A Deliberation Upon the Film “Hancock.”

I didn’t mean to put up two Will Smith-themed posts in a row, but there’s been something on my mind lately. By now I’m sure you’ve seen some sort of advertising for the Fresh Prince’s new blockbuster superhero film – a movie trailer, a billboard, a magazine ad, a Taco Bell cup, something. Basically, the premise appears to involve Will Smith as an alcoholic superhero with the basic Superman power set – flight, super-strength, invulnerability, super-speed – but any similarity to the Man of Steel ends there. 

Whereas Superman is kind, selfless and polite, John Hancock (Smith’s character) is a drunken douchebag who tends to cause more property damage than the criminals or disasters he tries to stop. He’s not just careless – he’s an outright jerk. A scene in one of the previews shows him throwing a kid several thousand feet into the atmosphere just for calling him an asshole, only to catch the child at the last second before the 10-year-old’s life concludes as a bloody smear on the asphalt.

Now obviously, we all know Big Willie’s character will be redeemed by the end of the movie; any story has to have character movement in order to be successful, and when an actor known for being likeable takes on a character who starts off as that much of a jerkoff, we know he’s gonna end up Doing The Right Thing. Indeed, Hancock’s redemption appears to be the main plot of the film; after he saves an advertising exec (played by Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman), the exec decides to dedicate Hancock to reshaping his public image and becoming the wisecracking Justice League member we all expect any superhero played by Will Smith to be. And along the way, Hancock tries to bang Bateman’s wife, Charlize Theron. Classy. 

But as a fan of superheroes in general and Superman in particular, two things hit me when I heard about the movie. First of all, I wondered, isn’t this basically like saying, “What if Superman had stayed fucked-up after Richard Pryor used that ripoff Kryptonite on him in Superman III?”

But secondly, it got me thinking about the “real-world” ramifications of having a reckless hero like the film shows. Think about it for a second: Hancock is, unless this movie happens to take place in the DC Universe and they just happen to leave that out, presumably the most powerful being on the planet. In the trailer, he’s seen smashing a freight train simply by standing in the way of it. This puts him in the same power-level range as Superman or Thor. But unlike those heroes, he’s a jerk, who has no qualms about causing millions of dollars in property damage or threatening lives.

In the film, it gets played for laughs – yeah, yeah, Hancock’s a jerk, what are you gonna do. But can you imagine what would happen in the real world if this happened? An alcoholic superman shows up, invulnerable to guns or bombs and strong enough to tear apart cities with his bare hands, and refuses to respect the rule of law. Do you think the police would simply throw their hats on the ground in frustration every time Hancock caused a 40-car pileup by flying through a road sign? Do you think people would really let their kids walk up to this man while he sleeps on a park bench, let alone call him names? Do you think the government would stand idly by as this man flies above the streets, knowing if he wanted to stroll right into the state house – or better yet, the White House – and declare himself ruler-for-life, all they could do is pray he’d change his mind and head home because his buzz was wearing off?

Of course not.

People would be scared shitless of this man. They’d run screaming wherever he went. Sure, crime would be down – nobody would even think about breaking the law after Hancock accidentally killed a mugger in a drunken rage by punching him through the skull. The police would be powerless to stop him, and they probably wouldn’t even try, not after it sunk in just how powerful he was. It would fall to the government to find some way to stop him before he decided he’d rather be in charge of Earth instead of the little politicians. They’d work on developing their own super-soldiers, probably by scraping Hancock’s DNA off the sidewalk wherever they could and using it to reverse-engineer his powers onto some Special Forces volunteer. Once they got their super-soldier ready, he’d try to take Hancock down; there’d be a massive fight that would level entire cities, the sheer impact of their punches leveling blocks. Thousands of civilians would die, collateral damage in the War on Hancock. If everyone was lucky, the super-soldier would manage to kill or disable Hancock, then not decide that he, in turn, was a better choice for supreme ruler of the world; if Hancock won, the government would probably have little choice but to launch nuclear missiles at him, in hopes that in his weakened state he’d be killed by the blast along with hundreds of thousands more within the blast radius.

But what if all along, all during that, it turned out Hancock was just a poor, sad man with an alcohol problem and a bad temper? A man who tried to help at first with his extraordinary gift, but wound up causing more harm then good. It might not take many accidents in the line of superheroism to end up having people fear him; a dropped airliner here, a fractured dam there, pretty soon he’d be public enemy number one, even though he just wanted to help. Nobody could blame him for turning to the bottle when all his dreams went up in smoke. Nobody could blame him for getting mad at the people he was trying to protect for forsaking him. And nobody could blame him for defending himself when the government sent someone to kill him.

Now that would be a movie I’d like to see.


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