Jonah Hex (2010) Review

Rating: 1 Star

The following review contains spoilers.

Overview:

When Confederate General Quentin Turnbull orders his men to burn down a hospital, Jonah Hex refuses the order, and ends up shooting the General’s son. A furious Turnbull captures Hex and forces him to watch his family burn to death in their home, then brands Hex across the face, leaving him hideously-scarred and slowly-dying. A group of magical Native Americans find Hex and bring him back to life for some reason, giving him the ability to speak to dead people, and possibly command of crows or something (it’s not clear). Turnbull fakes his death in a hotel fire (every single building or structure in this movie is eventually set on fire), leaving a dejected Hex without the opportunity for revenge, and soon he becomes a bounty hunter.

Turnbull’s gang stages several heists of various pieces of government equipment, assembling an untested superweapon (designed by Eli Whitney!) called a Nation Killer. It works by firing a bunch of cannonballs at whatever you want to destroy, and then an orange “detonator” cannonball, and then everything explodes. Everyone immediately figures out that Turnbull is alive, and President Grant decides the only way to stop him is to find and recruit Jonah Hex. Hex is mostly busy killing corrupt sheriffs (and blowing up their empty offices because everything must burn) and hanging out with lovesick prostitute, Lilah. The Army asks Hex to track and kill Turnbull before he can blow up Washington D.C., which will somehow lead to the complete dissolution of the United States.

Best Parts:

It’s short. It’s only 81 minutes, and the final eight minutes are just the closing credits.

A bafflingly-talented cast agreed to be in this movie. You can see Michael Fassbender’s eventual stardom in his performance as the face-tattooed Irish psychopath, Burke.

Worst Parts:

Jonah Hex is incoherent. The action scenes are difficult to follow, and the plot and character through-lines are all a straight mess.

The movie is overly concerned with convincing you that Jonah Hex is a badass. He destroys a small town with double Gatling guns attached to his horse (that poor horse!), then goes right to having sex with Megan Fox, who worships him as he taciturnly stares into space. Crows love him, dogs love him, and he has some kind of psychic connection with his (probably deaf) horse. Native Americans are perpetually waiting in the wings to bring him back to life. The President offers him the position of Sheriff of the United States (and even Hex is like, “That’s not a thing, you stupid President”). The one unnamed black character gives a speech about how Hex is a great guy, despite serving in the Confederacy, and assures us that Hex was always against slavery. He has no kind of arc, and in the end he concludes that all of his actions were just, and revenge is awesome.

“They say that a man with revenge in his heart should dig two graves. One for his enemy and one for himself. I guess mine’s just gonna have to wait.” Aw hell yeah bro!

I don’t say that adaptations have to perfectly mimic the comics, but giving Hex the ability to temporarily resurrect the dead is an odd choice. He uses it all of three times, and only the heart-to-heart with Turnbull’s son is actually a potentially interesting moment (or would be in a more competent film). Later, Lilah gives us a puzzling twist, declaring loudly that her real name is Tallulah Black, which even I, who has read more than a few comics, had to look up on Wikipedia to understand what was going on. Apparently in the comics Tallulah Black is a scarred bounty hunter, basically a female Jonah Hex, so of course the movie makes her a beautiful prostitute. So most people won’t understand the peculiarly-highlighted reference, and the few that do will likely be annoyed by the change.

Turnbull orders Burke to kidnap Lilah to lure Hex into an ambush, so he does, slapping her around a bit. Then Hex finds their compound on his own, unaware Lilah’s even been kidnapped, and Turnbull fails to ambush him. It’s just yet another empty “damsel in distress” scenario, which they attempt to ameliorate by making Lilah also “badass”, as she picks the lock on her handcuffs and spends a couple minutes shooting random henchmen in hallways while Hex is off doing something else. None of it feels essential or meaningful.

The final battle between Hex and Turnbull is intercut with two other sequences – the first being a previously-glimpsed dream sequence where Hex and Turnbull fight, and the second being yet another flashback to Hex’s family dying – rendering the entire thing disjointed and inert. Why should we care whether Dream Hex can beat Dream Turnbull when the real ones are currently actually fighting?

Why is there a snake man who drinks venom in this movie? He never even interacts with Hex or any other character. Why does a crow climb out of Hex’s mouth when the unnamed Natives resurrect him? Why does Fassbender have those silly face tattoos?

“War and me took to each other real well. It felt like it had meaning. The feeling of doing what you thought was right. But it wasn’t. Folks can believe what they like, but eventually a man’s gotta decide if he’s gonna do what’s right. That choice cost me more than I bargained for.”

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