Jonah Hex (2010) is a travesty of epic proportions in the comic book adaptation, franchise building universe. The movie plods, often directionless, and fails to make the most of the only commodity of any interest, namely the characters and story from the original Western comic book that first appeared in the early 1970’s. While the film blends genres, incorporates animated sequences with live action to modest interest, it is clear from the onset that the end product, heavily and clumsily edited, is a shell of what it started out to be.
The film is identified as an Action/Drama/Thriller/Western though it is apparent from the opening scenes that we’re operating in the specific world of comic book adaptation. Thin on drama and hardly a thriller, there is an excessive reliance on action with a Western backdrop, but neither is fully realized or otherwise spectacular. The violence is muted for a PG-13 rating and the closest we get to sexual themes are a couple of brief bedroom scenes that have been edited to the point of irrelevance. There is ample action for a film of this type but most sequences are fantastical if implausible and even unnecessary. The characters are paper-thin renditions of stereotypes from an amalgam of B movie westerns and forgettable Saturday afternoon action flicks. The dialogue, purposefully clipped at times, is stiff and anodyne, reduced to one liners and basic plot and back story delivery. The story is poorly executed and at times fragmented to the point of confusion. The only thing that keeps the film from falling apart altogether is the cast.
Josh Brolin (W, Milk, No Country For Old Men) is convincing enough as the anti-hero, a scarred and brooding cowboy with a code of justice but the character, like his bevy of deadly, video game inspired weaponry, is left to surface details and ancillary purpose. John Malkovich does what he can as the bad guy but his part is hardly sketched out and sadly condensed to caricature. Megan Fox, undeniably stunning, delivers her usual bright smile and tedious performance, more like background scenery that floats in and out of periphery and is nice to look at but doesn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the story. It was obvious they needed a pretty girl and fresh from the Transformer franchise she fit the bill. Michael Shannon (Runaways, Revolutionary Road) has one scene but it was cut from the film and is only available on the DVD – but the writing is thick and cumbersome in Shannon’s delivery and feels artificial and out of context anyway. What his character might have been or how he tied into the plot is unclear. Perhaps most troubling is the obvious studio meddling, but what really gets in the way of everything else and keeps this film from really taking off is sure footing; not even the talented leading men and familiar character actors can prevent the story from miring down beneath the weight of indecisiveness and a dismal script.
There is an inventive blending of comic book animation in the beginning of the film that is worth mentioning. It serves as a fabric that is at least moderately successful in connecting the character and story with its roots, but it is not allowed breathing room and is quickly abandoned for less rewarding and unsuccessful subplots. It is impossible to know the extent to which editing and meddling took its toll on the finished film. Director Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!) says he was an obvious choice for the project given his connections to Pixar but it is unclear whether he had a game plan or thought he would be able to assemble a live action film in the edit. What is clear is that Jonah Hex is flat and unenthusiastic. The result is a car crash victim of a film that ends up on life support that no one is vested in enough to stick around to see if it makes it through the night.
Sadly the most disappointing fact of the matter is how quickly a failure like this settles into obscurity, lost in the Hollywood machine that has never been very forgiving. The one exception is Marvel Comics’ character Hulk and their two-time effort to bring him to the screen. The first attempt was made by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm, Eat Drink Man Woman) who delivered Hulk (2003) that subsequently failed miserably at the box office, due mostly to an unconvincing CGI caricature. Marvels’ second attempt was far more successful when they brought in Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Clash of the Titans) in 2008 for The Incredible Hulk.
Jonah Hex isn’t the worst movie from DC Comics, the company perhaps best known for their more successful franchises, Batman ($1.7 billion collected from 6 films), and Superman ($800 million collected from 5 films). They’ve stumbled before with the disappointing Catwoman (2004) and the forgettable Steel (1997). Not even Halle Berry could save the former and the latter was doomed from the concept with basketball star Shaquille O’Neal as an unconvincing superhero. DC Comics remains in the shadow of their rival, comic book giant Marvel who retains the crown as the reigning king of comic book adaptations. Warner Bros. will be bringing the Green Lantern to theaters in 2011 and an as of yet titled Batman sequel in 2012.