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Hancock Twist

Hancock Twist Ending

There are plenty of problems with Hancock, to be sure. My primary complaint is that the film is too short - the ending, in particular, feels rushed, and I would have liked several more scenes exploring each character’s reactions to the climactic events.

The villain, too, is lacking — though, in a way, he is supposed to be. But I wanted a stronger setup to his role in the third act. There’s an extended action sequence following the film’s big reveal that feels wrong in its details, and I would have preferred to see its context explored through a mix of dialogue and action as opposed to a big budget set piece.

I’m being vague here because there is also a whole lot that’s very right about Hancock, and discussing most of it means getting into spoiler territory. So, that’s what I’ll do… follow to the jump if you’ve seen the film or don’t plan to.

Otherwise, see it before checking back.

Welcome to the spoiler section. Glad you could make it.

Much of the criticism Hancock is getting from reviewers (and it’s getting a lot) is based on the third-act twist often described as coming out of left field. I find that assertion ludicrous, as the “twist” is telegraphed very early in the film. When Ray (Jason Bateman) first brings Hancock home, the reaction of his wife Mary (played beautifully by Charlize Theron) is immediate and powerful. It is obvious she knows him somehow, and my first thought was that she was either responsible for his powers or that she would be the film’s big bad.

The truth is far more interesting… she is his soul mate. They are divine beings, created as a pair, drawn to each other across millenia. Their curse is that when they succumb to this attraction, their powers fade, and forces of evil find a way to attack them. There is a little of the Jesus story in this mythology — they must resist the temptation of a human life together in order to carry on saving the world.

Eighty years prior, Mary and Hancock — having succumbed to their mutual desire — were assaulted on the streets of Miami (I took this as the film’s one nod to their different races, and a suggestion that it could be the most mundane sort of evil that results in the demise of these earthbound angels). Hancock is left with no memory, and Mary sees this as an opportunity to thwart destiny. She eventually settles down with Ray (I’d love to know how she spent the other 75 years), falls into a less destructive kind of love and lives a “normal” human life. Hancock, on the other hand, is lost. Unaware of who or what he is, aching for a connection he can’t articulate, he follows the path of many lost souls and gives himself up to alcohol. This doesn’t stop him from helping people out when he can, though usually with disastrous results.

But fate intervenes, as it must, and after a chance encounter, public relations man Ray takes Hancock on as a personal redemption project and takes him home to Mary. Smith and Theron have wonderful chemistry, and I bet a second viewing of the film would make their early scenes resonate even more. I’m glad director Peter Berg didn’t try to mask the cosmic connection between these two characters in the interest of better guarding his twist. Theron comes across as a bit other-worldly from the start, as she should if the film is to be honest about its characters. Hancock mistakes their mystical bond for sexual attraction (can you blame him?) and winds up thrown through a wall for his trouble.

It’s here that the film begins to delve into its underlying mythology, and it’s here that many critics seem to have tuned right out. Were they truly thrown by the twist? If so, they weren’t paying very close attention. Or were they peeved that the film turned out to be something different than what they expected? It’s not really a comedy about a drunk superhero — it’s a drama about fate, love and sacrifice. Is there some rule that it can’t be both?

As I said, there are problems with the film, many of which I’d love to see resolved in a longer director’s cut if one exists. But those problems keep it from being a truly great film, as opposed to a very good one. My guess is it will be recognized as such several years from now, when its $100 million weekend and 35% Tomato rankings are a distant memory.

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