- Jonah Hex
Directed by Jimmy Hayward
Screenplay by Mark Neveldine, William Farmer and Brian Taylor
Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex
John Malkovich as Quentin Turnbull
Megan Fox as Lilah
Michael Fassbender as Burke
Will Arnett as Lieutenant Grass
Before You See ‘Jonah Hex,’ Dig Two Graves:
One for the Film, and the Other for Your Standards
Jonah Hex is a bad, bad movie. It shouldn’t have been, of course. No movie should be bad, I’ll grant you, but in the case of Jonah Hex it’s a particularly troubling observation. Director Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who… no, really), and credited screenwriters Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor and William Farmer have in this case taken a grounded, compelling character with a rich storytelling history, thrown him into a fireplace and then tried to reassemble him from the charred ashes into a sci-fi/fantasy hero that would have been laughed out of even the wackiest penny dreadful. The result is Jonah Hex, a film with no respect for the character and even less respect for the audience, who are expected to be entertained by this defective mishmash of lazy plotting, haphazard filmmaking and wasted opportunities. They won’t be.
Academy Award-nominee Josh Brolin stars as Jonah Hex, a former Confederate soldier whose family was murdered by his former commanding officer Quentin Turnbull, played by Academy Award-nominee John Malkovich. Although the Civil War is technically over, Turnbull and his Irish crony Burke (Michael Fassbender, his talent completely wasted here) are seeking to destroy Washington D.C. with a crazy superweapon designed by Eli Whitney. Hex is hired by President Ulysses S. Grant (Aiden Quinn) to stop Turnbull, whose ‘Mexican Slaves’ call him “El Terrorista” (no, really), before he can destroy America on the night of its first centennial. Megan Fox, who has probably watched the Academy Awards, co-stars as a prostitute who gets kidnapped at some point. The less said about her the better.
So let’s talk about Megan Fox, since the problems with her character permeate into every facet of this adaptation of the Jonah Hex comic book series. There’s just no reason for her to be in the film whatsoever, except fill the role of arbitrary love interest. She has no character to speak of, besides being ‘tough’ (but not tough enough to keep from getting kidnapped), and the only contribution she makes to the plot is as potential cannon fodder in the big climax. Practically every other character in the film could be reduced to an index card on a development executive’s wall. Lance Reddick (so wonderful in ‘The Wire’) exists only to give Jonah Hex ridiculous weapons, and have his kids around at an inopportune moment. Wes Bentley (American Beauty) appears in a glorified, yet ironically humiliating cameo as some kind of humanoid plothole spackle, resolving a few of the unanswered questions that nobody was asking. All of these characters and more do not exist outside of their functions to the plot, making all of their scenes absolutely interminable. At 80 minutes, it’s ridiculous to find Jonah Hex suffering from this much padding. It’s probably the longest 80 minute movie ever made.
It’s tempting to cut director Jimmy Hayward some slack, what with Jonah Hex being his first live-action production (not to mention all of those pesky rumors of studio interference). But regardless of blame, Jonah Hex is an extremely poorly made film in all respects (except for Josh Brolin of course). The film begins with a clearly slapped-together prologue illustrating Hex’s involvement in the Civil War as quickly and cheaply as possible, before cutting to Turnbull forcing Hex to watch as his own wife and daughter are murdered. But Turnbull keeps talking about all these important moments in their lives, like Hex’s supposed betrayal of his best friend and Turnbull’s son, which are much more interesting than anything we get to see. Finally it would seem that everyone ran out of time and money and just threw together some really crappy comic book-styled images (because Hollywood apparently hasn’t realized how stupid that looks) in an effort to extend the running time and offhandedly mention that Jonah Hex has superpowers now for some reason.
Yes, let us take a minute to focus on the fact that Jonah Hex has superpowers. To those unfamiliar with the character, it might not seem like much of a complaint. “He’s a comic book character, right?” Right… A comic book character without superpowers. Would it be “okay” if Batman suddenly started reviving the dead with his touch? Hex also mentions that crows follow him around wherever he goes, which they don’t. They don’t do anything except once calling his attention to a sniper far above him, but really that could have just been a normal crow upset by a gunfight. There was no need to justify it as a superpower, and even Hex’s communions with the dead don’t contribute much to the plot either. Hex only uses this ability to extract information to further along the story… information that could just as easily have been gathered from real, living characters rather than poorly established magical stoolpigeons.
Even the superpowers would have been okay if Hayward, or anyone else for that matter, had made some kind of concrete decision about the world Jonah Hex inhabits. The mildly wild west of Jonah Hex is home to crazy sci-fi weapons like Eli Whitney’s Magical Nonsense Gun and Hex’s own dynamite crossbow, but also magical snakemen and heroes who can raise the dead with their touch. Jonah Hex could have been a frantic magical sci-fi feverdream of a western, envisioning an unrealistic but at least entertaining steampunkish world, and that would have been all right. But these fanciful elements never feel like they belong in the film, which otherwise comes across as straightforward historical fiction, nor are they remarked upon with surprise or concern. What, is everyone afraid to make the snakeman feel socially awkward by being freaking out when he spews poison at them? Are they too badass to admit that the dynamite crossbow has never existed before (or since)? And given that it is apparently the most effective weapon ever created by a human being, why would Jonah Hex just drop it when it ran out of ammunition? You’ve got a big honking trenchcoat on you, Jonah. Try the pockets!
That crossbow is just another frustrating thing about Jonah Hex, a film that’s trying to be dumb, action-packed fun but never gets around to the ‘action-packed’ or ‘fun’ parts. All the action-sequences are jumbled together, when they’re not ignored completely in favor of trying to sell dynamite crossbow toys. Once Hex whips that sucker out, all concern for his well-being goes out the window as he handily blows up everyone in sight, often from just a few yards away (which probably isn’t recommended by the instruction manual). Watching Josh Brolin kick John Malkovich’s ass isn’t much of a spectacle, either, since Hayward feels the need to make them fight in a dream sequence, negating any possible suspense the audience might have experienced. Hell, Hayward can’t even seem to make Megan Fox look attractive without whipping out the most obvious glamorizing filter since Cybill Shepherd’s final season of ‘Moonlighting.’ Megan Fox is barely 24 years old… That filter doesn’t make her look good, it just makes us wonder how bad she most look in real life to need that much of a touch-up.
But again, Josh Brolin is great in Jonah Hex, which is particularly amazing given how little he has to work with. His deadpan bemusement at life’s little inconveniences provides a nice counterpoint to how bloody seriously he has to take all of the ludicrous machinations of this embarrassing plot. One gets the feeling that by the time the studio slapped together this 80 minute throwaway summer movie tripe and tacked on moment after ill-conceived moment to beef up the running time, making it feel more like a bad pilot episode for a Sci-Fi Channel Original Series than an actual film, everyone just wanted to release it against Toy Story 3 (where no one will blame them for tanking miserably) and forget it ever happened. Any audience member unlucky enough to find themselves in a theater showing Jonah Hex will soon feel the same way. For the sake of the filmmakers’ careers, the audience’s sanity, and the character of Jonah Hex himself (who deserves better than this), let’s all just close our eyes and pretend none of this ever happened. Agreed? Agreed.