Jonah Hex is a questionable property to adapt. For one, it’s out of DC’s traditional area of expertise. They’ve mostly had success with big budget capes and cowls flicks involving Batman and Superman. Their secondary properties? Well, let’s just say they don’t have the luxury of a Marvel-like back catalog boasting characters like Spider-Man, X-Men, Deadpool, Blade, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and other PG-13 superheroes waiting to be properly exploited (barring Green Lantern), as most of their more interesting properties are R-rated Vertigo properties.
So, DC turns to Jonah Hex, lands a big-name star for the hero (Josh Brolin) and villain (John Malkovich), throws in a sexy eye candy sidekick (Megan Fox) and viola, a movie gets made. Well, not exactly, as all the horror stories from Jonah Hex started streaming in: script rewrites, massive reshoots, lots of friction between writers Neveldine and Taylor and Legendary Pictures/Warner Brothers, and a replacement director in the person of the animator Jimmy Hayward.
Unfortunately, when you have this much trouble on a movie set, the end results are rarely, if ever, positive. This axiom holds true for Jonah Hex, despite the best efforts of Josh Brolin and John Malkovich to bring some life to the material, and despite Neveldine and Taylor’s attempt at writing some good material for the film.
The steampunk/weird west setting is one that is really difficult for audiences to accept. No amount of snarling Josh Brolin or boobular Megan Fox can get people to take a Western that’s slightly out of the normal. If Will Smith couldn’t do it during the heights of his celebrity power, nobody can.
Certainly, a revenge story about a wronged Confederate soldier (strike one) out to gain revenge on the killer of his family using occasionally supernatural means (strike two) while wielding improbable weapons (strike three) falls under the hard sell category. People want Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, not gadgets and sci-fi gizmos, and the less said about a Confederate hero, the better, even if he is hunting down a Confederate villain/terrorist.
As I said above, the cast is game. Josh Brolin makes a great western-style hero (as we saw in No Country For Old Men) and John Malkovich is a great villain, no matter how much mustache and hair extensions you put him under. The only problem is Jonah Hex’s signature facial scarring makes, well… it makes Brolin’s dialog nearly impossible to understand. I think I got about every other word of every sentence he said, thanks to that lip-mangling make-up job.
As for Megan Fox, the less said, the better. She looks great in her Old West prostitute outfits, and she puts a lot of energy into her hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold role as Lilah, but she’s still not too much of an actress (and her constantly shifting accent makes her role as a southern girl questionable).
As for Neveldine and Taylor, it’s hard to say how much of their script actually made it into this movie. The film checks in at a generously listed 80 minutes, which, by summer movie standards, is very short. Even with a running time so short, a lot of it is wasted on slow motion, dream sequences, and long shots of characters riding horses.
It’s like Jimmy Hayward went to the Roger Corman school of film padding. Surely something had to hit the cutting room floor to make the movie so minuscule. I mean, significant portions of Hex’s origin were summed up in voiceover and montage! Surely you could’ve taken a few days when reshooting and go into greater detail about Hex and his adventures with Turnbull, rather than just having Josh Brolin check into the sound booth with a script and a mug of hot tea.
The one good thing you can say about Jonah Hex is that there’s a lot of what could be considered action. Unfortunately, Jonah Hex feels like the studio cut the film down from an R-rating to the family-friendly PG-13 and, in the process, removed a lot of the teeth and brutality from what should be a blood-soaked hell ride on the road to revenge and redemption. Somehow, they managed to make a guy killing people with a hatchet look like a tickling contest between Care Bears.
Jonah Hex could have been a great movie if they’d not interfered so much with the character’s story, if they let the film have some room to breathe, and if they’d kept Neveldine and Taylor on board to direct and given them a bit of freedom. Instead, we get the processed product of big studio filmmaking.
I don’t think Neveldine and Taylor could have saved it with their direction, but the resulting film would have at least been more interesting than how Jonah Hex ended up.
US correspondent Ron Hogan will now throw dirt onto the corpse that is the nontraditional Western. Stick to oat operas, Hollywood. Leave the creative genre mash-ups to the literary world. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi, and at his blog, Subtle Bluntness.