Bad Astronomy review: Hancock

By Phil Plait | July 4, 2008 6:07 pm

Hancock movie poster
"Hancock" is a superhero movie starring Will Smith, out in theaters now.

I mean, c’mon. Will Smith as a superhero. That has megahit written all over it! But a lot of critics have panned it, saying it’s inconsistent, uneven, can’t make up its mind, etc. etc.

Well, I liked it. So did my family. In fact, it prompted Mrs BA — and she is usually right about such things — to say, "Critics are stupid."

"Hancock" was hilarious. There were lots of LOL moments, and a whole lot more I smiled at. The special effects were great. And Charlize Theron… well, I am but a mortal man. Wow.

Will Smith, as usual, was great. He’s a scientologist, which irks me greatly, but he’s a fine actor, and really funny and fun to watch.

The movie is a wee bit uneven, with a scene dropped in near the end that was directed in an overly dramatic way compared to the rest of the flick. But the story set that bit up, and so nothing I saw in the flick was really inconsistent, or deus ex machina (though some lines of thought were dropped, like control of weather and emission of heat due to strong emotions, which was too bad). I am really really tired of superhero movies with the hugely overblown villain that shouts all the time and utters ridiculous lines. "Ironman", as cool as it was, suffered from this and in my opinion made the ending pretty dumb.

You’re a supervillain. I get it. Don’t yell at me.

Charlize Theron in Hancock. Man.But hey, you didn’t come here for my opinion of the movie — though you should, because I am always right and I express myself in a humorous and readable way — you came here for the physics.

OK then. Spoilers, blah blah blah. Be ye fairly warned, says I.

OK, first off, Hancock can fly. Right. Well we’ll just have to let that go. He’s not just jumping, because he changes direction, and doesn’t slow down along his trajectory. So he’s really flying, and it’s a superhero movie, so we just have to accept that.

Like almost every superhero movie (and let’s face it, most science fiction movies) the main scientific issue in this flick is inertia. He drops an SUV from hundreds of meters up, lets it fall most of the way, then just grabs it and swings it around. When he grabs it, it would have been falling at over a hundred kph, and the guys inside would have been hamburger when he stopped it.

Hancock standing next to the whaleThis scenario happens over and over again, like when he throws a little kid (who deserved it) like a kilometer into the sky, then simply catches him just before he hits the ground. He grabs a whale by the tail and throws it a kilometer out into the sea. I think that would have ripped the tail off the whale, or at least done some damage. The whale hits the water and should have been turned into dog food. And at the very least it would have thrown Hancock into the sand about a hundred meters deep.

Well, maybe he balanced the downward force with an upward flying force. Hmmm. But hey, that won’t work! They make a big deal of him making a hole in the ground every time he takes off and lands. So he can’t balance the forces well. Oops.

At one point, he gets hit by a train. He doesn’t move at all, but the train gets crushed (and all the cars pile up). Wouldn’t he at least skid a little way? And if he doesn’t, he’d leave more than just a dent in the train a meter deep. It takes a lot more than that to stop the thousands of tons of train.

And where does he (or any superhero) get his energy from? Taking a 90 kilo guy and thrusting him into the air at hundreds of kph takes quite a bit of energy. Even all the liquor he drinks wouldn’t do that. The only time that’s ever been dealt with was years ago on the doomed Flash series; after an episode of super-speed, the Flash had to eat tens of thousands of calories of food. I loved that.

I do have a nitpick: Hancock got shot a bazillion times at the bank, but his uniform was intact. In fact, why doesn’t his ski hat get torn off his head when he flies?

But that’s really all there was. Mrs. BA asked where he got all the red paint at the end, but I figure he went to Mars and scooped up a lot of iron-rich regolith.

And, well, I wasn’t gonna mention this, but… I think instigating a cranial-rectal occlusion — let alone surviving one — is physically and medically impossible. But that was an extremely funny scene.

OK, so in conclusion:

1) Physics is tossed out the window — literally, in many cases — with the usual suspects of momentum, inertia, and gravity suffering the most.

2) It’s a good flick. Not a great flick, but a good one. Definitely worth seeing as a matinee.

3) Critics are stupid. That’s probably your takeaway wisdom here.

So go see the movie, buy some popcorn (or smuggle in the chocolate, which is what I always do), and enjoy. That’s what superhero movies are for, anyway.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Science, SciFi

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