I went to see the Will Smith tent-pole flick Hancock this evening. And it was just about everything I expected from what I saw in the preview. But as I was watching the film, something caught me by surprise. No, not the Charlize Theron super-woman twist half way through. It was something else.
Before I go any further (and because this is my first real post), I have to admit that as an aspiring screenwriter, I'm a big fan of Blake Snyder and his Save The Cat sensibility. If you're a screenwriter (or anyone else in the business of understanding or producing feature films) and you're curious about film structure for major motion pictures, start with STC.
What I especially like about Blake's take on screenwriting is his understanding of movie story structure. There are particular beats in most major motion pictures that are, dare I say, nearly universal. And when they're missing, somehow the story just doesn't sit right. Visit Blake at the link above for more.
And that's what happened tonight - by the time the story was over, it was clear something was missing. And I'm pretty sure what was missing was- the third act.
What? No third act? How can that work?
Well, it doesn't, technically. Which may explain why it's getting slaughtered at Rotten Tomatoes and other review sites. But as near as I can remember, here's what I saw on the screen. For this little exercise, I'll be referencing the ubiquitous story points of the Blake Snyder beat sheet (why haven't you clicked that link up there already?)
Opening Image: Action! Pursuit underway, and Hancock must be awakened from a drunken slumber to go do his superhero thing. Within minutes, we know what this movie is about!
Setup: Hancock saves the day but gets in trouble with the public, hiding out in a seedy bar. Meet Ray, Mr. P.R. He has a miserable pitch and on the way home, is saved by Hancock. Hancock delivers Ray to his home, where we meet Ray's lovely wife Mary. Dinner, getting to know you, meet the geeky son, etc. Juxtaposing opposites - how could Ray and Hancock be more different?
Catalyst: Ray gives Hancock his card, tells him he can help. Mary, however, warns Ray that she knows guys like Hancock - and they're nothing but trouble.
Debate: What will Hancock do? Will he take Ray up on his offer? He decides to go for it - and turns himself in for incarceration. Ray's public relations recovery program begins. Hancock learns to share his feelings.
Break into 2: Hancock gets a call from the chief of police, calling him back into duty.
Fun & Games: Hancock in his "tight" suit, upsetting a major bank robbery, saving the day and affirming the LAPD. Good job. Followed by dinner and backstory with Ray and Mary. Hancock tucks Ray into bed, and goes downstairs for the unavoidable romantic tension moment.
Midpoint: Mary throws Hancock out the front of the house. Big reveal - she's super too!
Bad Guys Close In: Back in jail, bad guys that Hancock has put away conspire against him, resolving to break out and hunt him down. Hancock and Mary "talk" - and destroy half of L.A. in the process, at the end of which they end up on top of each other in the street - right in front of Ray. Back at the house, Ray (and Hancock) want an explanation from Mary. More backstory. She ducks out the back, and Hancock finds a liquor store, where he prevents a robbery - and ends up getting shot. How did that happen!?
All is Lost: Hancock is taken to the hospital, where he gets the standard ER treatment, even though it's a safe bet he's uninsured. He can't understand what's going on - hey, that needle hurts!
Dark Night of the Soul: Enter Mary, who explains why this is all happening. Enter Ray and son, who must have driven separately. And enter all the bad guys from the prison yard conspiracy, but not before Ray & son see Mary with Hancock. Bad guys shoot up the hospital while Hancock dispatches them one at a time. But it's all too much, and Hancock and Mary are killed - whiff of death!
Then, without explanation - even though Mary's already told Hancock (and us) that it is in fact possible for them to die - Hancock resurrects himself, jumps out of the building and leaves, allowing Mary to become similarly restored.
Break into Three: [ACT 3 MISSING - oops]
Closing Image: Ray and Mary together again on the Santa Monica Pier - happy place - while Hancock is helping the NYPD do some good.
So, what happened?
Traditionally, Act 3 is the finale, the place in the story where the hero (Hancock in this case) pulls himself up by the bootstraps and defeats the bad guys. The problem here is that by the time we get to Act 3, there are no bad guys left to defeat - they were all taken care of by the end of Act 2. No arch-super-villain, no threat to life as we know it. So much time was spent showing Hancock getting over his social ineptitude and finding out who he really is - developing the myth behind the story - that the "present day crisis" of the story never got any deeper than a would-be bank robber with a propensity for losing his hands.
All of this probably accounts for the relatively short run time - 92 minutes. Compare that to the 126 minutes you spent watching Ironman. It also explains the dismal reviews I've read online, even though no one explained it quite as eloquently and succinctly as I have here.
All that said, I loved the concept - "alcoholic superhero" - and was laughing from beginning to end. Will Smith is still the man, even when there are no bad guys to catch.