If cities drafted superheroes like athletes, Hancock would be a surefire first-rounder. He flies. He's impervious to bullets. He could bench press Milwaukee. Physically, Hancock's the biggest deal since Superman—superherodom's very own Michael Jordan.
But here's the thing: Hancock pairs his altitude with attitude. Bad attitude.
For starters, he's got this thing for booze. He guzzles the stuff straight out of the bottle and never seems sober—a definite problem since he's the most fearsome entity this side of a hydrogen bomb. He doesn't just drive drunk, he flies drunk. And fights drunk. And smashes cars and trains and buildings drunk. One has to wonder whether his most fearsome superpower may be his horrific, alcohol-tinged breath.
Even saving a beached whale is problematic for the tipsy L.A. titan. Sure, he manages to hurl the poor creature back into the Pacific. But he tosses the behemoth straight into an unsuspecting sailboat.
"I don't even remember that," he mumbles, watching the whale-saving video on YouTube.
Yessir, Hancock's guilty of multiple costly RUIs—Rescuing Under the Influence—and his surly behavior hasn't won him very many friends. Frankly, everybody in Los Angeles wishes he'd find another city to save. He's been named in more than 600 civil suits, and now the city wants to throw him in jail.
Hancock seemingly has just two friends in the world: public relations guru Ray Embrey and Ray's little boy. After Hancock saves Ray's life (destroying several cars and an entire freight train in the process), Ray decides to help Hancock clean up his public image. He instructs the would-be superhero on some PR basics, such as:
1) When you land, don't crater the street.
2) Smile now and then.
3) Turn yourself in to authorities.
That last bit of advice is designed to help Hancock prove to folks that he's not beyond hope. Then, when crime rates inevitably climb after Hancock hits the big house, Ray reasons, the city will beg him to save it again. And Ray believes that's what Hancock needs more than anything—just a little love.
"They reject you," Ray tells Hancock. "And you reject them back."
Who knew that superheroes needed hugs, too?
[Note: To deal with this film's philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, the following sections contain plot spoilers.]
Hancock, for all his faults, seems innately driven to help. Sure, he plows through the city like a nuclear wrecking ball, but if it wasn't for this instinct to save the innocent and apprehend criminals, Hancock would be living a boozy, mopey life of listlessness in his dilapidated trailer. Even when citizens openly boo and mock him, Hancock comes back again and again, trying one more time to do the right thing.
He reluctantly follows Ray's advice and turns himself in to the city of Los Angeles—even though prison walls can't hold him and no one's strong enough to forcibly arrest him. At a press conference, he apologizes, telling citizens they deserve a better protector. "I can be better," he reads from note cards. "I will be better."
It's admittedly a publicity stunt: Hancock's about as sincerely repentant as your typical turnip. But over time, he (perhaps subconsciously) takes the apology to heart and changes his ways. When he's released, Hancock's a different sort of superhero, one who tells the police they're doing a good job, and—in an instance of political correctness gone astray—asks a wounded female officer whether he has her permission to touch her in order to rescue her, using lines seemingly straight from a litigiously minded human resources textbook.
In the end, Hancock—a guy longing for love and human affection—sacrifices his lone chance at love in order to serve humanity better.
Hancock, though, isn't the film's real hero. That moniker should actually go to Ray, the PR guy who's trying to get the corporations he works with to donate—heavily—to charity. We first meet him in the boardroom of a major pharmaceutical company, as he tries to talk them into giving away a newly developed tuberculosis treatment to the poor and needy. "We can save the world," he tells them. "Someone's just got to go first."
They laugh him out of the room, naturally—we get the sense it happens a lot to Ray. But when he meets Hancock, he sees another opportunity to help. "Maybe I can't change the world," he says. "But I can change this guy's life."
Hancock, as it turns out, is part of a nearly extinct race of superhuman creatures—folks who are both indestructible and immortal. Though he has no recollection of his past, we learn he's been around for thousands of years. When he asks someone in the know what, exactly, he is, his tutor says that those like him have been called "gods, angels ... different cultures, different names." In this particular place and time, they're known as superheroes.
But there's a suggestion that a greater force beyond Hancock and his kind lurks behind the scenes. Hancock is told that he, in particular, was "built" to save people. He's a kind of "insurance policy for the gods"—assurance that there'll be someone on hand to protect humankind from all the ick around them.
Elsewhere, Ray tells Hancock that his wife, Mary, was literally a godsend—that he met her when he was struggling with the death of his first wife and rearing an infant son alone. "Somebody, somewhere, was throwing me a little rope," he says.
Hancock mocks the biblical "turn the other cheek" concept early in the film. The best way to handle persecutors, he says (in so many words), is to kick 'em in the groin. And we don't necessarily see that ethos change much during the course of the story.
Mary is happily married to Ray. But there's a curious sexual energy between her and Hancock—a tension that, at one point, nearly reaches a snapping point when the two are left alone. They almost kiss (Hancock later says they did), but the moment, thankfully, goes no farther. Nevertheless, the connection deepens, and we see Mary tightly holding Hancock's hand, and she runs her fingers over a few of his scars.
Both know, however, that their relationship is about as healthy as a bagful of kryptonite, and Hancock ultimately sacrifices what seems to be his only chance at love—allowing Mary and Ray to stay true to their commitments to each other.
Mary wears revealing tops. We see her and Ray in bed together, kissing and laughing and apparently naked. (We only see them from the shoulders up.) And the camera spies part of Hancock's rear (exposed because sections of his clothes have been burned off). We also hear from Ray that Hancock once fought naked (but we don't see it). Hancock suggestively touches the hem of a woman's skirt as she walks by. When he prepares to carry a wounded female officer to safety, he reassures her that when he touches her, it won't be sexual—though he adds that she has a nice body.
Hancock assigns the epithet "homo" to various pictures of superheroes.
Hancock may not be your typical superhero. But in terms of violence, Hancock is a typical superhero film—perhaps even a notch or two more extreme. Never mind that Mary pontificates on the idea that "not everything in this world is resolved with brute force."
When one bad guy threatens to blow up a horde of hostages with a trigger-sensitive control (kill him, and his thumb'll come off the button, thus sparking the explosion), Hancock slices the hand off and carries it—still clutching the remote control—to waiting police officers. Another character cuts a hand off with a fire ax. (Neither scene is particularly bloody.)
While in prison, Hancock literally stuffs a prisoner's head up another's behind. He spears one bad guy with a candy bar (perhaps killing him), bounces others off walls and throws a schoolyard bully into the stratosphere—catching the terrified little boy several seconds later. He flies into a flock of birds, likely causing them undue physical and emotional turmoil.
But Hancock saves most of his destructive urges for things like cars (he smashes dozens, pinning one—filled with thugs—on top of a skyscraper), buildings (he tears through several sets of windows), roadways, street signs, trains and boats. There are explosions. There are gunfights.
Hancock takes his share of abuse, too. He encounters a being much like himself and the two tangle, destroying a good chunk of the city en route. (But first, to verify the authenticity of the claims, Hancock smashes a rolling pin over the person/superhero's head.) While in a weakened state, Hancock gets shot twice in the gut, sending him to the hospital bloodied and gasping for breath. A bad guy smashes his face several times with what appears to be an oxygen tank. He also imbeds a large knife into his back. And by the time the battle is done, Hancock is a bloody mess, nearly dead. Mary also gets shot a few times, and we see her in a hospital bed, sometimes screaming in pain and then flatlining.
Crude or Profane Language
Our superhero gets particularly enraged whenever someone calls him "a--hole," and we hear that particular phrase upwards of 20 times, sometimes from the mouths of children. Remove the second half of the compound putdown, and you can add another dozen exclamations. The f-word is spoken twice, the s-word nearly 10 times. "P---k" and "p---" are used. Someone makes an obscene gesture. Hancock pairs God's name with "d--n," and Christ's name is abused once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
As mentioned, Hancock is drunk for a good chunk of the film. We see him with cases of the hard stuff, and he's so hooked that he takes a whiskey bottle with him to the bathroom. Ray also drinks to excess at one point, and Hancock has to carry the man up to his bed and tuck him in.
Other Negative Elements
Hancock steals an ice cream treat. You think he might eventually come to regret the action, but ... not really.
Hancock, the flawed film, is much like Hancock, the flawed hero. There's some good stuff in there, but do you really want the guy hangin' with your kids?
"The ad campaign for this movie is much friendlier than the film," director Peter Berg told The New York Times. Filmgoers expecting to see a frenetic comic book romp, à la Spider-Man or Iron Man, will be surprised if not shocked by what plays out onscreen. According to the Times, the MPAA slapped an R rating on this film several times—unacceptable for the wide appeal Sony was shooting for with a Will Smith vehicle. Berg edited the thing down each time, gunning for that elusive PG-13, finally (barely) achieving it in this 90-minute incarnation.
You expect some violence and raucous action in a superhero film. You don't, however, necessarily count on the level of profanity, violence or weird spirituality offered by Hancock. There's a lot to chew on here: satire aimed at today's real-life "role models," ruminations on the nature of heroism, a poignant meditation on the longing to belong. But before they get to that stuff, families are going to feel like Hancock's hurled them headlong into the ocean after that unlucky whale.