Saturday, October 03, 2009

Some Short Thoughts on Hancock

[Note: spoilers of Hancock and I am Legend below.]

I saw Hancock the other night on TV and, honestly, it was one of the more interesting superhero stories I've encountered in a while. Oh, as long as you stop the movie after he stops the hostage situation in the bank... everything after that takes the story in a mistaken direction of unimportance (I'll get to that). But, for that first hour, the movie is oddly engaging as we watch Hancock struggle with being apart from humanity and wanting to be a part of humanity... and how that desire causes him to act in a way that further distances him from humanity. He fights crime, but in a sloppy, ill-conceived manner, often screwing up only because he didn't stop for two seconds to think his actions through. He wants to save a beached whale? Great! Except he simply chucks it into the ocean without bothering to aim and hits a boat. Why not pick the whale up, fly it over the ocean and set it in the water? Because he wants to help, but not really. There's an element of his character that resents who he is and what he can do: he will help but only in a way that's self-destructive.

The scene that stands out to me most of all is when he shoots a basketball in prison that bounces off the rim and over the fence of the prison (since he chucked the ball from the other side of the yard), so he jumps over the fence to get the ball, picks it up, and stands there. The prison sirens go wailing, the prisoners shout at him because they resent his ability to leave at will... and he stands there, looking at the open space ahead of him. He could just leave, he doesn't need to stay in prison, he doesn't need to win people over, he doesn't need to be a hero... and, then, he jumps back behind the prison fence. Because, he does need acceptence and, oddly, in prison, he's found it: he's found some security in the daily routine, in the fact that he's just another prisoner, that he could be like anyone else in there. There are no chances to play hero in prison, so he doesn't need to, whereas, in the world, there are always chances and he can't help himself.

Hancock is complex and simple: lots of self-loathing, he resents his powers as much as everyone around him resents them, he sees himself as superior to humanity because he is and can't hide that from everyone around him...

He's a criticism of the idea that simply having powers is enough to be a superhero, that training and practice isn't needed. Nor that being a hero is what comes naturally to everyone.

"Why does Hancock keep trying to play hero?" That is the central question of the movie and it gets lost after the hostage rescue in favour of the bullshit with his immortal wife. That second half is where the move goes off the rails as it tries to fill in the mystery of Hancock's background and create a credible nemesis/enemy for him (which he doesn't need since he's his enemy) and it sucks the air out of the whole thing. Up until then, it was a character study of this guy who wants to be loved and accepted but does almost everything he can to drive people away.

It falls into the same trap as the comic that explained Wolverine's origin: origins don't always matter and, sometimes, make a character or story weaker. All we need from Hancock's origin: he woke up in a hospital eighty years ago, couldn't remember who he was, has superpowers. If the answer to who he was before that hasn't presented itself in the past eighty years then it isn't necessary.

What should have happened is Hancock tries to kiss Mary and, as a result, drives away Ray, the one guy who believed in him and accepted him. Because Hancock can't help but drive people away. For act of heroism comes an act of self-destruction... no matter how well-intentioned.

It reminds me of I am Legend, another Will Smith movie from the last year or two, where a guy struggles with loneliness, and another movie that was absolutely fantastic until the last half/third. In that movie, it was him being saved from the Darkseekers... man, how great would that movie have been if it ended with Neville dying in that one last, insane attempt to kill as many of those fuckers as possible? What is it with these movies and not knowing how to end? It's like they don't notice their own potential to be great instead of some useless Hollywood piece of shit. And, no, I don't think those 'darker' changes would hurt them at the box office since I've yet to hear anyone say anything good about the final halves/thirds of those movies.

I think I need to see Hancock again to really delve into it. An oddly mature and realistic take on a superhero story that doesn't immediately remind me of something I've read before. Come on, that's rare.