Over the past several years, comic book movies have gained a great deal of credibility. While we were treated to the occasional Batman or Superman, most films of this type were relegated to the basement bins of the local video store. However, films like X-Men and Spiderman helped people realize that these types of films could be just as compelling as others. Through a combination of rich storytelling, epic scope and intriguing characters, the entire notion of comics on film achieved legitimacy. Unfortunately, the occasional film does come along to remind us how awful these films used to be. Jonah Hex is such a film.
Feeling like a relic of comic-book films past, Jonah Hex has all the trappings of those films prior to the comic renaissance. I’ve never read the comics myself, but there appears to be a decent story buried beneath the hackneyed mess that graced the screen. It’s unfortunate that the material is wasted in such a cheap and slapped-together looking production. The story (what little there is) revolves around Jonah’s quest for revenge against the evil Quentin Turnbull, a cliched villain in every sense of the word who not only made Hex witness the death of his family, but also plans to utilize advanced weaponry to, essentially, destory the world.
One of the biggest problems with the film is the way all of this is set up. The film is very heavy on exposition, and doesn’t do justice to the story that is presented. The opening credits are an animated sequence showing that Hex almost died, but was brought back to life with the gift to communicate with the dead. Not only does this supernatural aspect of the story make no sense, it doesn’t feel like it fits in with the rest of the story. It’s simply a device utilized to get Hex from Point A to Point B. This is the only supernatural aspect of the story, and is horrible in execution. It is rarely used, and the effect was much more compelling in the terrific (and unfortunately cancelled) tv show, Pushing Daisies.
(click play button to see the trailer)
I found it very depressing to watch a big-budget Summer blockbuster that felt inferior to a weekly television show. In fact, the whole production feels like a cheap tv program on the verge of cancellation. In the opening scenes of the film, Turnbull brands the side of Hex’s face, which we later see him cut off. This leads to the very mediocre effect of having a gaping hole in the side of Hex’s face. After the ingenious effects used to depict Two-Face in “The Dark Knight,” it was very disappointing to see such shoddy makeup work in this case.
In fact, the only aspect of this film that makes it feel like a movie rather than television is the cast. There are several A-listers in the film, all of whom unfortunately appear to be phoning it in. Josh Brolin plays Hex with a bored growl. He’s supposed to dark and edgy, angry at the world, but it just comes across as if he’s struggling with the sub-par makeup. I never believed his anguish. And what happened to John Malkovich? He used to be such a reliable indicator of quality, but this could very well be his worst performance to date. All I can think is that he must have really needed the money. Throughout the entire film, it just feels as if he’s reading off his lines without any thought to what he’s actually saying. Rounding out the main cast is Megan Fox. To be fair, she’s not any better or worse than she’s ever been. She shows up, wears her skimpy outfits, and disappears until the next time the filmmakers feel like giving us someone to ogle.
There reallly isn’t anything about this film that works. Maybe if there was some energy to the action sequences, or some life to the effects, it might have been a little more watchable. However, that wouldn’t have improved the script. The whole thing feels like an outline still waiting to be fleshed out into a real script.
I really hate wasted potential in a film. If a movie is simply bad, that’s one thing. But when there is a possibility for something fresh and exciting, it is so disheartening to see it squandered. Considering the popularity of reboots right now, maybe we’ll get a new take on the story in a few years. Hex may have the power to briefly reanimate life, but no amount of supernatural mumbo-jumbo can prevent this film from being dead-on-arrival.