I’m more than a bird…I’m more than a plane
I'm more than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me. — "Superman," Five for Fighting
As per usual, I am about three months behind the rest of America in my viewing of the latest and greatest. Will Smith’s superhero epic, Hancock, came to Pay-Per-View this week, and I spent part of my New Year’s Eve watching. It seems from what I read in reviews that I, unlike many others, did not approach the movie with preconceptions about Smith as a superhero. I didn’t really have any idea what the movie would be about, and I think that saved it for me.
It helped me see a love story cleverly disguised as an action movie. If you haven't seen it, and like being surprised, then this review is not for you.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Will Smith truly is a golden boy in movies. There were even parts to enjoy about the craptastic event that was Wild, Wild West. I am definitely a fan of his, even if some of his movies' storylines don’t hold me as tightly as the directors and producers hope they will. Whether playing a displaced Philly-born rapper, a balls-to-the-walls aviator saving the world, a Miami cop, a homeless, desperate father, The Greatest, or the last man on Earth, there is always a look, a phrase, a lift of the brow that brings Smith’s audiences close to his story, if not that of the movie.
Smith’s ability to say with a shift of his shoulders, a pursing of lips, or a slip of slang into a monologue that he’s one of us, he’s in it with us and for us makes him the hero of everyman, with or without super powers.
Charlize Theron is probably one of the most gorgeous women on the planet. Her beauty radiates from the inside out, and she plays her characters with an honest rawness that makes you want to identify with her. She’s the men want to be with her, women want to be her type of actress, I think.
The player in Hancock that really shone for me, though, was Jason Bateman. I’ve adored his boy-next-door quality since Hogan’s Family. Recently, he’s reappeared on the movie scene in Juno and The Kingdom, and caught attention in Arrested Development. It’s his subtle, almost quiet humor that captivates the audience. I laughed out loud at several moments, and for me, he quite literally stole scenes from Will Smith with a calm nod, a quirk of a brow, and a flat-out ridiculous statement that is ironically so fitting to the moment.
The movie itself is light on plot and back story. It would really suffer for that if not for the emotional reveal and end performance of Theron and Smith. John "Hancock" is a Superman-esque hero who has been living alone in Los Angeles for the past 80 years. He’s seemingly compelled to save people, despite increasing bitterness as to the lack of appreciation for his actions. When we first meet Hancock, he’s living like a street bum, working his way through an impressive amount of whiskey, and severely destructive in his methods to stop the bad guys. He also really, really hates being called an asshole.
Enter Ray, PR entrepreneur with a dream to make a difference in the world. Ray is saved by Hancock and is in turned determined to change the fallen hero’s public image. Which, he does in an adorably earnest manner that makes you want to stand behind him and golf clap. Predictably, Hancock is called upon to save the day, and is cheered for, returning him to the good graces of the finicky public. Also just as predictably, a bad guy he puts away escapes jail and is determined to take the hero out.
If that were the entire story, it would have been so lacking in depth I’d have barely gotten my feet wet. However, there are layers to this action flick with the potential to make even the crustiest cynic emit a soft sigh of sorrow. It turns out, Hancock is not alone. His kind, however many there once were, are made in pairs. Mates, if you will. The closer these mates get to each other physically, the weaker their super-human powers become, offering them the chance to be mortal, and live normal, human lives.
Hancock’s mate was closer than he thought. Close enough to be married to Ray, in fact. Theron’s character, Mary, who rescued newly-widowed Ray about eight years prior from the impossible choice of Pampers or Huggies as he stood lost in the grocery aisle, his world just turned sideways with the simultaneous birth of his son and loss of his wife. There were some incongruous storytelling moments that made me wonder exactly how close the mates had to be — proximity, length of time, what? — to lessen their powers, but when the truth is revealed to the apparently amnesia-stricken Hancock, it’s heartbreaking.
He and his mate have been together, and apart, for nearly 3,000 years. And every time they find each other, he is almost-fatally wounded protecting her, and they are forced to part once more. He has the scars to prove it, which she touches almost reverently as she plays his life back for him.
The way Mary holds his hand, the way tears well in her eyes, the way her voice chokes with emotion as she speaks, tells without a doubt of the love these two immortals shared. Always together, eternally apart.
In an only-in-the-movies hospital shoot-out between bad guys and cops, with Ray and his son caught in the middle, Mary is mortally wounded, and Hancock is beaten to a bloody pulp. Both are essentially dead, but Hancock – the consummate hero – finds the strength somewhere inside of him to pull his wounded, mortal body to its feet, moving away from Mary, from companionship, from friendship, from love. Each step farther from her bringing her further back into life.
It’s Hollywood, and a superhero movie, so of course the ending is “feel good,” but prior to that, the tragic love story between Hancock and Mary is epic in its power. But even with super powers, there is no happily ever after. There is what you decide, and how you live with that decision.
And that is how humanity is saved.