Two points I’d like to make about Hancock.
There is in Hollywood a zeal-like mind-set about sympathetic protagonists, that all protags must be sympathetic and/or empathetic, which found its origins in the teachings of Mr. Robert McKee.
But that’s not what he said. Here’s what he said:
"The PROTAGONIST must be empathetic; he may or may not be sympathetic."
Empathy was the requirement, not sympathy. By empathy, he meant, a shared human quality that we can all recognize, that strikes a chord in all of us. Yet, Hollywood continuously tears down scripts if there are any traces of un-sympathy in the lead characters. What is overlooked, in the process, is one of the most beloved, fun ways of telling a story – the transformational character arc, such as we saw in my three favorite examples: Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, or Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler in The Lives of Others.
Those are great stories! They work so well!
Hancock should end the debate about unsympathetic protags. With the audience I sat through, the worse Hancock treated people, the more everyone laughed, because they knew a transformational arc was on its way, and he’d ultimately redeem himself.
TWO – WITH SPOILERS!
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Hancock is a script worth studying, because it’s not. I completely agreed with the critics that slammed this film for its poor execution. It’s not a good movie.
I think James Berardinelli was closest to nailing its problems:
Hancock is two films. The first, the tale of the anti-hero learning to be a defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, is by far the more entertaining of the two. The movie's second piece is muddled and disjointed as the screenplay provides revelations about Hancock's origin. This aspect of the production has the scope of a Shakespearean tragedy and cannot effectively be addressed in the 45 minutes allotted to it. Both halves could have worked if properly expanded with the gaps filled in, but by compressing them into a single unit, the story as a whole suffers…
Hancock's tone becomes more subdued, although not entirely downbeat, during the second half as the main character faces the sad truth about himself and his past. The ending is a complete mess. In order to achieve a balance between tension, tragedy, and smiles, the film doesn't play by its own rules. Much of what occurs during the climax makes little sense, and the supposed "villain," a thug named Red (Eddie Marsan), is about as intimidating as a warm cup of butterscotch pudding. Part of the inherent problem with Hancock's structure is the lack of a dramatically viable opponent. Since there isn't one, one has to be manufactured on the spot, and Red is the unfortunate result.
Let me just address one other aspect that no one else has mentioned. I love how they took a page from Mario Puzo’s Superman and aimed for a greek tragedy of sorts with Hancock and his love interest. Great idea. But the execution is piss poor. He doesn’t even remember her, so why should WE or even HANCOCK care? You know it’s bad writing when a superhero’s backstory is nothing more than a long-winded piece of verbal exposition in a hospital room. It’s NO FUN!
Hancock was also missing a clearly defined emotional logic to his behavior. Everything in this story was either coincidence or explained verbally as some untold mystery that keeps drawing them together. Ho hum. We would’ve cared more if Hancock had a solid reason to be bitter, he knew why he was bitter, and she was it. It was his feelings about her that defined his behavior and who he was and he knew it and she knew it. You don’t buy it that he doesn’t remember. You don’t buy it when it’s presented as a twist, because it’s too coincidental.