By: Oumar Diagne
We’ve all at one point or another, dreamed about being a superhero. These gods amongst men that can leap tall buildings in a single bound, move objects with the power of our minds or even have the ability of flight. Do you see yourselves using these powers for good? Saving the innocent, punishing criminals and vanquishing evil? Being loved and admired? Are people rising to their feet and applauding your heroic feats? Do you dream of your bright smile on the cover of magazines and on television? Are you the hero the world has always wanted? Well, not if your name is John Hancock.
John Hancock (Will Smith) is definitely super but is difficult to call a hero. He can fly, has super strength and speed, he is invulnerable and to top it all off, he doesn’t age. Hancock is also a drunk. He stops crime but leaves nothing but damage, destruction and a crowd of angry rioters whenever he appears. He saves people sure, but they would much rather he stayed home in his trailer on the outskirts of Los Angeles more often than not. If anything, Hancock’s image needs to be reworked. As oftentimes happens in cinema, fate intervenes.
While on a routine day for our dashing hero, he stops to save a man whose car is stuck on the train tracks. Hancock could have easily lifted the car away from the tracks, yet instead decides to flip the car over, (with the occupant still inside) and destroy the train that was burrowing towards him. While the angry crowd yells at him, the grateful car owner Ray (Jason Bateman) invites Hancock over to his home to thank him for saving his life.
Over dinner, Hancock meets Ray’s family. His wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and his son Aaron (Jae Head). Mary is from the beginning very uncomfortable and distrusting of Hancock, while Aaron finds his antics intriguing. Ray admits to being in Public Relations and wants to help shape and change Hancock’s image. He wants John to be loved as all heroes should be. After some thought is given to the idea, Hancock agrees and goes to work on being a better person and a better hero.
What I personally love about this film, is that it works as a character piece. John Hancock is a broken and lonely person. As callous as his actions might seem when we meet him, this changes when we understand the reasons behind his anger and alcoholism. 80 years before the events of the film, John woke up in a hospital in Miami; badly beaten and with a fractured skull. Within an hour, he had completely healed but had lost all his memories. No one claimed him. No one came to find him or looked for him. He didn’t know who he was, where he came from or what his name was. John Hancock is the name he took when the nurse asked him to sign out of the hospital.
Watching John decide to become a hero, seeing how difficult it is for him, really makes me appreciate what we so often take for granted. Being a hero is hard. It is lonely. It is a sacrifice. Every day involves the choice of turning away from the things you love in order to be there for strangers. In John’s case more than in most.
After she tosses him through a wall, we find out that Mary has powers just like John. The two end up in a super-powered battle through the streets of Los Angeles, and only at its climax does Ray find out the truth about his wife. And through her, we find out the truth about her relationship with Hancock.
Mary and Hancock are the last remaining members of a group of super beings. These beings are made in pairs, each continually fated to be near one another. No matter how far one goes, the other will find them. It is a beautiful sentiment, except for the fact that the more time they spend together, their powers begin to fade, and we discover that they were together when Hancock was attacked. When she realized that he had lost his memories, she thought it would be easier for him if she disappeared.
After being fatally injured during a robbery, Hancock lays in the hospital as Mary describes the dangers they face. Their enemies appear when they are at their weakest. Hancock has saved Mary every time, leaving his body scarred with the abuse it has taken over the centuries. She chooses to leave him, not only for her own safety, not only for his but so that Hancock could follow his true calling.
“You are a hero,” she tells him as tears stream down her cheek, words which had a far deeper effect on me than I could have expected. In the time that we had spent with Hancock, there was always a feeling that there was more than meets the eye. Even though he was a drunk, spoke to people horribly and held quite a bullish disposition, he kept showing up to help. When he heard of an active crime, he would fly into action. When Ray’s son was being bullied, he took it upon himself to stand up for him. Maybe not in the way we imagine most heroes would, but sure as hell did something.
Thinking back on the film, Mary’s words ring truer to me still. The damage he caused could be avoided, but he never had to show up in the first place. He was compelled to do so. Time and time again, he left his trailer, or whichever bench he found himself on and launched into action. Isn’t that the true definition of a hero? Someone who chooses to help? Someone who uses their gifts to give people a chance? Beyond the millions and millions of dollars in destruction, isn’t this what heroes are meant to do?
The film ends with Mary and Hancock going their separate ways. Mary staying with the family and life she had built with Ray in Los Angeles, and Hancock going to New York to become the hero he was always meant to be. These individuals are meant to be together, the only way they will only know what it is like to be human, to love and to grow old, is to be together, yet they both sacrifice for a greater purpose.
Hancock left the only love he’s ever had, the only person in the world that could make him complete, so that he may continue to save the innocent. He gave up what he had wanted most in the entire world to do what he was meant to. Something only the greatest of heroes could do.