The Good: Interesting characters, Generally decent revenge story
The Bad: Nothing terribly new or exciting, Dialogue is mediocre-at-best, SHORT!
The Basics: A hugely disappointing Western-flavored revenge story takes a turn for the mediocre by pulling its punches and having terrible dialogue in Jonah Hex.
For the last few years, we've known it's summer by the arrival on the big screen of Megan Fox and her breasts. For last summer, her cleavage was highlighted thanks to the period-piece Jonah Hex, which is a fairly simple revenge movie that is far more average than it is actually terrible. Those who might have been waiting to see Megan Fox running around in a corset instead of a tanktop, now is your prime opportunity! But don't wait too long; because of near-universal pannings and poor opening weekend grosses, Jonah Hex went out of theaters quickly and the DVD/Blu-Rays are already headed to the discount bins!
That said, Jonah Hex is a mildly creative film based upon the DC graphic novel by the same name. The "mildly creative" comes from the generally-decent effects and use of weaponry that is not period-accurate. It is worth noting right up front that I've not read any of the Jonah Hex graphic novels or comic books, so I went to my viewing of the film very much open-minded. However, after seeing previews and glancing at reviews, I left my expectations low going into it.
Jonah Hex is not absolutely terrible; while it is not good, it ultimately felt a lot more average than actually atrocious. Perhaps my resistance to lousy movies has been seriously lowered in recent days, but I have seen worse films this year than Jonah Hex.
In the mid-1800s, in the U.S. frontier, there is a man with deep facial scars named Jonah Hex. Having once been branded and left for dead by Quentin Turnbull, Jonah Hex is now a bounty hunter who has little regard for people and the ability to speak with the dead. His line of work has made him an enemy of the U.S. government enough times to make him hunted by government agents himself. When Lieutenant Grass encounters Jonah Hex, Jonah is mildly surprised to be offered a clean slate: all prior charges against Jonah Hex dropped . . . if he can stop Quentin Turnbull and his current evil scheme.
Quentin Turnbull wants to take over the world and he is not above trying to raise demons from Hell to try to do it. As he works to put a world-destroying device into play, Jonah Hex, his friend Lilah, and his arsenal built by Smith are set on a collision course to stop him.
With the catchphrase "Revenge Gets Ugly," Jonah Hex seemed like it could be a Western or science fiction reincarnation of Payback, but it falls drastically short of that level of enduring interest, much less greatness. Jonah Hex is plagued by very typical moviemaking problems - especially for films rated PG-13 - but because it falls in with the current crowd of bad movies, it is hard to complain ad nauseam about that. The main problem with Jonah Hex is its lack of scope or ambition. In keeping the movie PG-13, "Jonah Hex" is forced to pull punches and director Jimmy Hayward is forced to scale back most of the things that would actually make the characters more interesting. The movie is PG-13 graphic, but its main protagonist and antagonist walk around like they are mean enough to be in an "R" film. So, when they encounter one another, the result is decidedly less spectacular than if they had actually told a great story.
That lack of ambition comes through on the character and plot levels as well, though the acting is generally decent. The acting in Jonah Hex keeps the reality of the film intact quite well and Jonah Hex, Lilah and Quentin Turnbull all seem place and time specific with a realism that sets one up to be engaged by the movie. As well, the costumes are good (and not just for Megan Fox's cleavage) and because the movie is so ridiculously short, it moves along at quite a quick pace with little distraction from the stated goals of the main characters.
Unfortunately, that is where my ability to equivocate on behalf of the film ends. Virtually every line in the movie is a lame attempt at a melodramatic catchphrase. Moreover, the characters are much more archetypes than they are actual characters after their initial creation. Lilah is a world-hardened prostitute, Jonah Hex is scarred, mean, but has a layer that still appears to be human and Quentin Turnbull is yet another over-the-top villain who wants to rule the world. In very predictable fashion, Turnbull's world-domination plans become sublimated to his overwhelming desire to see Jonah Hex dead, which makes one wonder what school all these stupid supervillains go to where they don't seem to learn that if you dominate the entire world with your hell army, you'll have plenty of resources to kill your old foes! Seriously, learn to delegate villains! As one might expect, Jonah Hex does not adequately flesh out Quentin Turnbull to give him a viable reason for wanting to rule the world.
As for the plot, this is a very typical revenge and hero-in-the-process-of-becoming story with little spark or originality. Again, this makes it more average than truly terrible and while it is disappointing, the film has moments where it looks good.
Josh Brolin and John Malkovich do quite well at physically portraying anti-heroes and villains in Jonah Hex and Quentin Turnbull. Sure, Malkovich is pretty much an obvious choice to cast for any villainous role (he's played a ton of great villains), so Quentin Turnbull is pretty much par for the course Malkovich is known for. Brolin, however, continues to illustrate his range and Jonah Hex is very much unlike any of his previous, timid characters and that makes him a treat to watch even when the writing is as bad as it is in Jonah Hex. And, to be fair to her, Megan Fox is not bad as Lilah; the character is just very much an archetype and cliché as opposed to an actual character.
Ultimately, Jonah Hex disappoints as pretty much every other reviewer has acknowledged and the hopes for a franchise look dim for the studio. But there are vastly worse comic book adaptation films (there are three on the tip of my tongue) and while Jonah Hex might be bad in many parts, it never becomes a campy embarrassment to the whole genre.
For other films based upon DC comic book characters, please check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight
For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.