Theatrical Review: Jonah Hex

Near the end of the Civil War, Confederate officer Jonah Hex turns on his commander, Quentin Turnbull as Turnbull is about to lay waste to a hospital full of innocents. As a result of this, Hex in turn kills Turnbull’s brother, Jeb. The war is over and Hex is living a peaceful life with his wife and son. Quentin Turnbull catches up to Hex and enacts his revenge upon him, killing his wife and son and forcing Hex to watch as it happens. In a final moment of torture, Turnbull takes a branding iron and leaves his mark on Jonah’s face. Left for dead, Hex is revived by an indian tribe and as a result of their rituals, now has the ability to talk to the dead.

Hex now makes his living as a bounty hunter and he’s good at what he does, with his vengeance fueling his path. Quentin Turnbull resurfaces and now wants to take vengeance on the entire United States and he plans to with an ultimate weapon designed by Eli Whitney. President Ulysses S. Grant thinks that this bounty hunter, Jonah Hex, is the man to go after Turnbull and thusly, enlists his aid.

And so that’s the basic premise of Jonah Hex directed by Jimmy Hayward, who previously directed Horton Hears A Who from an original screenplay from Neveldine & Taylor, who have previously made Gamer and the Crank movies. Neveldine & Taylor were originally supposed to direct this as well, but left due to creative differences and so, from what I understand, their script was heavily altered.

Jonah Hex is also the latest comic book-to-movie adaptation out there. Now, I am a comic fan, but I was never a devout Jonah Hex reader. I’ve read a story or two with, to me anyway, always his most memorable stuff from writer Michael Fleisher (and now his latest series by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray is getting much acclaim). Now even though I wasn’t a fan, I do know a little something about the character and one of the things that I know was that Hex never had any sort of paranormal abilities.

I go into most comic book adaptations knowing that liberties will be taken, but this one seems to come at us right from left field. It doesn’t really help that the whole way in which Jonah acquires this ability is told through a bit of animation and voiceover. And while the animation is nice in it’s limited sort of way, it doesn’t really have any sort of weight for how the use of this power plays out. It’s there to speed things up and get us right into the action. Because this does get sped up, well there’s not a whole lot here to really get invested in.

The whole movie suffers from an edit job that seems more like a salvage operation more than anything else. There’s lots of jump-cutting from scene to scene and not really a lot of glue to hold the whole thing together. Oh sure, it’s plot does progress forward, but it does so at the expense of making this a fuller experience. As such there’s really little to care about when it comes to our main character. From what I understand of the character in the comics, there’s a lot more to him than this two-dimensional drive that he has here.

Now none of this is the fault of lead Josh Brolin who plays Jonah Hex. when I first heard Brolin was taking the part, I thought it was pretty cool, especially since Brolin was coming off of some high-profile work in things like American Gangster, Milk and No Country For Old Men. I think Brolin has certainly invested himself here, and it’s seen through little bits with his character. But as to a big picture, it’s hard to tell, because the editing of the film doesn’t really allow anything to breath.

Much ado has been made about Megan Fox being in this movie. She plays Lilah, a cold prostitute who has a warm spot in her heart for the disfigured Hex. My expectations were pretty low for her coming into this, and while she’s only on-screen for a short portion of the movie, I actually think she does a pretty decent job with what she has (and this isn’t really making huge demands on her, considering what’s on screen) and certainly looks good. My bigger problem is with John Malkovich who plays Quentin Turnbull. Now I’m a fan of Malkovich’s, but here he comes off more disinterested than anything else. There’s no magnetism to the character and you’re sort of hoping you’ll get him as he was in Con Air or In The Line Of Fire but it’s more like he’s just reading the lines and waiting for the check to clear. Even though I’m saying that, it’s still a little hard to fault him due to the editing of the movie and it’s bigger concern to just get action on the screen more than letting anything develop.

Other members of the cast include Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Tom Wopat, Michael Shannon, Aidan Quinn and Jeffrey Dean Morgan who’s uncredited as Quentin’s brother Jeb. Everything here from these guys is certainly serviceable, with standouts being Fassbender, who’s definitely eating things up being Quentin’s right hand man, and Morgan who has a pretty good scene as Hex raises him from the dead.

To the movie’s credit, it does have a nice look to it and in the words of SCTV’s Big Jim McBob and Billy Saul Hurok, they blow things up real good. But that’s about it. The way this is edited, it doesn’t want to do anything fuller let alone do anything that could make it be a nice western adventure. Of course though, I have to wonder just what they had originally which would cause this, and unfortunately, I doubt we’ll ever find out. It’s a shame, there’s a lot of talent here and (from what I understand) a rich comic book mythos to mine from and it’s all squandered away.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

20. June 2010 by Darren Goodhart
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