Hancock the jaunty, jokey riff on the screwed-up inner emotional life of a traditionally ironclad superhero becomes Hancock the icky lesson in the importance of personal responsibility, loyalty, and continued family togetherness.
It becomes an entirely different film, one not really premised on the bad-superhero comedy idea, and the film is then oddly without a sense of humour, and its vague interest in satire vanishes completely.
The problem is that director Peter Berg, aided and abetted by Smith and Theron and third banana Jason Bateman, seem to have made it literally, not realizing its out-of-whack tonalities and grotesque plot twists were meant to be played for laughs.
Credit must be paid to director Peter Berg for pulling off such a tricky balance of such diverse elements while delivering an impressive and affecting superhero adventure with as much heart and soul as sound and fury.
Part of the joke lies in seeing a megawatt star embrace his inner grouch with fantastical blunders, and part of the anticipation lies in seeing Hancock become, well, Will Smith.
Since The Pursuit of Happyness, actor-producer Smith has made no secret of his desire to make movies that entertain in that big-studio way but also dig deeper. Hancock is a rousing measure of that intent.
As popcorn movies go, this is fleet, funny, and even thoughtful: its central question, nicely underplayed by director Peter Berg, is why power and altruism never seem to intersect.