I remember one particular review that I read when Tim Burton’s Batman came out. To paraphrase, for the purpose of reviewing Jonah Hex: they got it right: Josh Brolin plays the title character perfectly – writers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor clearly understand Hex and his worldly and otherworldly aspects; the period is as well captured as any good western; John Malkovich makes an excellent villain as the once honorable Quentin Turnbull, and the bones of the story being told are solid. Unfortunately, Jonah Hex has the feel of an R-rated supernatural thriller [which was the original intent] that has been hacked to ribbons in the editing room to make for a PG-13 audience.
To compensate for what has turned out to be an eighty-one minute movie, there is a serviceable narration by Brolin’s Hex, through which we learn how he came to possessed of certain supernatural abilities including speaking with the dead and being able to withstand potentially fatal wounds – though he does make it clear he’s not immortal, and we see that he occasionally needs a bit help from the Crow tribe [a fact that makes for a potent moment when Turnbull takes his vengeance]. The why of Turnbull’s vengeance is also made clear – as is the reason for Hex’s actions in that instance. It concerns a matter of honor at a key moment in the Civil War.
Of course, now Turnbull has plans to destroy the country with a new superweapon on the Fourth of July. Talk about your poor losers! And, of course, there’s the hooker with a heart of flint – Lilah [Megan Fox] – whose one weakness is, of course, Hex. Then there’s the metaphysical brawl between Hex and Turnbull, shot in a surreal world with an almost red sky, that’s supposed to mirror their real-life confrontation – though we’re given a reason for this connection. Somehow, it all ties together but feels like there’s a lot missing.
Michael Fassbender, for instance, plays one of Turnbull’s chief henchmen, Burke. The character is tough, mean and obviously loves doing his job. I get the feeling that there’s more to the character than cheerful violence, but that’s missing. Will Arnett’s first dramatic role, Lieutenant Grass seems set to be a solid supporting part that’s been whittled to less than two minutes of actual screen time. Even Lilah is short changed – we never learn why she’d be in love with Hex, as she seems to be, or even get a hint to what her story is.
In the end, other than Hex and, to a lesser extent, Turnbull, Jonah Hex is filled with characters who only exist to communicate messages [like Grass], or provide violence [everyone else]. Frankly, Neveldine and Taylor – and director Jimmy Hayward – are the ones who really get the short end of the stick here. The former have shown themselves to be capable of characterization [especially in vastly underrated Gamer], and I can’t really see anyone hiring them to specifically write for the PG-13 audience.
It’s Hayward who may well have the most to lose here. Jonah Hex looks good and there are some very performances, but I can’t believe it was idea to disembowel the movie. Unfortunately, when a movie dos the kind of ignominious death that Jonah Hex is about to die, it’s always the director who gets the blame.
As much as I enjoy Jonah Hex the comic, that’s how much I didn’t enjoy Jonah Hex the movie. So close, and yet, so very far away…
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