I caught Hancock at the $2 movie in Woodbridge last week. ($1.50 matinee actually.) That was about the right price. There were seeds of a couple of really interesting movies here. One you saw in previews: polishing the obnoxious superhero for modern media. The other story–well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Unfortunately there really wasn’t time to do both stories in 90 minutes or so. This story might have been better done as a TV series (Heroes?). But what really killed it in the end was a cliché that has lost all force.

In fact, the cliché has become so common and so predictable that I can’t imagine that I’m spoiling anything for you by telling you that two of the main characters die at the end. And then magically wake up 30 seconds later. I mean, how many times have we seen this? Are movie directors so desperate that they can’t think of a better climax? And it’s not like movie goers over the age of twelve are at all surprised or moved by this trick any more. I think the last time it actually worked may have been E.T. over 20 years ago. Can’t we just quit?

These days, if a movie wanted to do something really shocking, it would leave the characters dead. But maybe Hollywood thinks we’re all such whiny crybabies they can’t get away with anything less than a happy ending. It’s not just Hollywood either. CJ7 was completely spoiled by a last-minute back from the dead scene that even Spielberg would have been embarrassed by.

There’s a closely related cliché in which the villain pretends to be dead, and then comes back for one last swipe at the hero. This variant should have ended with Fatal Attraction in 1987. And then there’s the closely related, “The hero lets the villain live but the villain tries to shoot the hero in the back so the hero kills him instead.” That one should have been retired after Star Trek III.

I guess the more movies I see in my life, the more I come to realize that most directors and writers just aren’t that creative or original. The last really original movie I saw was, I think, Borat. Before that, maybe Winged Migration? There’ve been a few others here and there with good stories, but when’s the last time you saw a genuinely new idea come out of Hollywood? I know really new ideas are rare, but can’t we at least call for a moratorium on the worst of the old ideas?

5 Responses to “Hancock”

  1. Bas Says:

    More than the happy ending thing, I believe it’s about sequel opportunities.

    I have not seen Hancock… so I’m just making this up. Lets say Hancock dies in the end. The movie happens to gross $1b dollars. They’re out of luck, having to either come up now with a prequel that won’t suck, or some movie magic reason why “Hancock is Back and better than ever this summer!”

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    It would have been perfectly reasonable for the two main characters not to die at the end, and thus set up a sequel. They could even have done their relatively original and sad “guy saves the girl” scene. Buy why did they have to pretend the guy and the girl had both died first? That’s the cliché I can’t take any more. The movie, and the ending, would have been far more powerful and creative if they had just left that bit out. Then I might actually have cared, instead of just sitting there giggling at the obvious trope.

  3. John Cowan Says:

    It works for me in The Princess Bride.

  4. Chris Adamson Says:

    Haven’t seen Hancock, but The Dark Knight is a fairly prominent example of killing a major character mid-movie and leaving them dead. Problem is, IMHO, these new Bat-movies seem to get off on their own bleakness, so if something can go wrong, you pretty much know it will (I’m afraid the 4th season of Battlestar Galactica has the same problem), which makes it more predictable and less believable.

    Who knows, maybe the game of “Surprise! We just killed The Girl! Aren’t we daring?” will eventually become the next cliche.

  5. Kevin Says:

    Serenity (aka Firefly: The Movie) killed off major characters and left them dead. (Including my favorite character from the show, dammit.) The Matrix trilogy, as awful as the sequels were, defied the who dies/who lives cliches in multiple respects: major characters died, apparently permanently; but the black guy, who was also the hero’s teacher (and thus doomed twice over according to The Rules) survived.

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