‘Hancock’ (2008)

Hancock ‘ started it’s journey to the screen 12 years ago as a spec-screenplay by first-timer Ny Vincent Ngo, titled ‘Tonight He Comes’.

I first learned about Ngo’s screenplay through some fanboy site like Harry Knowles’ AintItCool.com. Ngo’s script created something of an uproar in Hollywood despite comic book properties being at a fallow moment after Joel Schumacher’s assumption of the Batman franchise with ‘s ‘ Batman Forever ‘ (1995) and the revolving door that the title role became after the departure of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton.

‘Tonight’ launched a bidding war and got Ngo signed by CAA, jump-starting Ngo’s screenwriting career and several premium-cable writing gigs. But along the way, the script also got the attention of Writer-Producer Akiva Goldsman who bought the script and subsequently doctored it to fit his number one screen-doctoring client, Will Smith.

Out of circulation for a good while, a copy of Ngo’s original script has resurfaced here , but without, apparently a final page, as the script has, a decade later, come out of the backside of Hollywood’s Assistant and Gopher Army, Xeroxed to death before the advent of scanner-copier combos.

Having not yet read the entirety of the script, this much is true: ‘Tonight’ was intended as a sort of post-Tarantino, post- Dark Knight Returns play on Superman, though the script never mentions the protagonist by that name™:Instead, Hancock is just named by the script as a generic superhero who wears a red cape and blue outfit though this goes uncapitalized in the movie.

DKR (1986) and Watchmen (1986) of course heralded a new age of darker, grittier comic book fare that culminated in Frank Miller’s Sin City (1992). But the other thing that re-characterizes Hancock-the-Movie from the original race-neutral (and presumably Caucasian) disposition of the screenplay is the working-class aspect of the Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman characters. In the original screenplay, Ray Embrey ( née Horus Longfellow ) is depicted as a Brooklyn Security Guard and his wife Mary is a housewife short on everything but but disappointment. By moving the story from Sheepshead Bay, New York to Beverly Hills script doctors Vince Gilligan and John August have eliminated whatever class and racial friction that might had remained between the Embreys and Hancock as depicted by Will Smith.

For the first 2/3rds of its running time, Hancock proceeds like one of those awful genre-parody movies that gets released every 6-8 months — it is ‘Sky High 2′ and ‘Superhero Movie 0′ but with A-list performers, rather than has-beens and actors you’ve never heard of before.

Why anyone would think that a movie about a jaded, alcoholic super-hero would qualify as ‘entertainment’, much less ‘comedy’ is anyone’s guess, but it’s A WILL SMITH MOVIE and everything he touches turns to action-movie comedy gold that’s what Akiva Goldsman is there to ensure. But after the first hour of the movie’s 91 minute running-time, the spoof collides with some sort of strange :: SPOILER :: and never quite recovers its footing. That’s the twist; if you haven’t seen it, swipe the spoiler-text at your own peril.

Far from fulfilling the promise of either Frank Miller’s revisionist Batman or Alan Moore’s ‘Silver Age’ Watchmen stumbles when the script fails to properly characterize the place of Superheroes within modern culture. For a moment, the movie seems to want to go for an MLA equivalence pointing out that Hancock and his ilk may have once walked the world as gods. But that description fails when Hancock is considered as a proper reflection of American culture rather than one of the pan-cultural musings of someone like Joseph Campbell and his ‘Hero of A Thousand Faces’ mythos. Super-heroes are a product of the Industrial and Atomic age: Typically the products of science and ingenuity rather than elemental forces like Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.

Written in 1996, ‘Tonight’ seems to have been a meditation on the irreconcilable worlds of superheroes and mere mortals, ‘Hancock’ has been reduced to a mere Will Smith vehicle . While the efforts of Peter Berg, Vince Gilligan and John August are to be admired for continuity, I feel that Mr. Ngo’s intentions — whatever they were — got lost during the 3rd draft or the 2nd trip to the editing room. Six weeks before the opening, there were reports of Columbia/Sony ordering Berg to reshoot portions of the story for a PG-13 rating , which might explain the plot-holes and uneven nature of the final product.

The story is a mess, but it’s a spirited and entertaining mess.

I wish that someone had tried to publish it as a comic book.

Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Further reading:
“Hancock”, A Movie Ruined By 10 Years In Development Hell
Script Review, ‘Tonight, He Comes’ aka ‘Hancock’
Note: ‘Tonight, He Comes’ by Vincent Ngo is widely available via Google

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