Comic Book Movie Review: Jonah Hex

Directed by Jimmy Hayward

Written by Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor & William Farmer

Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex
John Malkovich as Quentin Turnbull
Megan Fox as Lilah
Michael Fassbender as Burke
Will Arnett as Lieutenant Grass

With its release on DVD, allowing me to get it from Netflix, I was finally able to see Jonah Hex.  Even though I had never read a Jonah Hex comic, after the movie was announced, I was initially interested in seeing it.  Josh Brolin and John Malkovich are both fine actors, and I do like some Westerns.  However, as more info came out about the movie, and the abysmal reviews, I quickly decided to wait.  Sometimes, I decide to wait for a movie to come to DVD, and then wish I had seen it in theaters.  This was not one of those times.  Movie summary, with spoilers, and my complete thoughts on the movie are after the break. 

Jonah Hex is the story of an ex-Confederate soldier named Jonah Hex.  After disobeying orders from his general, Quentin Turnbull, Hex is forced to watch his wife and son be burned alive.  Hex then has his face scarred, is burned alive, and left for dead.  Hex is rescued from the brink of death by some Indians, but during his quest for his revenge, he learns of Turnbull’s death.  So, Hex becomes a bounty hunter that also has bounties on his head.  Hex is recruited by the government to recover top secret weapons of mass destruction (my phrase) or the dragon balls, which were stolen by an apparently not dead Turnbull.  Using his powers to bring back the dead to talk to him, which he gained in his near-death experience, he tracks down Turnbull a few times, finally able to stop him when Turnbull was on his way to attack Washington.  This coming after Turnbull had Hex’s girlfriend(?), bar wench Lilah, kidnapped and put on the ship with him, and after Turnbull blew up a ship with supposedly the best soldiers in the Army on it.  In the end, Hex is able to get revenge for his wife by killing Turnbull’s assistant, Burke, and then get revenge for his son by killing Burke a second time.  Hex apparently kills Turnbull by causing one of the orange ball weapons to explode on the ship.  Hex and Lilah are able to escape the explosion of a weapon that had previously destroyed a small town, by jumping off the boat, which I assume contained several of the weapons, just ahead of the explosion.  Grateful for his work, someone in the government offers him the position of sheriff of the United States.  Hex turns them down, saying he doesn’t think that the position exists.  Hex then takes Lilah by the hand, and they walk off together.

My main problem with this movie was not what was actually in the film, but rather the amount of things that should have been in it.  There is not any real character development in this movie.  In the 76 minutes or so of actual movie, there isn’t time for any character or plot development.  We get a basic introduction of who Hex is, what the conflict of the movie is, and how Hex gets pulled into it.  And those were fine.  The basic premise can work and is adequate.  However, the rest of the movie is a mess of scenes, mainly jumping from one action sequence to the other.  A fleeting moment of story is mixed in rarely, Hex being friends with Turnbull’s brother that he killed or his relationship with Lilah, but there is not any time for these stories to develop enough for us to care about them.  There isn’t even enough time given to Hex’s interaction with his family in flashbacks for us to care about them.  The film requires us to just assume a lot of things regarding the past relationships/friendships that are motivating him.  In a writing class I took many years ago, the most consistent bit of advice given was to show the audience rather than tell the audience.  Don’t tell the audience that Hex misses his wife and son, show us that he does by his actions.  It’s difficult to believe he’s still hungry for revenge after however long it’s been, when he’s found himself someone else to be with.

There were two issues I had with what story that was there:  talking to the dead, and the scope of the problem.  As I mentioned in the introduction, I haven’t read any of the comics, only some appearances in other stories.  So, when he started literally talking to dead men he brought back to life while touching them, I had to see if this was something that was in the comics.  I looked it up in Wikipedia, and sure enough, he has no supernatural powers.  Why bother adding it to the movie?  The scenes he uses it in don’t really add anything to the story.  It’s just a simple plot device to tell him where to go to get to the next action sequence.  Even when he brings back Turnbull’s brother.  It means nothing because we haven’t seen these two men’s friendship.  We’ve only been told that there was a friendship with a tragic ending.  Having Hex actually investigate, instead of being told where to go, would have given us a chance to get to know the characters more.

My problem with the scope of the conflict may be a personal thing, but there are still some suspension of disbelief issues.  I prefer my Westerns to be fairly localized ordeals.  Sure, your settings can be spread out, but you need to acknowledge that this is the case.  In Jonah Hex, I assume that the setting is Southwest, but things get from Washington to the Southwest, and back, way to quickly to be believable.

Overall, I would like to see an extended cut of this film to know why so much of it was cut out.  If you’re going to bring in good actors, then you need to trust them to do their thing.  But as this movie stands now, I can’t recommend seeing it.  If you want to see the character, watch the Batman:  The Animated Series episode titled “Showdown,” or the DC Showcase animated short of Jonah Hex that is on the Batman:  Under the Red Hood DVD.  Or really, just read the comic, currently written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, which I’ve heard wonderful things about.


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