Jonah Sux

I can’t really say I was disappointed by the Jonah Hex movie, because I had low expectations going in. But they certainly did a thorough job of ruining a good story. (Spoilers follow, if it matters.)

Jonah Hex

At least they picked the right story to tell – the excellent Quentin Turnbull arc from the early Weird Western Tales days. They even (mostly) abandoned their earlier plans to combine the Turnbull arc with a zombie story. But then they got rid of just about everything that made the Turnbull story interesting, and replaced it with a mass of clichés.

In the original story, Hex was framed for betraying his comrades and killing Turnbull’s son; in the movie, he actually did it (and it all happens offscreen, thus weakening its dramatic impact) but it’s presented as justified (as anti-terrorism, what else?). In the original story, Turnbull is pursuing Hex for revenge; in the movie, Turnbull has already taken revenge (by scarring Hex’s face and killing his family – things he wasn’t responsible for in the comics) and it’s Hex who’s out for counter-revenge. Nor was Turnbull originally a James-Bond-style supervillain with plans to blow up Washington DC with glowing orange torpedoes launched from a scarlet steampunk submarine; he was just a bitter old man who’d lost his son. The original story featured both Union and Confederate villainy; the movie ramps up the Confederate villainy and erases the Union villainy. And unlike the comics, the movie never shows us the affection that Jonah Hex and Quentin Turnbull originally felt for each other. In short, most of the moral complexity of the original story is ironed out, along with most of the drama.

In general the movie seems unsure how to handle Hex’s Confederate past. In the comics, Hex had found himself unwilling to fight any longer for the Confederacy (primarily because of the slavery issue), but also unwilling to turn his former comrades over to Union forces; that’s apparently not anti-Confederate enough by contemporary Hollywood standards (Civil War movies nowadays tend to whitewash the Union, just as in the old days they tended to whitewash the Confederacy), so, as I mentioned, the movie actually has Hex betray them and shoot his best friend (though, strangely, for reasons that have nothing to do with slavery). Moreover, the chief plot concerns Hex’s protecting the Federal capital from an attack by unreconstructed Confederates. But the movie also has Hex, in dialogue, say that he rejects both the Confederate and Union causes as hypocritical. We’re further told that Hex never favoured secession, yet the rebel anthem that plays over the closing credits suggests the opposite. It’s as though the script had been co-authored by a Union apologist, a Confederate apologist, and a curse-on-both-your-houses Hummelite. Well, something for everyone, I guess. (Interestingly, the Confederate villains never give a clue as to what they were fighting for; they say nothing about slavery, secession, or anything else. Instead, they’re depicted as being motivated by pure ungrounded hatred of America.)

Jonah Hex

Moreover: in the comics, although Hex’s adventures occasionally included supernatural or science-fiction elements, they weren’t the norm (apart from what I’ve elsewhere called Phases III and IV, both relatively brief), and Hex himself was certainly never portrayed as possessing supernatural powers. Seeing Hex raising the dead and Turnbull wielding a futuristic super-weapon (or indeed Hex himself wielding slightly futuristic weapons) was jarring. And what’s up with all the crows, and the constant reversion to the red-tinged astral plane or whatever it was? The movie keeps focusing on these as if they’re going to be important, but they turn out not to be and are never explained.

Between the high-tech doomsday weaponry, Megan Fox running around pointlessly in her underwear, and originally complex antagonists transformed into simplistic over-the-top moustache-twirling Confederate-flag-waving megalomaniacal psychos with bad Southern accidents, I kept having unpleasant flashbacks to watching the 1999 Wild Wild West movie desecrating yet another childhood favourite – though this movie wasn’t as bad as that one. (The recent Sherlock Holmes movie, though much better than either mess, had similar problems.)

As for casting: Josh Brolin didn’t quite capture Hex for me (the character was inspired by Clint Eastwood’s westerns, and it’s hard for me to see anyone but Eastwood in the role) but he actually did a decent job. The rest of the cast didn’t do so well (apart from Michael Fassbender, who was fun to watch as a psychotic Irish assassin). John Malkovich basically just walked through his part; but it’s hard to blame him, as the character of Turnbull was made into a cardboard villain, leaving Malkovich very little to work with. (I’d love to see Malkovich tackle the role of the original Turnbull.) As I’d feared (here and here), Megan Fox as Lilah was blah; and her passing mention that her real name was Tallulah Black – no doubt intended as a nod to the fans – was really closer to being an insult to the fans. In the comics, Tallulah Black is the female equivalent of Hex himself: hard-bitten, cold-blooded, cynical, vengeful, massively scarred, and missing an eye. Well, Hollywood isn’t going to go for a massively scarred Megan Fox, and as for the rest, Fox is not exactly the ideal actress for that sort of thing; Angelina Jolie would be a better choice. (For the original Quentin Turnbull arc, see Showcase Presents Jonah Hex; for the first appearance of Tallulah Black, see Jonah Hex: Origins.)

Tallulah Black and Jonah Hex

A couple of other gripes: for a movie about a character so obviously inspired by the spaghetti westerns, it rarely makes an attempt to look interesting. Contrast the unforgettable opening scenes of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West with … well, I’ve already forgotten the opening scene of Jonah Hex. The spaghetti westerns also knew how to build suspense with pauses and silence, while Jonah Hex has A.D.D. pacing, evidently subscribing to the view – a popular one in Hollywood – that nothing builds excitement like a relentless, nonstop barrage of bigger and bigger explosions. Also, you’d never guess that Jonah Hex is any kind of western at all, for there are no distinctively western landscapes; in fact most of the action takes place in the southeast, and the one scene that I guess is supposed to be in the west is a giant sandpit that is apparently someone’s idea of what a southwestern desert looks like.

In addition: voiceover narration is a very tricky thing; it can be done well, but it seldom is, and narration from a character who’s supposed to be somewhat mysterious and remote, like Hex, is an especially bad idea. (Would The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly be improved by narration from Eastwood’s character?)

Finally: for a movie that features not only Ulysses Grant but also the White House, the Capitol Building, and an under-construction Washington Monument, the disclaimer at the end that all persons and buildings were fictional was an appropriately risible and bogus ending to a risible and bogus film.

8 Responses to Jonah Sux

  1. dennis July 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Not having seen the film, I can only imagine that Megan Fox running around in her underwear is a feature, not a bug.

  2. Andrew July 4, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    I would only have seen it for the soundtrack done by my favorite band Mastodon, but since some of it has been released (and more is supposed to be released), I have no reason to see the movie.

  3. Richard G. July 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    Roderick, I’m a little disappointed that you did a review of this movie, before posting one about Iron Man 2. Is it your DC Comics bias? 😉

    Richard G.

    • Roderick July 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

      Iron Man 2 didn’t piss me off.

  4. Kevin Carson July 4, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    I had a similar reaction to how the movie version of Harris’s *Fatherland* bastardized it to make it more palatable to stoopid people.

    Specifically, the point of divergence was changed from the Spring 1942 campaign in southern Russia to the D-Day invasion. That’s right, the failure of the latter was enough to turn the tide–never mind that Zhukov was getting ready to smash into Poland.

    Also, Joe Kennedy was sanitized from the somewhat Nazi-sympathetic right bastard that he was in the book (and in real life). In the book, the reader was left hanging at the end before the Hitler-Kennedy summit ever took place, with it remaining an entirely open question whether photographic evidence of the Holocaust would change Joe’s mind or simply provide fuel for some chuckles over cocktails with Hitler. In the movie Joe sees the pictures, starts weeping like Iron Eyes Cody at the sight of somebody littering, and orders his drive to turn the car around and leave Berlin.

    Apparently the producer thought American audiences would be too fucking stupid to stand seeing a Kennedy–even a dirtbag like Joe–as friendly to Hitler. Shit! In real life, Joe Kennedy and Prescott Bush were probably fighting each other to steal the crematorium contract from I.G. Farben.

    • Brandon July 5, 2010 at 7:49 am #

      Joe Kennedy’s motivation was to keep the u.s., and more specifically his sons, out of a European war. This is well-documented, even by hawkish Kennedy hagiographers like Goodwin and anti-Kennedy types like Kessler. If Joe appeared ‘friendly’ to the Nazis, it was because the American administration he worked for had taken the opposite stance. However, after Pearl, Kennedy became pro-war and offered his ‘services’ in a telegraph to Roosevelt (which was essentially ignored).


  1. Echoes and Mirrors » Daily Links - July 4, 2010

    […] Reader: Jonah Sux Well, shit. I had been looking forward to this. Looks like I’m saving $10. var a2a_config […]

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes