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Will Smith is an asshole. Scowly, snarly (“I will break my foot off in your ass, woman!”), permanently off his tits. He’s an anti-superhero: great powers, no responsibility. Thanks to a multi-million-dollar trail of property destruction, Joe Public hates him as much as the scum he’s slung behind bars. The only one who’s got his back is PR tzar Ray Embrey ( Jason Bateman), who coaxes Smith’s John Hancock to shave the stubble, bin the beanie and generally clean up his act. No more Mr Nasty Guy…

A makeover movie, then – one that’s been tweaked from a twisted script called Tonight, He Comes into a 12A summer blockbuster, Big Willie style. Even so, it’s kept some edge. No stalking theme or super-ejaculations as originally mooted, but a sizeable streak of mean-spirited humour. Hancock’s at its best when Smith’s at his baddest: flinging a bullying brat into orbit, saving the whale in the most cack-handed way imaginable or deflating a fat guy with “You should sue McDonald’s, because they fucked you up!” Cruel laughs, crisply executed.

Meanwhile, Superhero Movie and My Super Ex-Girlfriend can eat their tepid hearts out over the spandex satire of Hancock’s first comeback mission-cum-charm offensive. Smith makes a clumsily controlled landing in stiff leather duds to mock-Superman music, self-consciously bleating “Good job” to the cops at a siege-scene. Even though it’s taking the piss, the film’s on the same comic-book page as Stan Lee’s super folk with everyday problems. Bullets ping off our protag, but he’s vulnerable to loneliness, the bottle and social embarrassment. Those feet may fly but they’re made of clay.

What refreshes at the outset is that this isn’t another exposition-lumbered origin story, Smith’s character stumbling fully (mal)formed on to the screen. A jagged momentum kicks in, fuelled by The Kingdom director Peter Berg’s handheld-camera kineticism. (Easy on the looming close-ups though, man. People might start thinking you’re trying to paper over the budget-cracks…) But then the flesh on the backstory bones really starts to grow after scripters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan chuck a curveball at the mid-point. Seems there are others like Hancock… The intrigue mushrooms, but the murky myth-building jabber about ancients and immortals and former lives chips away at the personal grit (“My name is Hancock and I drink and stuff,” he mumbles at a jailhouse group-therapy session) and the film starts to drift from its reality-roots. It is a real shame too that Berg turns down the laughing gas in the second half as he rushes headlong towards the bumpy climax.

But savour the surprises in Hancock: the Fresh Prince funnier than he’s been in several years; Charlize Theron (Embrey’s missus) having a much meatier, cooler role than you’d first expect; and proof that you can start-up a spanking-new superhero franchise in only 90 minutes…

Attitude, brains and barbed humour: Hancock's way better than production wobbles and years of development hell would have you expect. Cracking first half, solid second and some great ass gags. Good job.

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.