Will Smith as a Superhero
by George Alexander
It’s summertime! Well, maybe not officially, but definitely for Hollywood. The first weekend in May kicked off the Hollywood summer movie season, which got off to a rousing start. The industry’s first event movie Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow, opened to a whooping $104.2 million domestically and a total of $201 million worldwide.
But Iron Man isn’t the only superhuman to hit the big screen this summer. In fact, the summer of 2008 is expected to be a season of superheroes. In addition to Iron Man, moviegoers can also get their fill of The Incredible Hulk; the Batman sequel, The Dark Knight; Hellboy II: The Golden Army; and Hancock, starring box-office phenomenon Will Smith. Hancock opens July 2 in time for the Fourth of July holiday.
Superheroes are as American as Hollywood itself. Take the box-office success of such franchises as Superman, Batman, X-Men, and The Fantastic Four. America has long had an infatuation with the men and women who can right society’s ills, keeping the world safe for the upstanding good guys.
But black superheroes in Hollywood are a definite rarity. Robert Townsend made an earnest, yet ill-fated attempt at being a superhero in his 1993 film, The Meteor Man. That film, in which Townsend was the star, director, producer, and writer, made a paltry $8.3 million. Wesley Snipes scored favorably with the Blade trilogy, based on the comic book series. That franchise, beginning in 1998, has grossed $417.9 million worldwide. Then there is Halle Berry, who continues to reprise her role as Ororo in the superhero ensemble of the X-Men franchise. Berry also landed the title role as the bad girl and heroine in Catwoman, which was a 2004 box-office disappointment. And let’s not forget Michael Jai White as Spawn back in 1997.
Now it’s Will Smith’s time to show off his super fetes. It’s no accident that Smith has been dubbed Mr. July. It’s a title he’s earned to the tune of a combined $2.5 billion at the box office thanks to such summer spectacles as Independence Day, Men in Black, Men in Black 2, Bad Boys I and II, and I, Robot. This summer, Smith gets a chance to dazzle audiences in Hancock, which is described as an action-comedy.
The movie is directed by Peter Berg, who most recently was behind the 2004 football film Friday Night Lights and 2007’s The Kingdom starring Jamie Foxx. Smith and his longtime producing partner James Lassiter are also producers on Hancock.
The film’s tagline on Internet Movie Database says, “Meet the superhero everybody loves to hate.” Hancock tells the story of a homeless alcoholic (Smith) who possesses superpowers. A publicist (played by Jason Bateman) tries to rehabilitate and revitalize the career of the washed-up superhero who returns the favor by having an affair with the publicist’s wife (Charlize Theron).
Hancock’s less than Mr. Nice Guy persona has been considered a rather dicey move for Smith given his long history, since his days on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, of playing likable characters. But if anyone can handle a gamble, it’s Smith, a face global moviegoers have come to worship. His worldwide gross totals nearly $5 billion. And Hancock is already expected to be a big blockbuster hit: Entertainment Weekly has predicted that the film will make $280.4 million.
If people with special powers aren’t your thing, don’t worry. Look for African Americans in other films at theaters this summer. You can catch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Get Smart, opening on June 20; Eddie Murphy and Gabrielle Union in Meet Dave, opening July 11; and Ice Cube and Keke Palmer in The Longshots, on July 25. Yes, summer is here and it’s time to get out to the cinema.