Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
Two-thirds of a solid, stable superhero satire is sabotaged by a disastrously misconceived final act in Peter Berg’s Hancock, which stars Will Smith as the titular hero. A reasonably enjoyable examination of what would happen to a real-life Superman who has to deal with property damage, public image concerns, alcoholism, and anger management is thrown out the window during an ending that not only abandons the satire that came before, but becomes the movie it has been satirizing. In fact, the final act here is so out of whack with the rest of the movie – and any kind of general filmmaking logic – that I was fascinated by the fleeting, half-developed ideas that were thrown out left and right during the final reels. I cannot recommend this film – it is, indeed, a mess – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it; most of Hancock is well done, and the stuff that isn’t is interesting nonetheless.
Smith stars as John Hancock – not his real name, just what he was asked for by a nurse after waking up in a hospital 80 years ago with a bad case of amnesia, two tickets to the original Frankenstein and a pack of gum in his pocket, and oh yeah, Superman-like superpowers that include flight, invulnerability, and super-strength. In modern-day Los Angeles, Hancock seems to be an unwanted nuisance who occasionally fights crime when he isn’t pounding down the Jack Daniels and sleeping on park benches. Calls are made for his arrest (if only they could contain him); Hancock has what some may call a problem with public relations. This is where PR man Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a man whose life Hancock saves by demolishing a train, comes in. Attempting to reverse Hancock’s public image, Ray says if they want to arrest him, let ’em. They’ll come clamoring back when they need help. Hancock begrudgingly agrees. The spandex might be a problem, though. Meanwhile, Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) wants nothing to do with the problematic superhero.
For a while, this film really works, and I enjoyed it. It covers interesting ground, contrasting a superhero’s existence in a real world, refreshing in this age of comic book blockbusters and limitless sequels.
The less said about the ending the better. Suffice it to say a ridiculously complex and completely illogical backstory, a new superhero, and an entire villain/revenge storyline is forcibly injected into movie during the final reels. What happened to my satire? Keep it simple, I say. But then, I suppose, you don’t have a $100 million 4th-of-July blockbuster.
Still, the star trio here is up to task. The sexual tension between Smith and Theron is, at times, palpable; one looks forward to seeing them work together in other (better) projects. And Bateman plays off both of them perfectly.
Berg’s direction is competent and fits most of the story well, heavy on the shaky-cam realism; though this never, even during final act indulgences, becomes the grand ole superhero epic producers might have hoped for or audiences might expect. Short runtime for this kind of film (80 minutes, minus credits) indicates production problems but also allows for a relatively painless viewing experience.
Another note: Despite the prevalence of dubbed prints and a family-friendly G rating in the Czech Republic, this really isn’t a kids film; in fact, it had to be trimmed to avoid an R rating in the US.
A lazy Panda voiced by Jack Black must become a kung fu master in Mark Osborne and John Stevenson’s Kung Fu Panda, the latest in a long line of good-but-not-quite-great CGI efforts from DreamWorks Animation. Story – ripped straight from old Shaw Bros. kung fu classics – is a lot of fun but doesn’t hold any surprises. Characters are sufficiently cute but often seem to conflict with the martial arts at the heart of the story; convincing me of a Panda who becomes a kung fu master is the least of your problems when your Furious Five includes a crane, a snake, and a praying mantis, who don’t even seem to have the appropriate weight or anatomy to be doing what they’re doing.
Po the Panda (Jack Black) has long dreamed of becoming a kung fu master, but long suffers in his father’s noodle shop, though he can serve up a mean bowl of noodles. On the day that Oogway (a tortoise voiced by Randall Duk Kim) chooses the next ‘Dragon Master’, Po accidently places himself in front of Oogway’s finger; of course, there are no accidents, according to Oogway. Po is to become the next Dragon Master, much to the chagrin of Shifu (I don’t know what kind of animal this is – some smallish rodent – but Dustin Hoffman voices him well), who must train Po, and the Furious Five, a tiger, monkey, snake, mantis, and crane voiced by, respectively, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, and David Cross.
Of course, there’s also a villain (another tiger voiced by Ian McShane) who escapes from a heavily guarded Rhino prison and seeks to seize the Dragon Scroll and destroy Po’s village, but this storyline was rather perfunctory; I was happy with the 36th Chamber of Shaolin-like training of Po the Panda.
I liked the movie but do have one complaint: martial arts doesn’t mix with these cartoon characters, who don’t seem to inflict or feel pain unless the story requires it, bouncing down mountains and getting right back up yet becoming paralyzed with a touch. Yeah, that’s right, I’m complaining about physics and realism in this animated kid’s film. If they ever said Yosemite Sam was a master gunslinger, I’d be complaining about that, too.