Monday, May 2, 2011

Movie Monday: Jonah Hex

For this week's Movie Monday I thought I'd take a giant risk by watching notorious bomb Jonah Hex!

As a long time comics fan (30 years +, yo), I was happy to hear they were making a Jonah Hex movie. I was less than happy when I started hearing details about it, which made it sound...well, wrongheaded at best, let's say. No longer just a scarred gunslinger, the movie Jonah Hex would have some sort of supernatural ability. Wait, what?

By the time the movie came out, word-of-mouth was awful, and the fact that it was cut down to a mere 82 minutes seemed to confirm the studio was trying to take the money and run. And since movies made from comic books are no longer unique (like they were when I was a kid, which meant you watched everything with a superhero in it, no matter how bad it was), I decided I wouldn't even bother seeing Jonah Hex at all.

But I have to admit, I was still really curious about the movie, so I decided to sit down and give it a chance. Is Jonah Hex as bad as everyone says? Or maybe, just maybe, is it secretly awesome? Let's find out:
Jonah Hex opens with what is essentially Hex's (Josh Brolin) "secret origin": he's a Confederate solider, under the command of Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich). He turns on Turnbull when Turnbull orders a Union hospital burned to the ground. In the melee, Hex is forced to kill his best friend, Turnbull's son Jed.

Years later, we find Hex tied to a post by Turnbull and his crazy right-hand man Burke (Michael Fassbender). Turnbull is getting his revenge on Hex by "taking everything away" from him: namely, Hex's family, whom Turnbull has burned alive, as Hex screams in agony, forced to watch.

As if that's not enough, Turnbull brands Hex, turning his face into a scarred, pulpy mess. As Hex screams in agony, the film cuts to an animated sequence:
While the sequence looked kinda cool, I thought right off the bat we were on shaky ground: just a few minutes in, Jonah Hex felt more like a supernatural horror movie than a western.

We flash forward a few years, and learn that Hex is now a bounty hunter who shoots first, then doesn't ask questions later. After being stiffed by his employers, Hex kills them and takes his reward from the pockets of the dead men. He later spend some of it on a local prostitute named Lilah (Megan Fox), whom he clearly has something of an ongoing relationship with.

We soon learn that Turnbull, whom Hex believed was dead, is planning on stealing a massive gun, one that destroy entire cities with just a few hits. President Grant (Aidan Quinn) decides to hire Hex to stop him!

As the plot lurches forward, we're treated to more scenes that feel like they're from a horror movie than a western. Hex visits a sort of ad hoc fighting ring where people watch some poor bastard fight what looks like a mutant from another movie entirely:
In this movie, Hex also has superpowers: he can communicate with the dead. This comes in handy, and there's one scene that's so loaded down with exposition, with poor Brolin explaining just how his power work, that I chuckled during it. Any resemblance to the comic book Jonah Hex is purely coincidental at this point.

Turnbull has Lilah kidnapped, and trusses both she and Hex up as he plans to launch the weapon on July 4th:
Thanks to a hidden pick, Lilah frees herself, then Hex. They shoot and strangle their way to Turnbull, whom Hex fights and eventually kills when he jams the gun, causing it to explode.

Later, in Washington D.C., President Grant thanks Hex for this work and offers to make him a sheriff. Hex turns him down, but offers his services if he's needed again:
...Hex then meets up with Lilah, and they walk off together. Via voiceover, Hex explains that maybe he's not quite ready to cash in just yet. Let the sequels commence!

Of course, there will never(?) be a sequel to Jonah Hex, because the movie was a giant flop. Cut down to a lean 82 minutes, the film still feels too long, mired as it is in action scenes, dimly lit scenery, and a wall-to-wall pounding rock score.

I tend to think of comic book movies needing two elements to work for them to be successful: conception and execution. There's nothing inherently wrong with the execution of Jonah Hex: the effects are fine, the acting is okay (except for Megan Fox, whose line delivery throughout the film is so flat its sort of startling), but the movie simply went wrong from the start: the filmmakers clearly had no interest in making a western, of any kind, so they stuck their western hero in a supernatural action thriller. Jonah Hex seems so out of place in his own movie that the results are jarring.

Too bad; I always liked the Jonah Hex comic, and there was a good movie to made from this character; unfortunately this wasn't it.

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