The opening starts out with a voice-over narration by Jonah Hex over scenes from Civil War battles that Hex and his men fought. Immediately, my interest in the film evaporated as the writing for the narration is so poor, and the images that accompany it are so incoherent that I knew I was in for a rough evening. Essentially, Hex fought for the Confederacy, but got upset by his commanding officer’s orders to kill innocent people and blow up a hospital, so he betrayed his unit and saved the innocent people and the hospital. His commanding officer is Quentin Turnbull (who is played by John Malkovich), and in Hex’s efforts to save the hospital, Hex ends up killing Turnbull’s brother. This event is never memorably shown on film, which is annoying, as film is a visual medium, so make these moments stand out. Turnbull seeks revenge, and kills Hex’s wife and son while making Hex watch his family burn to death. Turnbull then brands Hex’s face with “QT”, and leaves him. Hex cuts off part of his face, as he would rather appear grossly disfigured then have “QT” on the side of his face. Hex is near death and is saved by some Indians. When he is saved by the Indians, he also gains the ability to talk to dead people for short periods of time by touching them, which brings them back to life momentarily, and only Hex can see this. That’s the setup for the film, and although I admit that I’m not the best writer, if you’re not interested in Jonah Hex by that paragraph, then you definitely will not be interested in the film.
The opening feels wrong as when Hex is about to see his wife and son killed, we get an animated sequence which leads to the title shot (again, and I know I sound like a disturbed person here), I would rather see more images of the house burning down with Hex’s family in it, then an animated sequence that takes me to the main plot. Maybe the filmmakers were showing their creativity of how they could get from “Point A” to “Point B”, but I thought it failed. Whether the animated sequence was planned or not, it seemed to me that no one liked what was shot, so we had to get a short animated sequence to take us to the main plot of the movie. This is a minor point, as that is only about 60 seconds of the movie, but the opening sequence didn’t engage me, and my interest in the film suffered.
The main plot follows Turnbull in his attempt to terrorize the centennial of the U.S. and Hex tries to stop him. There is a lot wrong with Jonah Hex, so I’m going to give some of my thoughts on the different areas of the film.
The Writing – the story is very weak, and you don’t care about a lot of what is happening on the screen. The script jumps from sequence to sequence without an explanation of what you just saw and the dialogue of Hex’s sarcastic one liners do not work. They illicit more groans than laughs. There are two animal friends that Hex has: a horse and a god. The horse I could understand, but the dog was pointless. Why did the writer’s include them? The use of flashbacks do not help the film, and I think it would have been better if they just followed the events in a natural timeline. There is never any real tension created in the film, and by the time the third act starts, you are just waiting for the credits to roll. Speaking of which, the epilogue to the film is completely forced and unconvincing. I just don’t think the writers knew how to end it. I’m sure the ending we saw was a re-shoot, so they were probably under the gun to get something done.
The Direction – This is also not a strong point. Jimmy Hayward is the director and he has primarily worked on animated films (like Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Robots, A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo). He directed Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who!, and is actually an inspired choice as you think the animation background, where you can let your imagination run wild would benefit a comic book film. Unfortunately, I did not think it worked out in the end. The one sequence that comes to mind to help describe what was wrong with the direction is mid-way through the film when Hex is having a vision of fighting Turnbull in a scene where the colours make you think you are having an acid trip. It didn’t work, it was forced, and I never like it when the protagonist and antagonist actually have a fist fight before the final battle. Don’t get me wrong, the hero and villain can have shoot-outs at any point in the film, but I don’t like it when they are face-to-face fighting each other (the only time I think this worked was in Heat when DeNiro and Pacino are talking to each other in a restaurant. Michael Mann was smart enough to have them have a verbal battle, and not a fist fight). It also didn’t help when this vision returned during the final battle. It was just completely unnecessary. The pacing for the film is all wrong, as we start with the awful narration, and a truly underwhelming opening. I think they should have just started it with the death of Hex’s family, or even the first major sequence of Hex trying to collect on a bounty. The way the film is now; there is not much punch to it. The climatic battle is also disappointing, especially when things blow up, as it seemed to me we got a longer shot of the characters being under water, when we should be seeing things explode on screen. That’s not to say that all the action sequences were bad, as I generally liked the train robbery sequence, and thought it was well executed, as there was a genuine sense of excitement as I didn’t know what was going to happen on screen, so it’s not all negative.
Acting – It’s hard to be critical of the actors because the material they are given is not very strong. Josh Brolin does the most with what he is given, and seems to be having fun in the role. I do have a complaint in that sometimes you cannot understand what Jonah Hex is saying because he mumbles a lot. That could be because of the make-up for his disfigured face, but I thought it was hard to understand, which caused some of the one-liners to go right over my head, and make me ask “What did he just say?” (I could also just have bad hearing). John Malkovich gives the most disappointing performance in the film as he just seems to be going through the motions. His Quentin Turnbull is not menacing or scary, and you don’t care for his plot to destroy the centennial. It honestly feels like he hit a point when filming, when he realized that this film was going to be a flop and he stopped trying. I hate to say that because I like Malkovich, but he has done a lot better work. It’s unfair to criticize Megan Fox, as her character is hardly in the film, and she is not given much to do on-screen. I would like Fox to be given the chance to take on a role with more substance to see what she can do with it. I even thought Jennifer’s Body was more about the Amanda Seyfried character than Fox’s. I think people who bash Fox’s performance just do it because they don’t like her acting in her previous films. She gets a pass from me on this one, but I hope her next film called Passion Play gives her a chance to show her acting skills. I think that film will be a good take on whether she is going to last in this industry or not. The actor who is the biggest delight on-screen is Jeffrey Dean Morgan who makes a cameo appearance. He plays Quentin Turnbull’s dead brother that Hex killed, and his sequence actually breathes some life into the film. The cast is pretty decent as Michael Shannon, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Wes Bentley and Aidan Quinn but again they are not given much to do.
Make-Up – I really did like the look of Jonah Hex’s face, and thought they did an excellent job on it.
Special Effects – In two words: not good. Some stuff is blatant CGI (the epilogue, the energy source for the machine) and sticks out like a sore thumb. Anything that was shot live-action did work for the most part, and I think it would have been appropriate to only perform actual stunts in a western (even if this western does have machine guns).
Overall, Jonah Hex is not a good film. It runs at 1h20m, and you feel the film is so short because they edited a lot of material out, which gives the film that choppy, incoherent feel. You can tell when you watch the film that it underwent re-shoots and re-writes, because it can be a mess at times with different ideas and directions for the film battling each other. I think there is a better film in the making, and you have a good foundation with Josh Brolin in the lead role. The script needs to sharper, the one-liners need to be funnier, and the order of events might need to be moved around, but there is potential in the franchise (that I doubt we will ever see again). I would love to see or read a copy of the original script to see what could have been, but in the meantime, I would pass on seeing Jonah Hex.
Until next time!