After revisiting Will Smith’s superhero comedy Hancock (2008) tonight, It struck me that despite having everything in place, (except for maybe a better narrative) the film ultimately misses the target. The same is true about another foray into the subgenre of superhero comedy, My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006). Both films have some amusing moments but for different reasons failed to end up being considered good movies. When I think of superhero comedies that work, the first one that comes to mind is Marvel’s Ant-Man (2015) which worked well for me as a comedy and a superhero film. After that, I came up blank at first, then I remembered The Meteor Man (1993), a film perhaps best forgotten and the oddly amusing and sophomoric Mystery Men (1999) which I am sure is considered a cult classic by someone somewhere. In fact, when I thought back about when previous superhero movies tried to get cute and be amusing it spelled doom for them at the box office (I’m looking at you Fantastic Four). Can it be that comedy is the kryptonite of superhero films? Can it be that dark and grim is the only approach that works? I doubt that’s true. Otherwise, we are going to get bored and quick.
The difference between Ant-Man and the other examples is the humor is inherent in Ant-Man which the script exploited nicely and the excellent cast executed well. While in the others, the attempts at humor are more contrived and maybe even forced.
In Hancock, which is more of a dramedy, the humor is all pretty much born out of dark themes and is in fact mean-spirited. The eponymous character is a hostile, belligerent alcoholic due to crippling loneliness after losing his memory. Even though his wanton destruction of anything that happens to get in his way is amusing for awhile, the film starts to lose it humor and descends into just plain sappiness when he gets “cured” and reformed by the well-meaning Ray. It might have worked better as a comedy if he stayed unchanged throughout the film. The revelation about his relationship with Charlize’s Mary only made matters worse by upping the corniness levels of the movie with an overly sentimental finish. I like the film, and I can take cornier stories than a lot of people are willing to put up with, but it could have better.
Although it does have some funny moments, My Super Ex-Girlfriend messed up in other ways. The girlfriend in question is obviously mentally disturbed, but the film just plows ahead making light of what is a serious case of mental illness. Pursuing it as a serious film about a mentally ill superhero might have proved more engaging. The film goes on to succumb to the temptation of throwing in every sexist cliche it could dig up. It’s true cliches have some basis in reality; as anyone that has ever had a girlfriend can tell you, but this film is lazy in its portrayal of the girlfriend from hell, and the narrative takes the most predictable path it could find. It might have been more interesting and amusing for example if the two women decided to go off together and leave the guy behind.
Both of these productions were enjoyable in part, and each had some very amusing moments but in the end failed in their mission of ending up as what most people would consider being a good movie. For whatever the reasons, superhero comedies must be hard, or there would be a lot more of them around.