It’s curious, isn’t it, the popularity of superheroes and characters with magic powers. I suppose folk have always had a propensity to believe in the unbelievable. I long ago learned never to underestimate the credulity of people. They’ll believe in any conspiracy theory, and the wilder it is, the more likely they are to swallow it. They’d believe the moon was made of green cheese, especially if it said so in some Iron Age Middle-Eastern text which they follow. I guess the long history of horror films, with ghosts, vampires, walking dead and what-have-you fed into this new trend of Marvel and the like. Anyway, it polluted the Western, our noble genre, too. Jonah Hex is an example. I guess, to be fair, you can at least say that otherwise sensible people are ready to suspend their skepticism for 81 minutes and escape into the world of make-believe, and that’s OK. And, to be even fairer, it’s not as if the standard Western were exactly entirely credible.
None of that excuses a bad film, of course. And Jonah Hex is most definitely a bad film.
Apparently Mr. Hex started in a comic. Wikipedia tells us (so it must be true) that “Jonah Woodson Hex is a western comic book antihero appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. The character was created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga. Hex is a surly and cynical bounty hunter whose face is horribly scarred on the right side. Despite his poor reputation and personality, Hex is bound by a personal code of honor to protect and avenge the innocent.” So there you have it.
In the movie Hex (Josh Brolin) also has supernatural powers, such as being able to raise the dead temporarily to interrogate them. Useful skill, that. Naturally he is pretty well invincible. He has twin Gatling guns mounted on his horse.
Ulysses S Grant (Aidan Quinn) is in the White House so we must be somewhere between 1869 and 1877. There has to be an evil genius, of course, a sort of Bond villain ante diem, a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, or the USA anyway, which is more important. This one is Quentin Turnbull, determined to revive the hopes of the Confederacy, and he is played by John Malkovitch. During the Civil War this Turnbull strapped Hex to a cross and made him watch as the house containing his family was set on fire. Then Turnbull branded Jonah's face with a hot iron. He’s not a nice chap, evidently.
Is it me or is John Malkovitch a serious actor who often chooses to appear in the most dreadful trash? USA Today said “Malkovich seems to have spent the last few decades of his once-impressive career playing variations on the sneering, rage-aholic villain theme. Only his accent and hair length change.” I think they had a point.
It all reminded me of Wild Wild West of a decade or so before, with Malkovitch taking the Branagh part.
One good thing, there are derringers galore. Turnbull even has a matched pair. There are also other weird and wonderful weapons, such as a crossbow-gun, supplied by Lance Reddick, and of course the finale concerns a super-gun, with which Turnbull intends to destroy Washington DC. Turnbull says it was designed by Eli Whitney, which is a bit tough on the old inventor’s reputation.
Many of the characters are listed in the credits only as “Dumbass outlaw”, “Burly guard”, or “Nasty gunner” and this is indicative of the lack of subtlety. Unless it was supposed to be funny.
There’s a whore with a heart of stone (Megan Fox). Apparently Ms. Fox considers this to be her worst movie. I’m not surprised.
Hex whistles and his horse comes, so there are some oldie Western references. There is also a mangy dog which attaches himself to Hex and becomes a companion, not that you feel that Hex has the slightest interest in anyone but himself. We are told that the dog had to spend an hour in the make-up chair to get his mongrel look. I think he was the best actor on the set anyway.
I haven’t the energy to say more. It’s really bad. You’ll have to watch it yourself if you want to find out what happens (an improbable likelihood). I only just got to the end.
It was disastrous at the box office. I saw it (or sat through it) on Netflix, or it may have been Amazon Prime, I forget. One of the two anyway.
After he has saved the world, or at least DC, Hex is invited into the Oval office and Grant offers him a huge badge. “America needs a sheriff,” he announces portentously. Roger Ebert said that “This provided the audience with a big laugh, which sounded like it might have been bottled up for awhile.”
The New York Times was more forgiving. “Though it has bad word of mouth, Jonah Hex is generally better, sprier and more diverting than most of the action flicks now playing, The A-Team included.” Mmm, maybe.