The Dark Knight and Hancock
Although they are vastly different films, there are two very important facts Hollywood can learn just by sitting through a double bill of “The Dark Knight” and “Hancock”. The first is that no matter what the studio executives think "origin stories" are not needed when making a superhero movie. Especially when you are making a film of about an already well-known comic book character (i.e. Superman, Spider Man, Batman, etc.) Even the most casual movie watcher could tell you that Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider. Or that Bruce Wayne lost his parents in a random act of violence. You do not need a whole movie to point this out. Most origin films get so bogged down in the back-story that by time the superhero actually arrives on screen the audience is already half asleep. Yes both "Iron Man" and "Batman Begins" were fantastic films, but they are the small exceptions to the rule. After you sit through "The Dark Knight", you realize that the film would still have the same impact even if "Batman Begins" had not been made. Without a "making of" story to hold it back, "The Dark Knight" is free to give the audience what they really paid for: a gripping story involving everyone's favourite caped crusader. “The Dark Knigh” is everything a Batman film (heck, everything a crime film in general) should be. The film is dark, the characters are richly layered, and the plot is flawless. "The Dark Knight" does not need to spoon-feed the audience a story they already know. In fact, it takes already well-known characters and provides a completely fresh take on them.
While "Hancock", does not center around well-known character, it seems to take a similar logic to "The Dark Knight" when it comes to throwing audiences right into the action. In the film, characters interact with Hancock like he has been around forever. The film does not even bother to explain why Hancock is an alcoholic and misanthrope. It is summed up by saying Hancock is "merely an A—hole." And you know what? The audience is perfectly fine with accepting that. It is only when the movie starts to divulge a little insight to Hancock's past does the film's brisk pace slam on its breaks. Sure the film relied on too much potty humour and the overall story was uneven. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see a superhero movie, especially a newly created black superhero, finally get rid of the origin story. Hopefully more films shall follow “Hancock's” lead in this regard.
Another thing that Hollywood can learn from “Hancock”, which is the second important fact, is that a hero is only as good as the villain you pair them with. This is one of the major downfalls of “Hancock”. Similar to “Superman Returns”, there was no one who could really match Hancock's strength...or at least outwit him. The main villain in the film is nothing more than a too bit criminal. Worst of all, he does not even get a memorable line or scene. There is no moment in the film when the audience is left to think, "How is Hancock going to get out of this one?" The exact opposite happens in "The Dark Knight". There were numerous moments in the film when you really get the sense that Batman is in well over his head. Heath Ledger brings such vigor to "The Joker" that you are not only worried for Batman, but the citizens of Gotham in general. The film does not even bother to go into how The Joker came to be. He is merely a man that will stop at nothing to see the world in chaos. Even more disturbing is the utter joy he has in doing it. He can shock you with an extremely violent "magic trick" on moment, and have you laughing with him the next. On top of that, he shows now fear when is life is being threaten by Aaron Eckharts' equally vengeful villain "Two-Face". Normally I cringe when superhero films try to incorporate two villains (i.e. Spider-Man 3, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, etc.), yet "The Dark Knight" pulls it off without ever losing the film's pacing or emotion.
After the record numbers that superhero films have been racking up at the box office, it is quiet certain that Hollywood will be filling our summers with even more comic related films in the future. While I fear the majesty of the “The Dark Knight” will not be duplicated anytime soon, I at least hope Hollywood take notes of what worked in that film and what was missing in “Hancock”.
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