I’ve not only grown up reading comic books, but I’ve grown old reading them. When my peers moved on from reading entirely, I tried to maintain some sense of intimacy with the world of graphic storytelling. Although I have no one title I follow exclusively, I’ll pick up a graphic novel from almost any line so long as I’m assured by someone – friend, enemy, critic – that it’s worth the time and money, so I tend to always eventually get around to seeing the films of comics-inspired properties in hope of finding myself something else worth looking into.
I never read JONAH HEX growing up, but I did follow the character’s brief stint in an alternate timeline: HEX threw the bounty hunter into the future, where an apocalyptic Earth provided him some familiar wastelands to spend the rest of his days rightin’ wrongs. So I had some working familiarity with the myth, and, while the film JONAH HEX didn’t exactly delight, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Josh Brolin makes the best of spittin’ his lines out from between his clenched teeth and gnarled cheek scar.
The story? Hex (Brolin) is a bounty hunter sought out by President Ulysses S. Grant (a sadly under-used Aidan Quinn) to help save the day from Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), a former Confederate general with an axe to grind against the now re-United States post the Civil War. The story boasts strong hints of “The Wild, Wild West” (the TV show, not the insipid Will Smith movie) where secret weapons, dastardly deeds, and lovely lasses all come together against the backdrop of the American West. There’s a love interest – Megan Fox plays Hex’s squeeze Lilah – and lesser heavy thrown in for good measure – the increasingly spectacular Michael Fassbender as Burke, Turnbull’s right-hand-man and the guy responsible for murdering Hex’s family years earlier.
The formula had all the right ingredients, but, all-in-all, HEX turns out to be a bit of a disappointment though time may reward this lesser comic property with a ‘cult’ statis.
Arguably, the biggest anchor here is the fact that HEX is a film out of time. Hex’s backstory is smaller and more intimate than the typical superhero – his “ability” is to communicate with the dead – and, hence, a smaller story would’ve been more in order. With the SPIDER-MAN films and Christopher Nolan’s stamp on THE DARK KNIGHT, the bar was raised, and, apparently, some suit thought more “flash” was needed. An opening train robbery was elevated ridiculously to the level of a Michael Bay explosion extravaganza, and for what? The theft of a few train cars. Also, the story required a massive superweapon. After all, don’t all evil geniuses have one? But the magical mystical supercannon comes complete with glowing cannon balls that function like nuclear missiles, and the audience is given absolutely no logical explanation of the possible science. (Hint, hint: there wasn’t any.)
Sadly, Malkovich – one of our current Hollywood greats – appears entirely bereft of the fact that he was being filmed throughout the production of HEX. As the film’s principal heavy, Malkovich plays Turnbull completely void of any real passion, motivation, or depth, and that’s not to say that the script couldn’t have used a few touch-ups in the dialogue department here and there. But instead of chewing scenery, Malkovich seems to blend in with it. Also, Fox – despite her obvious physical assets – is completely miscast here. She deadpans her lines with all the charm of the average cell phone conversation, and she looks curiously ant-like wearing a corset cinched tight enough to, quite literally, split the woman in half. To his strength, Brolin makes the best of Hex, imbuing the character with equal parts “Dirty Harry” and “The Crow” in a script that really needed to tone down the dramatic overuse of unnecessary metaphysical flashbacks. While his resume does show contributions to several children’s animation features from Pixar, director Jimmy Hayward seems lost – or, at least, entirely detached – from the source materials, and why the fine folks at Warner Bros. chose to leave a dark and ominous revenge story in Hayward’s hands remains a mystery to me. His sole previous directing credit (per IMDB.com) was HORTON HEARS A WHO!
I’m no director, nor a screenwriter, but what Warner Bros. should’ve done here is really toyed with the contemporary Western. Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN could’ve served as a perfect inspiration for JONAH HEX – there are strong similarities to character backstories – but given the film a decidedly “X Files” edge while exploring Hex’s skills at communicating with the deceased. Instead, we’re given a flashy GHOST RIDER knock-off really missing the dirt and grit so common to an oater picture. (‘Oater’ is Hollywood slang for the Western, for those uninformed.) The studio went mainstream when they should’ve gone “field-and-stream,” especially given Fassbender’s quirky Irish prescence that really is given – like an awful lot else – very little explanation or exposition.
Still, a near-miss is a near-miss, and, as I’ve said, HEX may enjoy a reasonable shelf-life as a cult property, which, in itself, is a bit of a quandary. It used to be small studios turned out cult hits, certainly not a powerhouse like Warner Bros. and certainly not now that comic properties are “an in thing.” It’s an easy way to kill an hour and a half – a harmless diversion – but, much like Hex’s inner turmoil over losing his family years earlier, I can’t help wonderin’ what could’ve been.
Comic Book adaptations are a dime-a-dozen these days that it has become quite difficult for me to get excited or even interested when Hollywood announces another so-called ‘adaptation’. Director Jimmy Hayward’s “Jonah Hex” is the latest adaptation that brings the DC Comics character to life in the big screen. This film adaptation is loosely based on the latest incarnation of the character in the DC Comics Vertigo line that also blends in some elements from the comic … more
* out of **** There are comic books that can bring the medium to the screen as a film, and then there are comic books that can't make a successful entry when it comes to adaptation. You've got "Watchmen". You've got "Spiderman". You've got your failures, your successes, and then you've got entries such as "Jonah Hex"; a comic book film flawed to the point of no return. I might as well get down to business here. It's not like you'll care much about this … more
Recently there has been a frenzy over adaptations and last summer was one full of a wide variety ranging from comic, graphic novel, video game and children/young adult lit adaptations. Jonah Hex should have been a wild ride through the old west came across like a knock-off designer bag you'd buy from a street merchant on the streets of NY. There were elements that reminded me of the late 90s film Wild Wild West, which was fun but left many feeling disappointed. I'm … more
I went and saw this with my wife on opening night after some anticipation since the previews made it look pretty badass and it had Megan Fox as an old tyme whore. I don't know what the critics who said it was bad were expecting but it's about a disfigured ex Confederate turned bounty hunter who gains the ability to talk to the dead through a near death experience himself mixed with a little Indian magic. He's a crack shot who works for the highest bidder and has a hooker for a sidekick … more
Another DC Comics hero gets a workout inJonah Hex, the movie incarnation of DC's scar-faced bounty hunter, played here by Josh Brolin. Out to exact revenge on the varmint who wrecked his face and killed his family, Jonah also gets yanked back into the service of his country--against his will, of course. Said varmint, Quentin Turnbull, is played by John Malkovich, although the more spirited villainy is provided by Turnbull's tattooed Irish assistant (Inglourious Basterds's Michael Fassbender plays the part with the kind of energy noticeably absent from the other cast members). In this 80-minute hodgepodge of a movie, Jonah regularly checks in with his lady friend, a prostitute (Megan Fox) whose bordello room has a remarkable amount of glamour lighting, and in his spare time investigates Turnbull's plot to use a super weapon against Washington, D.C. By giving Jonah a halfway-interesting supernatural talent--he can talk with the dead, by placing his hands on them--the film adds a kicky new wrinkle, but it's not enough to improve the mangled storytelling or the sleepwalking pace. Brolin's makeup is impressive, but in scarring his cheek and pulling his mouth back in a grotesque grimace, the prosthetics designers have robbed the actor of any ability to express himself through speech. Kind of a miscalculation there, and typical of this movie's tendency to shoot itself in the face.--Robert Horton