Hancock, weird but not meta

Far from meta, as it might seem in the previews, Hancock is a superhero movie of almost comic earnestness and intimacy. If you’ve seen NBC’s fine “Friday Night Lights,” the other recent project by Hancock’s director, Peter Berg, you might have an intuition how strange his take might be on the superhero movie. But you wouldn’t think to trust that intution. Berg wouldn’t create a superhero movie that, like FNL, is full of probing handheld camerawork, long takes examining painful emotions with the earnestness of a concerned parent, and which is scored with those poignant scraping cello chords and gentle arpeggios from somebody’s soulful acoustic guitar…would he? It turns out that, yes, he would. It’s not the mix of form and content you would expect, and a lot of critics have, understandably, had a hard time with it, and I had moments of difficulty, too. I mean, it’s hard not to snicker when characters are having the sort of tearful heart-to-heart you associate with a teenage breakup, but they’re talking about, I don’t know, how long have you been able to fly? Berg’s intimate approach in FNL leaves little room for fakery in storytelling. If you’re going to buy into the level of involvement he creates with all those tight angles and somber tones, all those human faces right up in your grill, it’s hard to tolerate moments of narrative contrivance. So it’s hard to imagine how this style could fly in movie that’s all contrivance. And there’s loads of dissonance in Hancock, but I sort of liked it anyway. Will Smith’s regular Will Smith act is extremely muted and more affecting for it. The movie is pretty funny at several points. And how can you not warm to Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron rekindling their romance-for-the-ages from Season 3 of “Arrested Development”? (I s’pose there’ a little meta for you there, a little intertextuality, but it’s the good kind, I think.)