The Genius That is Peter Berg’s ‘HANCOCK’
Peter Berg’s 2008 deconstructionist superhero film HANCOCK is a movie that has managed to float under the radar for 9 years. It is a movie that took the superhero formula and turned it on its head. At face value, it just looks like a movie where a drunk jerk has godly abilities and doesn’t use them for good until a small suburban family points him in the right direction. Basically, at face value, this movie looks like it’s just HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS but instead of a sasquatch, it has a superhero. That isn’t the case, as HANCOCK could be better compared to a film such as KRAMER VS KRAMER, a film where the main character has responsibilities that he has managed to shrug off time and time again, yet finally gets his head on straight and faces his persecutions head on.
The film lives and dies at Peter Berg, as he is the one man who managed to not only construct this story in his own sort of way but managed to make it work without shoehorning American symbolism in every single frame. In most of Peter Berg’s work, the film, regardless of the plot, will make you remember that the movie is about red-blooded Americans. HANCOCK is the first film that Peter Berg broke that mold. HANCOCK doesn’t nearly rely on the “American dream” as much as previous Berg films have. That adds to the beauty of the film and how it isn’t like a superhero film a majority of people would assume it is. Spanning from the likes of ‘Iron Man’ to ‘Man of Steel’ and even any of the X-Men films, the idea of America is placed behind them. The heroes always tend to be doing something to benefit America and keep the dream moving. ‘Hancock’ doesn’t do that. Don’t take the above statement as a dig in regards to the films listed above, it’s simply meant as my observation in how different Hancock is compared to the rest. Hancock is simply a being that loves 3 people and tries to protect them.
Hancock is a character that becomes a truly “good guy” not because he destroys a blue beam of light in the sky, or because he kills an Alien overlord/soldier/general that wants to take over the world, no, it’s because he leaves the woman he loves knowing that if he stayed, they’d both die. Instead of him getting the girl or, the opposite, having the opportunity to get the girl but walking away from her because he’s just too cool, Hancock had a legitimate reason for not being able to stay with the woman he was created to be with because they each were their own kryptonite.
As mentioned this dynamic is a complete departure from the superhero norm. In most cases, the hero’s weakness is a rock, color, or simply someone who is stronger than they are. You don’t ever see a case where the hero’s weakness is the woman who he loves. That is one of the ways flips the genre on its head. It has taken this core value in superhero storytelling and morphed it into a completely different animal. It took a crutch used by many directors to try and deliver an earnest story, and instead used it to tear down not only what it means to be a hero, but also some of the things one would sacrifice to protect and save the ones closest to them, even if that meant completely having to remove yourself from their lives. Hancock is also a rare animal in that the film’s main antagonist, played by the immensely talented Eddie Marsan, is just simply a bank robber who has a grudge against Hancock (and rightfully so) after the latter cut his hand off. He isn’t a powerful foe who can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes, or was a part of a failed super-soldier experiment, or even a telepathic mutant. No, he’s just an upset ex-con with a hook for a hand.
Hancock is a movie unlike any other. It is a far different category than any current or previous superhero films, but it manages not to make itself so different to the point that it’s jarring, or that it’s trying too hard to be different (see FAN4STIC). It is a film that can be revisited again and again and one you can get more out of from each viewing. But more importantly, it truly digs into the question of what it means to be a superhero, and at what cost you’ll be willing to take on that responsibility. We need a sequel.