The reviews for Hancock were far from kind, and yet, the film made $78 million in the USA and Canada in the first weekend. The 3:40 showing I went to yesterday was completely packed. A full Sunday afternoon matinee means one thing — beaucoup bucks.
In a summer when Iron Man’s success annihilated even the most ambitious projections, with The Incredible Hulk quickly following (to somewhat lesser financial and critical success), it seems only natural to put Hancock up as Yet Another Superhero Blockbuster (though the likely #1 Superhero Blockbuster of the summer is still to come, i.e. The Dark Knight)
Here’s where we move into specifics — so beware if you haven’t seen the film.
Except that Hancock is more like The Eternals meets Powers. It comes across with a much more post-modern approach to the supers genre, with Act I as a superhero deconstruction, Act II the subsequent reconstruction, and Act III escalating the crazy. Sadly, Act III needed a thorough re-write — or it had that re-write, and some level of producer/studio/whatever influence trimmed all the exposition that was needed to make the end of the film structurally sound.
The connection between Hancock and Mary is clearly (almost too clearly) established in the first part of the film, and I certainly enjoyed the super-powered throwdowns of Act III. Turns out that the concept for Hancock is far cooler than originally suspected, with beings of incredible power made in pairs fated to be drawn to one another, then become mortal and grow old together. Mary and Hancock are the only pair left (to Mary’s knowledge).
It’s an interesting approach to supers, and puts the comparison between gods and superheroes an explicit part of the film. I read Hancock as being Thunderbird (due to the Tornado and his general destructiveness), or possibly Horus. Mary would be a fire deity of some sort.
When you look at the film from the meta-level of casting and the market, it was pretty obvious that Charlize Theron wasn’t just going to be the dutiful and suspicious wife of Jason Bateman. And I’d heard a spoiler a month or two back that gave away the Act III reveal. Despite all of this, I enjoyed the film, even though Act III makes for a less-than-satisfactory conclusion. The Psychology-professor turned criminal mastermind could have been a decent villain, but he was barely small potatoes compared to the stakes of Mary and Hancock’s 3000-year long on-again-off-again divinely mandated pairing.
Hancock brings up my theory that according to Alan Moore, all superheroes and their stories ultimately slide to one of two extremes. On the one hand, we have the Superhero as Fascist — exemplified by Marvelman/Miracleman. Power and altruism eventually leads to those with power taking control for everyone else’s good. On the other hand, we have the Superhero as Pervert/Psycho — exemplified by Watchmen. Superheroes get off on fighting crime, being above the law, and the mental instability that drives them to heroism will inevitably consume them. Let’s call this the Moore Continuum.
Now of course, often times Fascists are psychotic, so it’s not a cut-and-dry setup. Hancock trends towards the superhero as Pervert/Psycho (or asshole, really), with our hero starting out as an anti-social drunk with anger management issues and a desperate need for human connection and appreciation. It does re-construct Hancock as hero in Act II (whichs is more than a lot of late 80s/early 90s superhero narratives would do), but it doesn’t surprise me to learn that this script began its search for representation and funding about 10 years ago (very late Iron Age/early Platinum Age in supers history).
The explanation for Hancock’s heroism is (according to Mary) in-born, as if Hancock was made by Them (the Demi-Urge(s), the Titans, etc.) to be a contingency plan to protect humanity — which is at least an interesting move in terms of the supers genre.
Which I think is why the film is ultimately a positive experience for me. It’s much more a Supers story than many comic book movies, as it isn’t drawing on already-established cultural knowledge of a character like Spider-Man or The Hulk. Sure, Hancock is the Drunk Superman Movie, but it’s also an examination of loneliness, validation, the relationship between a hero and the populace they protect, the perception and contextualization of heroism. Saying that Hancock has an inborn, by-design imperative to protect sets up Supers (as exemplified by Hancock himself) as humanity’s guardians, their security subroutine. This trends towards the Superhero as Fascist end of the Moore Continuum, and brings up the following question:
How far can we and should we go with our personal/collective power to bring change for the better when we know that other people dissagree, sometimes violently, about what that better means? Can we act on our personal morality/ethics to make radical changes to how society works and not become the Fascists preaching Heteropraxy and Dogma? Where’s the balance? It’s one that the supers genre is particularly good for examining, though I’d say that said potential isn’t always being used very well. Most narratives that examine that question tend to go waaaay too far to one side or the other and criticizing the results without bothering to try to find the middle. The original Squadron Supreme deals with the middle but then quickly goes off the Fascist end.
All of this from a film with a 36% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Today’s lesson — don’t necessarily trust mainstream critics when they talk about a genre you’ve spent your whole life invested in and investigating. Films can be many things to many people.
I’d still like to see if there’s a director’s cut in store that includes some of the needed exposition that I can only imagine ended up on the cutting room floor to make the film more Summer Blockbuster-y (since the film’s primary genre was actually Summer Blockbuster instead of Superhero Deconstruction/Reconstruction). But that’s another post on genre theory.