CD Review: Hancock

Composer: John Powell
Label: Varese Sarabande
Suggested Retail Price: $17.98
Grade: A

For better and worse, HANCOCK tries to be like no superhero film before it in trying to show the real world effects of an often-inebriated powerhouse when he’s honor-bound to stop crime. But probably the coolest thing to come from this enticingly weird movie is John Powell’s score, which does what it damned well wants to in ways you’d never expect, much like Will Smith’s god on the skids.

Having come from the Hans Zimmer beat school, only to end up revamping it entirely with the likes of three Jason Bourne scores JUMPER and THE ITALIAN JOB, Powell’s previous entry in the comic book genre was his more symphonically typical, if no less effective score for X-MEN UNITED. HANCOCK basically throws all of that expected baggage away, all while saluting it at the same time (especially with an ode to the initial drum rolls of a certain John Williams theme, which don’t appear on this album). For the hero here is closer in disposition to Shrek, a curmudgeonly, if loveable son of a bitch that Powell scored in the character’s first outing. And while that bruiser was green, Hancock is black all the way, an ethnic sound that Powell plays up with a bluesy rock guitar, a Hammond organ and an overall vibe of funk. And when you top that ethnic choice off with a mandolin, accordion, fiddle and a sad female voice, chunks of HANCOCK begin to sound like either some Motown answer to COOL HAND LUKE or am ersatz sequel to ROB ROY.

But darned if Powell’s approach isn’t apropos for a HIGHLANDER-like hero’s lonely existence since time immemorial, and his self-confinement to the clink to dry out his body and soul. It’s a psychological approach that’s certainly one of the better ways in which HANCOCK tries to give the finger to films about people in tights. You might be saying what the f when hearing Powell’s musical choices, yet it all makes sense in the end. And even before then, the sheer daring inventiveness of Powell’s music helps keep HANCOCK continually interesting.

While HANCOCK’s score is one part soul Superman, Powell employs the Latin action that outrightly defined his music for MR. AND MRS. SMITH, while more subtly did the job in X-MEN UNITED’s standout themes. Here Powell’s enthusiasm symphonically spicing up rumbas and tangos makes HANCOCK’s action play like elaborate dance numbers, as hyperbeats mix with rhythms that would be right at home in a Cuban nightclub. In HANCOCK’s biggest “number,” it turns a cosmically destructive lovers’ spat into the coolest dance of pissed-off hearts since his explosive tango for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in SMITH. And in nearly every other big superhero scene, subtle Latin grooves are laid on top of wild percussion and crazed brass playing. Though musically drunk on purpose to reflect HANCOCK’s heroically destructive benders, it’s still the same kind of exuberance that you can hear in nearly every John Powell popcorn score from HAPPY FEET to KUNG FU PANDA- yet never on such a delightful edge of losing control.

About the only stuff that doesn’t quite fly here are the deliberately poky moments, especially the noodlings as Jason Bateman’s pr man tries to sell his brand of corporate egalitarianism. But for the most part, HANCOCK is clever in all the right ways as it thinks insanely out of the box for whatever a superhero score is supposed to mean in our postmodern musical age. There’s real emotion to its gonzo ideas, the sense of what a guy cursed with ultimate strength would be going through in his boozed-out, and ultimately redeemed soul. So when the big, brassy orchestral guns come out, the heroic statement’s deserved. And just as quickly as those Scottish fiddles and percussive samples come back in, you know you’re in the grip of a musician whose inventiveness continues to astound in the big, bold strokes that make a hero stand out on the comic book page- let alone in a soundtrack for the big canvas screen.

Hit the heroic bottle with HANCOCK here

1 Comment

  • July 22, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

    Great review as usual. There’s only one thing I think you should correct. John Powell scored X-Men The Last Stand. X-Men United was done by John Ottman.

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