“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…”
All of the good superheroes are getting used up. With so many Hollywood blockbuster films featuring those iconic comic superheroes, there comes a time when you have to start looking at the next tier of comic favorites. There are inherent problems with that kind of situation. Many of these characters are only known by the core fans. They’re not the same household names that attract attention and curiosity from the general population, without having to be a huge fan. Say Superman and everyone knows exactly who you’re talking about. Mention Jonah Hex and you’re just as likely to meet with a puzzled expression and a “Who’s that” reply. So, who is Jonah Hex?
“I hung on that cross for days. By the time the Crow Indians found me and let me down I was nearly dead. Those medicine men did what they could to bring me back, but somehow they just couldn’t get me all the way out and crows seemed to stay with me. Didn’t make me immortal. Just left me with the curse of knowing the other side.”
Jonah Hex was more of a western comic than a superhero book. He did have some powers but they were more connected to the supernatural world. His most obvious ability was that he could touch the dead and bring them back to life. The effect was far from permanent. They only lived while he touched them, returning to their decomposed state as soon as he released his grip. It was helpful, only in that he was able to question the dead. The victim was often in severe pain while Hex did the questioning, so they were not likely to be very cooperative. He was a confederate soldier who fought for the South not because of some loyalty or love for the Confederacy. He just didn’t like government telling him what to do. He bore a huge disfiguring scar on the right side of his face from being branded. He’s a dead eye shot, rarely missing. The character appeared in DC Comics and was created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga. The character first appeared in a Western comic in 1971. The character managed to continue in various forms for most of the years since. The regular issues ceased in 1985. It’s never been one of DC’s star-powered characters, but it does still enjoy a rather strong cult following. It was a fine choice to test the waters for some of comicdom’s lesser known titles. Hopefully, it’s not a harbinger of things to come. The film tanked. It tanked badly. It pulled in an abysmal $10 million on a budget that was close to 5 times that amount. Enjoy this film, if you’re a fan. It isn’t likely that you will see the character again any time soon.
“See, talkin’ to dead folks ain’t natural. But, sometimes they’re the only ones who will point the way. I had nowhere to go and a heart full of vengeance. I did what come natural and turned to bounty hunting. Punishing the guilty wherever there was profit. This here’s my story.”
The film provides the origin story in a quick prologue that features both live action and some animated comic panels. We witness Hex being captured by his nemesis Turnbull (Malkovich) and forced to watch while his family is tortured and killed. He’s hung on a cross, branded on his face, and left for dead. We learn that he pursued his enemy, only to discover that Turnbull had perished in a fire. Left with little meaning in his life, Hex became a bounty hunter who bent the rules enough to cause a price to fall on his own head.
The Centennial July 4th celebration is just a few weeks away. The government has discovered that evil villain Turnbull is alive after all. He has captured government weapons and is preparing for some devastating plan to take place during the Centennial celebration. Turnbull hasn’t given up his own Confederate ways and is determined to bring down the United States government. President Grant (Quinn) decides he must turn to the only man who brought down Turnbull before. He offers Hex the chance to wipe his slate clean in return for stopping Turnbull and whatever his evil scheme might be. At first Hex is reluctant to help, but decides to go after Turnbull, not for the feds, but for vengeance. He escapes his federal escort and tracks down his enemy on his own.
The movie is pretty much a period piece revenge-quest. Turnbull has stolen a warship and has a pretty cool Gatling-style canon that shoots cannonballs in rapid succession. It’s a good combination of period possible weaponry but with that smart super-villain with designs on ruling the world. The two play a cat-and-mouse game that includes plenty of explosions and fights. Josh Brolin does a pretty good job as the titular character. There’s a decidedly Clint Eastwood aspect to this character that makes you believe that this role should have been Clint’s in his prime. There are obvious moments that pay homage to the Clint characters of yore.
There’s a particular scene that brought back a lot of those memories for me. Hex is bringing in three bad guys to collect a bounty from a small town sheriff. When he gets there the sheriff doesn’t appear very eager to pay the money. Then Hex notices that there are 5, and not the anticipated 4 coffins stacked against the courthouse. In Clint fashion he remarks: “Five coffins. Are you sure you don’t need 8?”, referring to the number of guys pointing guns in his direction. In a scene straight out of a Man With No Name film, Hex takes out practically the entire town before making his escape. Yeah, this would have made a beautiful Eastwood film 30 years ago.
That’s just the kind of action you can expect from the film. And even though it all feels so Eastwood, you have to hand it to Brolin for pulling it all off. The scar is a bit distracting after a time, and again it brings some credit to Brolin for delivering under such circumstances. John Malkovich is … well … John Malkovich. He eats up the scenery as the bad guy here. It’s a perfectly-suited role for the eccentric actor. The two share some solid chemistry even if they don’t share a ton of screen time. Megan Fox gets the “babe” role here as a hooker with a heart of gold who wants to run away with Hex. Unfortunately, I just don’t buy it. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with all of the press concerning the actress herself. I just don’t imagine Megan Fox giving such an ugly mug a second look. She’s one of those actresses who gets roles because she’s hot, and she doesn’t let anyone forget it. She’s strictly eye candy here … not that there’s anything wrong with that, you understand.
Jonah Hex is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. There are a lot of style choices here in the image presentation that I didn’t really like. During daylight scenes the light has an almost dream-like quality that takes me completely out of the movie. Even the night scenes offer strange lighting when there are large light sources. There is some wonderful western location shooting, but there are also times the New Orleans setting looks a bit out of place. Compression artifact is often a huge problem. I doubt you’ll find that issue on Blu-ray. Warner was originally planning to send a Blu-ray our way and we were told something got messed up. Hopefully one will arrive and I can update you on that image presentation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is really loud, but not all that dynamic. The score is often in overdrive mode, and it buries everything else. There isn’t a ton of surround effects here. It all pretty much plays out in the front. Dialog is often fine, but sometimes gets covered by the too-loud score. Again, perhaps there is more balance on the uncompressed Blu-ray track. This likely isn’t the kind of film you should pick up on DVD.
Deleted Scenes: (5:09)
While I had heard the name, I was not very familiar with Jonah Hex before seeing the movie. Like most of you, I stayed away from the box office release, because it honestly didn’t look all that interesting to me. Now that I’ve had a chance to watch it, I still don’t find it to be that spectacular. I did find it to be entertaining enough. Does it stay true to the comic? Beats the heck out of me. I saw it as a bit of a strange western and often a throwback to a style you just don’t see anymore. Perhaps the poor box office performance explains why you don’t see that style anymore. I think it’s more likely the film sank because it never did a good enough job of identifying itself in the trailers and promotion. Warner took for granted we’d all know who this was and flock to see it. Perhaps the home video release will give all of us a chance to catch up to Warner’s expectations. At least I know who he is now. Heck, “Jonah bloody Hex. I’d know that half-cooked pie hole anywhere.”