A gang of criminals are making their getaway along this stretch of Los Angeles highway, with the police in hot pursuit, but the actions of the crooks who are firing automatic weapons are placing the public in danger. Meanwhile, across the city Hancock (Will Smith) is sleeping off his hangover on a bench until a small child wakes him up and tells him about the chase which he has seen on television. What can Hancock possibly do? He is actually a superhero, but not a very heroic one, and his attempts to restore law and order often end with carnage...
So the high concept for this one was apparently "Drunk Superman", not a bad idea as it went, but where it sounded like it should have been a comedy it played more like the filmmakers lost interest in a spoof halfway through and decided that they could make more money by tackling the notion as straightforwardly as possible. Even before we reached that point they lost faith in how entertaining a parody with Will Smith, a star known for his charm with comedy, would be, as for the first act or so this was more like a recruiting film for Alcoholics Anonymous, rendering it a very Hollywood take on the genre.
A very male, Hollywood executive take, that was, as while most superhero movies had their basis in comic books, this was an original idea thought up by screenwriter Vincent Ngo that was then rewritten by Vince Gilligan into the end result you can see today. The Ngo version was reputedly far more grim and hard edged, whereas this aims for the wacky, then cops out in favour of the deadly earnest, although Smith didn't look as if he was trying to secure laughs for most of it, being crumpled, unshaven, shambling and all those other things that denote a character letting his life go to pot. However, his drug of choice is alcohol, and he must fight a surprisingly easy to win battle with the bottle.
He does this through the belief a new friend has in him: public relations man Ray (Jason Bateman), who Hancock has saved from getting killed on a railway track. The film revels in the destructive manner in which the superpowered slob goes about this, so the effects budget mostly went on seeing things getting smashed up, just one of the reasons that Hancock finds an arrest warrant put out on him, but not before Ray persuades him to allow him to take care of his publicity campaign to set his standing as high as a superhero should be, and not as a nuisance who does more harm than good no matter what his intentions may be. Hancock appears to be carrying out his crimefighting more out of habit than civic duty.
This is going towards a more satirical take on the superhero style, not something that succeeds too well, but it is different unless you're aware of the far funnier and inventive The Tick, both in comics and on television. Yet the filmmakers lost interest in that when it became clear it was heading nowhere - nowhere that the effects budget couldn't rescue them at any rate, and there was a twist that substituted anything more thoughtful with a curious strain of action that had serious issues with women. There is only one female character of any importance in this, and she is Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron), characterised as a just the right side of shrewish until she goes onto the wrong side, as if the whole AA self-improvement theme was dropped in favour of "Why can't I do what I want and enjoy a drink or two, woman?!" They have yet another change of heart for the finale, but by then you'll be wondering if they had any idea of what they were saying. Music by John Powell.