42 Screens: Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex has long since been a staple of the DC publishing appearing in comics since 1972, and in 2000 20th Century Fox developed a one-hour adaptation based on the comic but the project eventually failed.  This lead the way for the feature film to be green lit in 2007.

Jonah Hex, released on June 18 2010, bring the western comic hero to the big screen in his theatrical debut.  The movie introduces us to the bounty hunter known as Johan Hex, played by Josh Brolin, a tough and stoic gunslinger who can track down anyone or anything.  Hex is a drifter, with a horribly scarred face, and bounty hunter of last resort.  Jonah’s violent history is steeped in myth and legend, an aftermath of surviving death, and has left him with one foot in the natural world and one on the “other side.”  This grants him the ability to speak with the departed for information.  Now cast out from a society that fears him his only human connection is with Lilah, played by internet queen Megan Fox, whose life in a brothel has left her with scars of her own.

In exchange for his freedom from the warrants on his head, the U.S military asks Hex to track down and stop the dangerous terrorist, and Jonah’s oldest enemy, Quentin Turnbull.  Turnbull is gathering an army and preparing to strike against the government in one last chance for the post civil war south.  The film pits the scarred gunslinger against crooked sheriffs, a psychopathic Irishman serial killer, and a resurgence of confederate soldier let by Turbull, played my John Malkovich.

The movie is sadly a film that hasn’t truly figured out where it belongs or what path it wishes to take.  The film is a mix between the spaghetti western films of yore and a supernatural adventure to which the like of the Winchesters or akin to.  It straddles genres, using imagery and scenes pulled from Clint Eastwood’s Man with no Name, but dangles the occult before us a little more the setting or minor plot points.  The film could have proven stronger if it has chosen to follow either path, making the movie either a strong western film with an unexplained ability or even a supernatural tale like a western version of Solomon Kane.  The film falls prey to a common practised of bringing modern device in their past form.  Jonah Hex is armed with a series of devices that would make James Bond’ Q green with envy.  Hex wields a pair of hand crossbows that lights and fires sticks of dynamite, and has two civil-war Gatling guns hanging from his horse.  Perhaps Hex could share notes and compare his device with Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing and Will Smith’s Jim West.  Why is it that in an action film set in the past our heroes need modern day weapons?  Is the product of poor or lazy writing? Does it stem from a lack of creativity? Or does an audience need that shock, awe and ‘cool factor’ that much?  Part of the enjoyment of an era film is watching how a situation that could easily be solved by today’s level of technology be played out without the items we take for granted.

While the movie comes from a comic book source the movie, in one of its rare moments, dispenses with the origins of our hero in the opening credits.  We learn why Jonah Hex looks the way he is, who is to blame and what his motivations are.  It is too easy to make an origin tale when you launch a comic book film franchise, forcing the viewer to suffer through a normally familiar and lacklustre creation myth.  We all know Batman’s story – young boy watches parents murdered, he descends into a severe level of psychosis, therapy proves and he decides to dress like a bat to fight clowns and penguins. –

We can all recite Spider-man’s story – boy get bitten, loses uncle, repeats cult like mantra and makes the one decision his teenage mind think is logical and become a hero- but when the Spiderman film series reboot next year, and in the inevitable reboot of Batman after Chris Nolar abandons the series, we will be asked to shell out $10 dollars each times to watch it again.   Director Jimmy Hayward, who has worked on such projects as Toy Story 1 and 2, Horton Hears a Who and a little show called ReBoot, avoids this, giving us a rare comic book movie that doesn’t deal with 1970s beginnings that are no longer relevant today.

Despite the excellent acting job of Josh Brolin, the sultry body of Megan Fox, the shockingly serious Will Arnett, the eccentric John Malkovich, the enigmatic Lance Reddick and the surprising cameo of Jeffery Dean Morgan (sir) this movie still falls a little short.  It will never been Spideman, Batman or Iron Man but it is a good popcorn action movie that shows us there is a middle ground in comic book movies between Dark Knight and Daredevil.

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