Hancock (2008)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 4; L-4;1 S/N -.2. Running time: 1 hour 32 min.

I call heaven and earth to witness against
you today that I have set before you life
and death, blessings and curses. Choose
life so that you and your descendants
may live…
Deuteronomy 30:19

Hancock rescues Ray from an on-coming train.

2008 Columbia Pictures

Director Peter Berg’s funny film is a bit like the animated feature The Incredibles, in that both raise questions about what is life like for a superhero when the action has ended and the villains trucked off to jail. And what if the superhero is a jaded klutz who destroys the pavement when he zooms down out of the sky, and whose rescues result in millions of dollars of collateral damage? And have you ever met a superhero who is jailed for ignoring some 600 court summonses and told to join Alcoholics Anonymous? Then meet John Hancock (Will Smith), superhero with a perpetual hangover, dressed like a skid row bum, and generally despised by the public and police because of all of the damage he causes. And yet he keeps on coming to the rescue of people in distress.

His latest save is Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a PR man whose vision of public service is not shared by the corporate CEOs to whom he pitches a project. When Ray is stuck at a railroad crossing and unable to get out or move his car while a train rushes toward him, it is Hancock who saves his life, but wrecks a half dozen other cars and causes the train cars to pile up behind the stopped engine. The crowd denounces Hancock, but Ray thanks him, and after a while convinces him that he can pay him back by a PR campaign to change his dark image. The results are both amusing, and at times poignant as we see that Ray’s take on his rescuer is right—what a loner Hancock has been all his life. We also learn that Mary, Ray’s wife (Charlize Theron), has a past she has never revealed, one that has a lot to do with why Hancock cannot remember anything before he woke up in a Florida hospital and discovered his super strength—eighty years ago.

Filled with spectacular effects, the film has the virtue of many other comic book-based films by presenting a superhero who suffers the pain of being a perpetual outcast because of his powers. There are lots of cars and buildings smashed to amuse lovers of the action genre, and also some interesting revelations of character that those who prefer drama can appreciate. Christians will note that certain characters choose to give up those whom they love for the sake of the other. A film that I thought would be another spoof of summer superhero flicks turned out to be far better than anticipated.

For Reflection/Discussion

Spoilers, so read no further if you have not seen the film.

1) What do you think of Hancock when you first see him? Not your typical superhero, is he? How is this film a little more realistic than most such fantasy films?

2) How is Ray just the right person whom Hancock needs at this stage in his life? In making his pitch to the superhero, he says that Hancock can choose to change: how is choice vital in making a change in one’s life? What choices have you made that changed your life?

3) Did you wonder at the way that Mary looked at Hancock when Ray brought his new friend home? What did you expect might develop between them? In what way were you surprised by what did happen?

4) During the process of his image make-over how does discipline become a crucial factor? Of Hancock submitting to arrest and then prison? In being more careful how he lands? In accepting insults or criticism? (At what points have you also had to learn the importance of discipline in your own life?)

5) What did you think of the scenes in which Hancock sits in an AA meeting? Is he really part of the proceedings? What finally induces him to speak? How do the others affirm and support him?

6) What sacrifices for the sake of love do we see in the film?