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Description: For me, Los Angeles -- the city, the experience, the very idea of it -- can be summed up in one word: hot. No, not that kind of hot. I mean heat. The sun. Ray-Bans and tank tops and the smell of... - comiXology

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For me, Los Angeles -- the city, the experience, the very idea of it -- can be summed up in one word: hot. No, not that kind of hot. I mean heat.

The sun. Ray-Bans and tank tops and the smell of sunscreen. Shimmering mirages over the sizzling pavement. The way the burning sunlight can turn the white paint on the side of a building into a blinding flare. Hot is what I'm saying.

I suspect these are features, not bugs, for Angelenos. Me, I'm a pale fat guy. Heat and I don't get along so well. Maybe I'm really just a cold-blooded reptile, but I don't want to do a damn thing when it's hot. I sure as hell don't want to go outside; my skin turns lobster-red in a heartbeat.

And then there's the sweat. It's an unwelcome tickle when it drips down my back, and then it dries and coats my skin like dried-up fruit juice. I feel like a sticky fly trap for filth, and all I can think about is the next shower. Thank you, L.A. for all the wonderful entertainment over the years, but you played yourself; I'll take Seattle's thunderstorms in July any day.

The Will Smith superhero movie Hancock (which arrives on DVD tomorrow) does a superb, if unwelcome job of evoking these particular feelings about the city of Lohse Angle-eez. So much so, that when I think of the film, the first thing that pops into my head isn't Smith dropping an S.U.V. on top of the Capitol Records building or a big laugh scene like the flying whale, or even the hot -- yes, that kind of hot -- Charlize Theron.

No, the first thing that comes to mind are the colors I associate with L.A. -- orange and black, the color of the sunlight and the long shadows it casts. Obviously, this wasn't any sort of deliberate choice on director Peter Berg's part, as the stills I've seen online don't really back me up, and Berg, starting with the underrated Very Bad Things. always seemed more proficient with the dark. But there's definitely a feeling of oppressive heat coming off the film, one I could feel through the blast of the theater air conditioners.

Hancock is billed as an original superhero film, if taken as "not licensed from Marvel or DC or any other publisher for that matter", and while that's true enough, anyone who's seen the trailer knows exactly which archetype is tweaked here.

Instead of a squeaky clean, upstanding, hero-to-millions boy scout, Hancock is a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, borderline-homeless jerk nobody likes. Whenever he does something good -- which is often -- it's inevitably undermined by his bad attitude or indifference to the collateral damage he's causing. It's like he's crazy from the heat, too.

There isn't a better visual metaphor for the character than the moment Hancock rescues P.R. guy Jason Bateman (phoning it in, unfortunately) from an immanent squashing: the dude's a train wreck. And this is before he falls in love at first sight with the guy's wife, the aforementionedly hot Theron.

I've never seen this particular take on the Man of Steel before, although I assume there's a comic somewhere where Superman blows businessmen for crack money. (That's a freebie, Mr. Ennis.) Anyway, there's something deeply inviting about this character.

It's not the super-strength or the flying, nor is it the indestructibility or the apparent immortality (Hancock, we learn early on, has been around for at least eighty years), although those are all part of it.

Let's put it this way: when we first meet him, he's sleeping off a bender on a bus bench in the middle of the day, needing to be nudged into consciousness by a little kid. It's incongruous at first -- it's not the behavior we expect from our superheroes. Yet it makes perfect sense.

There's no reason for him to go home to his mountain trailer. There's no reason for him to cover up with a blanket at night. There's no reason for him to even shower. (In his knit cap and poncho, you can practically smell the booze wafting off him.) There's absolutely no reason for him to give a damn about his body. Why should he? Nothing can hurt him, he can do anything he wants, go anywhere he wants. In terms of this movie's universe, he's pretty much Dr. Manhattan, the original Big Willie.

I'd guess my distaste for the elements that accrete on the body, particularly from warm, sunny weather, is just a kind of sublimated fear of death; our bodies will eventually decompose into the very kind of gunk I don't want near me.

Which explains why this power fantasy of generally being able to do anything you want -- Superman -- never grabbed me in the visceral way that Hancock does. I'm not fascinated by the strength or the flight, but by the fact that there isn't anything material that Hancock really needs.

He's free -- free to live in the world, or outside of it, or anything in between. The dirt doesn't matter. He is complete in and of himself; in a sense, his body and soul are one.

Of course, that means that he's perfect, and in a drama a perfect character is a boring character. His anti-social attitude is his problem, and he needs to be cleaned up, ironed out, brought down to earth. That's a totally acceptable dramatic arc; unfortunately, the same decision was brought upon the film itself.

Hancock starts with an interesting dilemma, one that drags dirt into the house, then tries to wash away the implications of that dilemma as fast as it can. It's an ugly situation, but it wants to charm the viewer with a pretty face.

Still, everything that's wrong with the movie starts with a single notion, likely some producer's note: that the audience is so brain-dead that they need to know Hancock's origin in order to appreciate the story in front of them.

The problem is that Hancock's backstory is completely irrelevant to the story promised at the beginning. It's about a man who can fly to the moon and hammer-throw a whale, but whose powers can't get him what he really wants -- and what he really wants would completely destroy an innocent man in a way worse than any feat of super strength.

A backstory, in order to justify its existence, has to have some direct meaning in the present tense of the story, and adding one inevitably ends up changing the whole idea like a time traveler smooshing a mosquito. And thus we end up with Charlize Theron with superpowers.

That's right. Apparently, Smith and Theron are the last of a race of immortals, who have the unfortunate weakness of becoming human (and dying of old age) when too close to their soul mate.

Smith doesn't remember Theron (the presence of amnesia as a plot device should be a big red flag), and she's tried to keep away from him for their own safety. It's presented as a Big Twist, and certainly on a metaphoric level, it's not bad -- emotional vulnerability becomes physical vulnerability.

Berg attempts something that's actually quite ambitious, melding this highly mythological element with a visual strategy that, despite the flying and train-derailing, is deeply wedded to realism. (With its emphasis on real locations and handheld camera work, the film doesn't look much different than Berg's Friday Night Lights or The Kingdom .)

However, it doesn't work; I'm not sure it could. There's a gag early on -- Hancock forcing two convicts into a rude physical pretzel that would likely kill one or both of them in real life -- that seems like a feeble attempt to lay the groundwork for this Big Twist. (That is, if you're willing to buy this, you'll buy the ridiculous story about immortals.)

Ironically, the one thing that should convince us of this fanciful backstory -- the super powers -- ends up undermining it. Everything the two superbeings do is so physical and present (and thanks to modern FX, convincing) that the Big Twist (which Berg, in his commitment to realism, can only express in fleeting words and not flashbacks) feels like it comes out of nowhere.

I mean, if using emotional vulnerability was so important to the filmmakers, why not just keep Theron as a normal human, whose love brings a god down to earth? That has more mythic resonance, right?

It's a muddled movie, but enjoyable on a moment-to-moment basis nonetheless. It's still galling, though, that this movie, with all its hooey about eternal love, lacks the courage of its own convictions.

It ends with Smith and Theron agreeing to live on separate coasts, a friendly break-up, with Smith taking the mantle of official superhero. True love is abandoned for power and being mortal is a sucker's bet. (In a way, the movie has the same snotty, adolescent attitude displayed in Wanted and Jumper. that regular people are chumps, only in this case, it's the whole human race.)

It's a great fantasy to want to be invulnerable, to be so self-sufficient as to need no one, but the knowledge that everything ends eventually is what gives life meaning, and it's love that, if you don't mind my own hooey, gives life to life.

Kent M. Beeson is a former contributor to ScreenGrab and is a long-time cinephile and comic book lover. He maintains a film-related blog called This Can't End Well .






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