Will Smith’s Hancock has had a rough two weeks. The reluctant hero may be impervious to bullets and trains, but that hasn’t stopped critics from unleashing a barrage of verbal vitriol in the hopes of knocking the high flying film back down to Earth. The Metacritic average score sits at 49 out of 100. Rotten Tomatoes scores even lower at 36%. And while Hancock is a box-office hit making over $100 million in its first five days (yes naysayers, $165 million and rising still counts as a hit), it seems to be less of a blockbuster than it could have been.
The most common slams against Hancock seem to focus on the lack of a cohesive story and a poorly handled plot twist halfway through the film. For some people, the film reeks of test screenings and too many sticky fingers in the cookie jar. Or sticky cooks in the kitchen. Or fingers in the cooks. You get the idea. Not coincidentally, FSR’s resident tae kwon do instructor and porn aficionado, Robert Fure, recently ranted about studio meddling, and he used Hancock‘s reported changes from script to screen as his trigger. For all the studio’s bone-headed thinking though, it could have been worse. Smith recently revealed to MTV.com that he was offered the title role in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns relaunch, but (wisely) passed on it. “You mess with white people’s heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”
Hancock first reached public awareness in 2002 when Variety announced a spec script sale by Vy Vincent Ngo (although the script was apparently written six years prior.) Tonight, He Comes was the script’s title, and it was reported to be a dark tale about responsibility, redemption, and a morally bankrupt “superhero”. The script was recently leaked online and having read it and seen the final film version, it’s easy to see both the initial attraction and the eventual disdain from studio heads looking for a new summer blockbuster franchise. How dark and different is the original script from the eventual film? By way of comparison, there was a depressingly gritty screenplay several years back called $3000, about a coke-addicted hooker who falls for a john only to get kicked out of his car, and ends with the hooker on a bus heading for Disneyland. You’ll remember it as Pretty Woman.
A few caveats about the script for Tonight, He Comes. First, while I believe the script is legit, there has been no official confirmation or denial from Ngo or his representatives. Second, film scripts often list the version or revision date/# on the title page as a way to differentiate between drafts. There’s no such mention here, so odds are good this is the initial 1996 spec script and not one of the many revisions that followed through the years. Third, the goddamn heartless bastard who first posted the script online didn’t realize that one of the pages was blank. This wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal… but it’s the second to last page of the script and there’s some pretty heavy shit going down during the ending! (So Mr. Ngo, if you’re out there, feel free to send over page #125… I’ll do my best to find you some FSR swag in exchange.)
There are SPOILERS ahead for Tonight, He Comes since few people will actually take the time to read it. There may also be minor SPOILERS for Hancock, although I probably won’t reveal the twist or the film’s ending.
Tonight, He Comes is neither blockbuster material nor the beginning of a franchise. It’s not even an action movie. If a genre label absolutely had to be applied it would be drama with a dash of black comedy and a splash of spooge. (The script’s title is both an ominous warning and a filthy statement of fact.) As in the film, the hero chooses the moniker “Hancock” after someone asks for his John Hancock… except instead of a nurse it’s a seedy clerk in a sweaty and sex-stained motel. Hancock here is one foul, confused, depressed, pissed-off, fucked-up, sex addicted asshole. Will Smith is not the first actor you think of when reading this script. He swears, smokes (and encourages a child to smoke), shits, jerks off, watches porn, screws hookers… the role seems tailor made for Philip Seymour Hoffman actually. At least until he starts killing police officers and attempts to rape a woman. A Will Smith summer tentpole movie this isn’t.
He’s more than just a murderous asshole though, he’s also a tormented soul. In a cape. He has Superman-like powers… he can fly, he’s impervious to bullets, etc., and he’s chosen (or feels obligated) to use them for good. “I gotta do what I gotta do,” he says repeatedly throughout the script, a credo that applies to more than just his role as the city’s protector. He can literally do just about anything, and he’s not above using his powers for his own base desires. Hancock would like to walk away from it all, but guilt and obligation get in his way even in his dreams. He longs for a role reversal from savior to the saved… he just needs someone to save him.
The Longfellow family is comprised of Horus the flaccid father, Mary the strong and sweet mother, and Aaron their bully bait son. Horus is a security guard for a company whose motto is “To Observe and Record”, and he has taken to applying that principle to his daily life as well. Real cops (and even neighborhood kids) mock him on a daily basis. He tells his son to turn the other cheek when confronted by bullies and violence. Circumstances have beaten him down to the point where he’s more of a witness to life than a participant. He knows it, his wife knows it, and Aaron is learning it as well.
“Horus, battling the ketchup bottle. Face bright red, knuckles white to the bone – like he’s taking a constipated shit. Aaron watches this: his father wrestling ketchup… and losing.”
Hancock’s first contact with the family comes when he foils a bank robbery/hostage situation that had ensnared Mary. He finds himself later that night outside the the family’s home listening to Mary singing to her son, and he decides she’s his best chance at salvation. Hancock soon ingratiates himself in with Mary and Aaron, helping him with the bullies and attempting to win her over in the process. The two are soon meeting outside of the home and away from the family… Mary intrigued and unaware, Hancock intent and obsessed. The sweetest moment in the script comes when Hancock tries to impress her with a gift from the cloudy sky above.
“He is wet from his flight and his hands, we notice, are cupped together tightly… Hancock uncups his hands, releasing a billowy mass of white something – it hangs in the air, and then dissipates into moisture. It showers into his open hands. Mary reaches for it. Too late.”
Mary’s in awe and wonder of this superman, but when his attentions turn more intimate she draws a clear line. Horus may not have super strength, but his love for her and Aaron, his dedication to his family, the fact that he is a good man, these are the things that make him super. When she refuses to capitulate to Hancock’s desires he takes matters, and Mary, into his own hands.
“Hancock takes her away – like booty. Aaron dangles from his cape, trying to save his mother. In vain. The superhero springs into the night – with his woman.”
Horus meanwhile thinks he has seen the writing on the wall. His lovely wife Mary married down, and in the presence of a real man like Hancock she’s come to realize her mistake. He’s wrong of course, weak in both action and thought, but this belief fires him up with an anger he’s never felt before. When the warehouse he “observes” is raided by thugs he has the option to escape, but instead returns to face the threat. Horus defeats the intruders before catching a news report regarding Hancock and Mary. The hero and the hostage are holed up in an abandoned factory with the town’s entire police force surrounding them. After retrieving his son and hearing what happened, it’s Horus’ turn to spout the familiar mantra… “I got to do what I got to do.”
The script climaxes at the old textile factory with a bloodbath of epic proportions. Hancock leaves Mary stranded on an upper floor, flies down to face the police, and proceeds to rip them limb from limb. Helicopters and cars are tossed like toys, heads and limbs are severed like the fleshy nubs they are, and soon the town’s entire police force is no more. Hancock returns to Mary for a carnal reward, but is interrupted by Horus. Horus, who before tonight chose to ignore and avoid confrontation, now confronts certain death by facing Hancock in a feeble but valiant attempt to save his wife. Hancock’s battle with the police and with Horus takes its toll on the textile structure and it suddenly collapses with Mary inside. The two men stop fighting… Horus rushes to dig out his buried wife… Hancock drops to his knees, roars, and cries.
Page #125 is blank… and then the Longfellow family is happy at home, Horus and Mary canoodling in bed, and Aaron peeking in contentedly. The end.
If you’ve seen Hancock, then you know that 95% of the events above didn’t make it in to the finished film. Nor could they in a PG-13, summer blockbuster starring Will Smith. Hancock has a villain, albeit a very weak and uninteresting one, but the script has none (aside from Hancock himself.) Hancock loosely (and unsatisfactorily) explores his origin, but the script doesn’t even try. Hancock on the page is the only one of his kind, but in the film… well, the less said about that the better. Hancock‘s hero is redeemable, but as scripted his brutality has crossed a few too many lines for his character to recover.
Tonight, He Comes uses the conceit of a superman to explore what it means to be a regular man. It’s fresh, funny, and has a very distinct voice. Filmed as written, the film may have found critical and niche success and possibly gone on to become a cult hit on DVD. But no studio aims for a “cult hit”… they want as big a box-office return as possible. Hollywood is more than a dream factory, it’s a business with a bottom line which means their goal will always be making money. And a movie where the superhero masturbates in a bathroom doesn’t exactly scream blockbuster fun for the whole family.
“Hancock drops his pants… latches on to his magnanimous member… our superhero stands, bent over a bit, yanking up a storm. His body convulses under said stimulation. He GROWLS… and BOOM, we hear a baby explosion… Debris everywhere, in shambles. Smoke. And in the ceiling, a gaping hole, seething still from the launch.”