Jonah Hex

Movie Information

The Story: Embittered and disfigured bounty hunter Jonah Hex is called on by President Grant to stop a madman from destroying the country. The Lowdown: The flattest direction imaginable sinks whatever amusement value this film might have had -- and that was marginal to begin with.
Score:

Genre: Comic-Based Supernatural Western
Director: Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who)
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Michael Shannon, Aidan Quinn
Rated: PG-13

They should have just called it Jonah Hexed and been done with it. This misbegotten movie seems like a compendium of bad ideas and worse execution. Look at this thing. First you take a comic book that’s at best on the B list—probably more like the C list. Then you cast a critically solid, but far from box-office name as your star (Josh Brolin). Then you saddle him with Megan Fox for a romantic lead. As if this weren’t enough, you hire a director with zero experience on this type of project. You wimp out and go for a PG-13 rating, and then you position it against Toy Story 3. Had it been available to him, Max Bialystock in The Producers (1968) would have opted for this as his guaranteed flop rather than Springtime for Hitler.

The truth is that it’s not so much bad as it’s just completely negligible—and it didn’t need to be. The basic premise is sound enough. A vengeance-seeking Confederate soldier turned bounty hunter, Jonah Hex (Brolin), is a good basis for an anti-hero. His disfigurement at the hands of his obviously unhinged and terminally mean nemesis, Turnbull (John Malkovich), adds to the dark tone—as does the gilding-the-lily touch of having Hex further disfigure himself rather than live with Turnbull’s brand. The supernatural element is a little more troublesome, since Hex’s ability to palaver with dead folks is not exactly convincingly established. Still, this is when the film is at its most interesting. Yes, the effects—especially the CGI crows—are less than whelming, but the supernatural segments are the closest thing to style the film has to offer. They’re also the primary thing that captures any sense of a comic book.

Apart from the backstory, the plot is on the skimpy side. In essence, the supposedly dead Turnbull isn’t actually dead. Rather, he is behind a terrorist plot (how trendy) to destroy the U.S. with some super weapon (ostensibly cooked up by a post-cotton gin Eli Whitney) the U.S. decided was too horrible to ever use against humankind. Why didn’t the U.S. just destroy the damned thing and the plans? Well, good God, there’s little enough plot as it is. Anyway, President Grant (Aidan Quinn sporting the most lamentably sparse Ulysses S. Grant whiskers in the history of lamentably sparse spinach) figures that Jonah Hex is just the man to stop the madman terrorist. Except for the really dreary romantic scenes between Hex and hooker girlfriend Lily (the ever-grating Megan Fox), the whole film consists of Hex trying to prevent Turnbull’s evil scheme.

How thin is it? I went to the 12:25 p.m. show. I checked my phone at 1:36 and wondered how this non-story could possibly drag on for another 45 minutes or so. The answer was that it couldn’t. Fifteen minutes later it was over and done with—and I can’t say I was sorry.

While there’s very little that’s actually right with the film, the real culprit here is Jimmy Hayward. If style were rated on a 1-to-10 numerical scale, Hayward would rank somewhere around minus 20. I honestly cannot recall a more perfunctory job of directing. He seems to have shot exactly what was on the page—with no flourish, no embellishment, no sense of fun. If a thing blows up, it blows up in one boring shot from one boring angle. An entire town being blown up ought to be chilling or exciting or anything. Here it just happens. The screenplay by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor isn’t deathless prose, but it offered possibilities for a certain cinematic joie de vivre and there’s none here.

Bottom line: I don’t mind that I sat through it, but I’d never bother sitting through it again, and I certainly don’t recommend wasting money on it. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

16 thoughts on “Jonah Hex

  1. Vince Lugo

    I didn’t think you’d dig this one. I liked it a lot, but I can see where others wouldn’t. Having read some of the comics prior to seeing it (courtesy of DC’s “Showcase Presents” volume), I can tell you that Brolin absolutely nailed Hex and that’s what made the film for me.

    I get the feeling that we’ll be seeing an “unrated” dvd that contains the R rated version they probably should have released in the first place and for all we know, that version could be better (much like the superior director’s cut of Daredevil). Time will tell.

  2. Bert

    “A vengeance-seeking Confederate soldier turned bounty hunter, Jonah Hex (Brolin), is a good basis for an anti-hero.”

    Agreed, but I’m guessing from the review they shy away from any kind of exploration of racial issues. The sad thing is you could really make a great sci fi action alternate history of post Civil War West. But you need some good writing instead of merely relying on the audience’s thirst for violence and Megan Fox.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I didn’t think you’d dig this one

    Have you seen the other reviews? I was kind by comparison.

    Having read some of the comics prior to seeing it (courtesy of DC’s “Showcase Presents” volume), I can tell you that Brolin absolutely nailed Hex and that’s what made the film for me

    See, that’s fine and even with no knowledge of or interest in the comics, I liked Brolin in the film, but the problem with this on a broad scale is that he nailed a character who is pretty darn obscure — even unknown — outside of a fairly small circle. That’s not a problem with a low-budget “art” film, but with a hugely expensive movie like this…well, it opened at no. 7 and theaters are already dropping it or curtailing shows.

    I get the feeling that we’ll be seeing an “unrated” dvd that contains the R rated version they probably should have released in the first place and for all we know, that version could be better (much like the superior director’s cut of Daredevil).

    Comparing anything to Daredevil isn’t going to encourage me, but who knows what might be released here? With a supposed 40% of the movie reshot and large chunks of the script left out (possibly filmed, possibly not), this could turn into anything, but with a movie that tanked this spectacularly, it’s questionable that much time or money is going to be expended on it.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Agreed, but I’m guessing from the review they shy away from any kind of exploration of racial issues.

    There’s some lip service paid to it via the character who invents Hex’s weapons, but I wouldn’t call it exploration.

    But you need some good writing instead of merely relying on the audience’s thirst for violence and Megan Fox.

    The writing may have been there at one time, but not by the time the movie got to the screen. Anyway, relying on a thirst for violence and Megan Fox didn’t pay off so swell.

  5. Vince Lugo

    What I meant was that the director’s cut of Daredevil is a vast improvement over the theatrical edition and if we’re extremely lucky, Hex will also get a much improved director’s cut.

    I find it somewhat telling that when they run Daredevil on TV, they only ever run the director’s cut, never the theatrical version (at least the times that I’ve stumbled across it). That must be very gratifying for Mark Johnson, who had a lot of arguments with the studio over what the film should be.

  6. TokyoTaos

    ” … but the problem with this on a broad scale is that he nailed a character who is pretty darn obscure—even unknown—outside of a fairly small circle. That’s not a problem with a low-budget “art” film, but with a hugely expensive movie like this…well, it opened at no. 7 and theaters are already dropping it or curtailing shows.”

    Personally I don’t think it really matters how obscure a comic book character is beforehand – if it’s a good story with good direction, writing and acting, the audience will come.

    P.S. How do you make a previous comment bold?

  7. Tomislav Pijonsnodt

    First you take a comic book that’s at best on the B list—probably more like the C list.

    Sean’s out of town, but I asked him about this and he’d never even heard of it, which says something considering the ungodly number of obscure indie comics he reads.

    I honestly cannot recall a more perfunctory job of directing.

    Well, it’s better than rapid cuts, shakycam, and alternating slow-mo and fast-mo of the average modern director.

    P.S. How do you make a previous comment bold?

    On the night of the full moon, sit within a circle of mistletoe on a white linen sheet and slit the throat of a black rabbit from left to right with a silver knife while murmuring the five secret names of the lords of the moon: Morpheus, Somnus, Phantasmos, Oneiron, Hypnos!

    Or use the markup: < b > text < / b >

  8. Dionysis

    “On the night of the full moon, sit within a circle of mistletoe on a white linen sheet and slit the throat of a black rabbit from left to right with a silver knife while murmuring the five secret names of the lords of the moon: Morpheus, Somnus, Phantasmos, Oneiron, Hypnos!”

    Drat. That’s why I haven’t been able to bold text; I was using a white rabbit!

  9. Dread P. Roberts

    On the night of the full moon, sit within a circle of mistletoe on a white linen sheet and slit the throat of a black rabbit from left to right with a silver knife while murmuring the five secret names of the lords of the moon: Morpheus, Somnus, Phantasmos, Oneiron, Hypnos!

    Well, the names of the lords of the moon isn’t much of a secret now, is it sir? This treacherous release of info to the public at large is a discrace to the brotherhood!

  10. Ken Hanke

    Personally I don’t think it really matters how obscure a comic book character is beforehand – if it’s a good story with good direction, writing and acting, the audience will come

    Oh, I disagree — the number of good, even great movies to which audiences do not come testifies to it yearly. But the point is that a “Batman” movie has a built-in selling point. “Jonah Hex” doesn’t. Plus, the praise was for Brolin having nailed the comic book character — a fact lost on the uninitiated.

  11. Ken Hanke

    This treacherous release of info to the public at large is a discrace to the brotherhood!

    Now that the bunny is out of the bag, so to speak, everybody will be doing it.

  12. Bert

    I should add that a comic book film without sex and violence would be pretty lame; but it should be used to enhance the artistic vision rather than as mere crowd pleasing. I think Burton got it righter than anyone has in his Batman films. I’ll argue Batman Returns is a greater film than Dark Knight any day of the week.

  13. Dionysis

    “I’ll argue Batman Returns is a greater film than Dark Knight any day of the week.”

    I second that!

  14. Ken Hanke

    And I Third it! BATMAN RETURNS is probably the finest film adapted from a comic book thus far, even if it’s not my personal favouriteis my personal favorite.

  15. Jessica B.

    Haven’t seen the film yet, but even with the reviews, I’ll still probably see it, out of curiosity and because I’ve always liked the character. As for the character being “obscure”, you could probably say the same for almost all of the comic book western characters, even though many have been around for over 50 years. Hex first appeared in Weird Western Tales in the 60′s, and has managed to outlast most of the others,even managed to generate a lawsuit by the Allman Brothers after a Jonah Hex miniseries written by Joe R. Lansdale featured a couple of bad guys that were obviously a parody of them. Not bad for a character that was originally a supernatural themed takeoff on Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti western characters.

    Most comic book movies suffer from being removed from their source material, often having their characters seem to exist in a vacuum, without the benefit of the surrounding universe the characters exist in in print. (Usually due to licensing issues.) Marvel seems to be trying to remedy this and hopefully DC will follow suit.

    Meanwhile, I’ll catch the Jonah Hex film and wait for Marvel to adapt the Rawhide Kid miniseries from a few years ago. As if that will ever happen…

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