). It's pretty clear from the first moments of the film that Charlize holds some dark, crucial secret. She's always looking nervous and emotional when Hancock is present, or even when she sees him on TV. Without revealing anything else, I'll just say that the "twist" changes the tenor of the film in a big way, becoming more like X-Men than Iron Man (if that makes sense—and it will, if you see the movie).