It’s summer and in recent years that’s meant one major certainty – a glut of superhero movies featuring characters ever more obscure to the non-comic-reading public.
Batman, Superman, Spider-Man? Fine. Everyone’s heard of them and they’re part of acknowledged late 20th century popular culture. You don’t have to be a nerd to have heard of Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent or Peter Parker and so you don’t need to feel geeky going the cinema to see them don their spandex suits.
The likes of Daredevil, the Hulk, Iron Man and the X-Men were arguably borderline household names before they hit the big screen, but nonetheless, we’ve now got to the stage where pretty much all the big name comic book superheroes have been done.
There are a few left, a Wonder Woman movie is in the works, as are various projects relating to other fan favourites like Green Lantern, The Flash, Namor the Sub-Mariner and The Mighty Thor, but dibs have been called on pretty much all the names that could be considered bankable in their own right.
And so, having already rummaged through the last seven decades of comic books looking for superheroes for the big screen, Hollywood’s finally decided that it’s time to create one of its own. Though, being Hollywood, what they’ve actually done is head to the archives to dust off a script that’s been languishing untouched since that last period of superhero movie dominance, the late 1980s, and roped in a star with enough charisma and name value to ensure a success.
One thing’s for sure, Will Smith is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, without even a hint of a flop since 2000’s The Legend of Bagger Vance. Chuck him in a superhero movie, and box office sales are a certainty. The only trouble is, there simply aren’t that many black superheroes, and there would be uproar if the likes of Batman or Superman were to suddenly change race. (For the comics geeks: yes, Smith could have played John Stewart, the 1970s African-American Green Lantern, or possibly John Henry Irons (aka Steel) the 1990s superman stand-in – although the latter has already been played on the big screen by basketball star Shaquille O’Neal back in the late ‘90s in a film that no one bothered to watch.)
The colour of this new Hollywood superhero’s skin is, however, entirely irrelevant.
What’s important is that he be played by someone instantly recognisable and likeable, and played well. Because the character Hancock – Earth’s only super-powered being in this new movie – is by no means your conventional superhero. An alcoholic with a bad temper, he’ll gladly use his Superman-like powers simply to have a good time and to hell with anyone who gets in his way. Yep, he may well fight crime occasionally, but not without causing far more injury and destruction than the criminals he’s out to capture. After all, who’s going to stop him?
This is, of course, where Will Smith comes in. Without his charm and charisma – fully evident even when playing against type as the wilfully nasty Hancock – this potential villain is able to become the antihero he is intended to be. He is a loveable rogue rather than the borderline sociopath he could appear. And, in the process, Hollywood seems to have created its first superhero, not to mention set up the possibility of a whole new superhero movie franchise. As if we didn’t have enough already. Still, with Smith in the lead and some fun, well-executed ideas knocking around, this is a definite must see for blockbuster fans – of that there can be no doubt.