Hancock is a superhero whose ill considered behavior regularly causes damage in the millions. He changes when one person he saves helps him improve his public image.
It's a shame when a film comes along with such a sure-fire concept, only to squander almost all of its opportunities. 'Hancock' is just such a movie. It's got a nifty idea that's ripe for pop culture satire -- a failed superhero who shirks his responsibilities as a man of virtue and valor -- and mega-star Will Smith in the lead. Plus, it's directed by Peter Berg ('The Kingdom,' 'Friday Night Lights'), who one would think could bring a fresh, edgy sensibility and dark comedic spin to a genre that's sorely in need of a little post-modern skewering. Alas, 'Hancock' just doesn't gel -- it fails as a superhero film, it fails as a comedy, it fails as an action film, and it fails as some sort of didactic statement on heroism. Though not a complete fiasco, this must certainly rank as one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
'Hancock' initially seems promising. The first third of the film is the best, as we're introduced to Hancock (Smith), a cynical and downright lazy superhero who apparently didn't get the memo that he's obligated to embrace his superpowers and social status for the betterment of mankind. Instead, he's the equivalent of an alcoholic clown, one who is always getting into trouble with the broads and booze, as likely to inspire a lawsuit by the public as hope and optimism. The beginning parody sequences of 'Hancock' are the most fun, as Smith revels in playing this sad sack of a superhero (one particularly inspired sequence sees Hancock attempting to save a beached whale). Here Smith recalls the youthful enthusiasm of his early "Fresh Prince" days, and seems to be having more fun than he's had in any of his other recent roles.
Too bad, then, than 'Hancock' doesn't stick with this narrative approach, but instead deep-sixes itself with lame subplots and a poor villain. Hoping to rescue his pathetic public image, Hancock turns to idealistic PR man Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman). Ray has suffered in life due to many unfortunate events, and sees Hancock's rehabilitation as an opportunity for his own redemption. So he concocts a plan to help Hancock do his own little celebrity rehab for his crimes, in the hopes of convincing the public (as well as Ray's beautiful wife, played by Charlize Theron) that he's once again worthy of admiration. Conveniently, thrown into the mix is a revenge-minded bank robber (Eddie Marsan), who will prove just the ticket to get Hancock back in the world's good graces.
Alas, little of this complex plotting works. Marsan is a forgettable villain, and he never seems plausible -- the character has been shoe-horned in clearly because the film needs an antagonist and nothing more. Theron is also woefully miscast, and misplaced. She's simply too beautiful for such a dull role, and the character has absolutely no bearing on the eventual narrative events or the story's outcome. Bateman is certainly the best part of the film, as he manages to create a genuine and three-dimensional personality, despite the lameness of the script. Too bad he and Smith developed such a great comedic chemistry, as their relationship is so quickly tossed aside for all the predictable action and villain elements that it never has time to mature.
'Hancock' has a runtime of only 90 minutes, but for me it felt like three hours. This is the kind of unsuccessful film that isn't so bad its good, nor does it even have enough memorable moments that you can call it a laudable failure. (Even in its unrated form here, the film has no real bit or subversive wit.) It's amazing that so much talent, time, and money was put into a script that's so poorly constructed and confused in its intentions. To be fair, at least 'Hancock' is ambitious in idea if not execution, and the idea of a superhero satire that isn't an outright parody was a good one. But nothing in 'Hancock' works, and this is a case of a movie that is far, far less than the sum of its parts.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
'Hancock' flies onto 4K as part of an Ultra HD Blu-ray + Blu-ray combo pack that includes a Digital HD copy. It's my understanding that this Ultraviolet redemption code can also be used on Sony's 4K streaming service -- Ultra -- where you can watch the movie in UHD. Other services are likely limited to HD.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray contains ONLY the theatrical cut and no special features outside a Cast & Crew menu. The Blu-ray appears to be a reprinting of the original 2008 release and, thus, includes theatrical and unrated cuts of the film as well as all special features.
Regarding the UHD disc, the menu layout is similar to other interactive Sony UHD. For some strange reason, when my copy asks if you want to Resume Play, the menu's colors INVERTED when I tried to select "no." I've never seen anything quite like it. Mid-movie Menu access was also problematic.
While 4K Ultra High Definition is relatively new to home cinema, Sony has been planning for the future for a few years now. In addition to manufacturing cameras for feature film and television production as well as 4K commercial projection systems, they also began producing content in, and remastering catalog titles for, 4K. On top of this history, Sony is the first studio to release movies shot on FILM on Ultra HD Blu-ray, leaving enthusiasts to speculate if the results would be noticeably better than productions originally finished digitally at a 2K resolution. In a general sense, FILM should have the most resolution, but is somewhat limited by stock contrast and dynamic range. Current generation DIGITAL, on the other hand, has much more latitude than film, even when resolution is limited.
Enter 'Hancock' to help gives us a few answers about the benefits and drawbacks of watching HDR-graded film courtesy of a vivacious HEVC encode framed in the film's 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
My first reaction: 'Hancock' and other Sony film titles don't inherently best digital production on Ultra HD Blu-ray... But I love the way it looks.
This 'Hancock' UHD Blu-ray FEELS like watching projected film, probably looks better than the original theatrical release despite a few flaws, and certainly bests the Blu-ray in every single way. (Honestly, the eight-year-old Blu looks like garbage by comparison, and I can't believe it's included.)
Noticeably sharper than the previous, HD release, skin pours and costume textures and Los Angeles cityscapes are all much more detailed in UHD. Colors are improved as well, despite tinting towards teal and orange at times, popping with vivid saturation that still leaves skin tones believable for specific lighting sources. Black levels are strong too, though there is some crush. I honestly can't get over how great this UHD looks compared to early generation Blu-ray, which isn't the biggest compliment given how far Blu-ray has come since 2008 (take Sony's own Mastered In 4K titles as an example).
In terms of flaws, 'Hancock' suffers from blocky spikes of grain (or noise) in several occasions, mostly during more complex visual effects work. I can't speak with authority about what causes this, but it's not pretty. Also, in jumping between 'Hancock' and other UHD HDR titles, it doesn't quite have the same clarity as 'Kingsman', or 3D-esque quality of 'The LEGO Movie', so that's why it gets 4 stars on the UHD scale.
At the end of the day, though, 'Hancock' blows its original Blu-ray out of the sky, which you can't say for all of these UHD titles, and proves how terrific FILM can look in Ultra HD with High Dynamic Range and Wide Color Gamut. Sure, it's a little flawed, and doesn't match up with newer, prettier titles, but I'm excited to see what Sony does with this format going forward. Well done!
'Hancock' takes a superhero leap forward in the audio department as well, thanks to a fully immersive, and often impressive, English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible) track that replaces a fairly average and aging 5.1 mix.
While not quite in the same league as 'Mad Max: Fury Road', my current Atmos benchmark, 'Hancock' is a sensational catalog remix that's almost as good as 'The Fifth Element'. Dialog elements are strong, both for main characters and background actors. Listen for voices in your surround speakers during crowd sequences as an example. Music elements are authoritative placed in the ultra wide front sound stage. And sound effects panning is quite accurate and aggressive. Any time Hancock flies is a treat, but the bank heist sequence -- where Hancock flies in and out of the bank lobby with criminals — would make for a nice demo as it balances ear-level and overhead sound.
So what holds it back from perfection? I think there could be a tad more detail and delineation in the sound effects themselves (a little nuance in the chaos), and while LFE is strong, I wish it had a little more guttural oomph.
Otherwise, I'm thoroughly impressed with this new mix which, once again, proves the value in bumping catalog soundtracks up to Dolby Atmos.
Other soundtrack options include French 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, while subtitle options include English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Given 'Hancock's $200 million-plus domestic gross, I expected more substantial extras than we get here. There is no commentary, deleted scenes, or the like, which suggests Sony may be planning a double-dip of this one in the future. In any case, all video materials are presented in 1080/AVC MPEG-4 video with optional Spanish, Portugese, Chinese, and Korean subtitles.
While 'Hancock' isn't everyone's cup of tea (it certainly wasn't Peter's), it has its moments and was fun to revisit for this review. As an Ultra HD Blu-ray, I loved the visual and aural upgrades -- 'Hancock' has never looked or sounded better -- but the disc menu was buggy and there are no new special features.
Given UHD premium pricing for a title often found in Best Buy bargain bins, I would say this release is definitely for 'Hancock' fans and, overall, Worth A Look for early UHD and Atmos adopters.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.