Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review: Jonah Hex

I have been preparing to hate this movie for a long time. See, while it was in development, they reputedly completely dumped the "real" Jonah Hex in favor of a story involving voodoo, zombies, and mass quantities of supernatural oddity.

Let me back up.

Sometime in the early 80's, I was at a friends' house and saw this magnificent cover.
He was done reading it so he gave it to me and I about wore that thing out with numerous re-readings of it.

Here was a magnificent anti-hero. To this day I can quote the tag line, He Was a Hero to Some, a Villain to Others, and Wherever He Rode People Spoke His Name in Whispers. He Had No Friends, This Jonah Hex, But He Did Have Two Companions: One Was Death itself...the Other, The Acrid Smell of Gunsmoke...

As an avowed Western and comedy lover, here was the guy I loved to read about. Fast with his gun and his mouth, he toured the West shooting up mass quantities of people (467 by the count of this Hex-a-holic...and if you have read many of his comics, that seems low for 101 issues..."ONLY" 4.67 kills for hex per issue? Seems low...)

And while he was racking up the body count, he was keeping a running commentary in his head replete with wise-cracks, one liners, and testosterone dismissals of the most trying circumstances. I had read other comics before...but this was the first one I truly loved.

I scrimped, saved, collected bottles and cans to purchase the next issue. When he was thrown into the future for the ill-starred Hex series, I was devastated....until it proved to be actually pretty entertaining, though having just a short run (18 issues) before being canceled.

Later, I went on a buying spree and purchased about 70% of the entire run of Jonah Hex. He became an old friend, and one I very much wanted to see brought to the big screen...just not in some ridiculous zombie-battle.*

So when the trailers showed him "resurrecting" a bad guy, blowing out "spirit smoke" from his mouth and them referring repeatedly to his supernatural powers, yet also demonstrating the penchant for violent gun-based retribution and snarky one-liners, I was in a quandary.
Do I go see a movie bound to disappoint me and thus encourage crap....or do I pass up on seeing some version, any version, of one of my all-time favorite fictional characters on the big screen?

I had a free movie ticket and a desire to avoid traffic, to the theatre I went.

The movie starts in classic fashion...Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) dragging multiple bodies behind his horse, on his way to collect a reward. He is a fine bounty hunter.

Soon the situation degenerates into another shoot out, this one a bit more atypical of the classic Hex comic but that is is a forgivable nod to the brainless summer blockbuster action-blow-em-up adventure genre.

It also showed somewhat of the different direction director Jimmy Hayward was going to take it. Hex does some pointless, over-the-top destruction that even for the calloused Hex is exceptionally violent.

There are two reviews of this movie. First, the lover of classic Hex.

I am burned that they took Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) from the debonair, refined, politician behind the scenes mysterious enemy and moved him clearly into the cheesy villain with decent plans but too ready to do his own dirty work and thus be eliminated reminiscent of the Joker (Heath Ledger) in the Dark Knight movie.

Gone were the deep, rich characterizations that would take dozens of issues to bring to enemy who spanned every issue from Weird Western Tales #22 and he was still a major force when the aforementioned issue 77.

Also gone were Jonah's troubled childhood with an alcoholic father and prostitute mother, his adoption in and expulsion from the Apache tribe...and how he got his star.

Still there were his ability to out shoot, out think, out-skulk, and out-track anybody while popping off sarcastic and witty one-liners.

Added were a malicious streak...such as his gunning down of a guy for asking how he got his scar and his blowing up of the town where he had already killed 8/10ths of the population.

Also added were his supernatural powers and apparent inability to be killed by gunfire.

There were also some nice nods to classic Hex the callback to the half-wolf Iron Jaws that was with Hex for a few issues, Turnbull carrying an eagle-top cane, the appearance of an Indian Wife recalling White Fawn, and even the pit-fighting.

It made for a Hex that was interesting and intriguing but just barely lacking.

Now for the movie review from the guy who wanted to see Hex on the big screen and was willing to compromise.

This is not a movie for those who want hole-less plots, who want to think, or who want reality.

But if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and watch an adrenaline fueled duel of wills between the bad guy (Jonah Hex) and the worse guy (Turnbull) duke it out, you have come to the right place.

Burke (Michael Fassbender) is an outstanding villain. He is fearless, intelligent, and a worthy foe for Hex.

Lilah Tallulah Black (Megan Fox) is exactly the type of girl that a man like Hex would be expected to associate with.

And the story proceeds along at a good clip with some metaphysical meanderings taking place along the way. It is a good, entertaining, quick-moving yarn that sticks to what it is good at....high-octane action interspersed with build-ups to the next high-octane set piece with occasional pseudo-dramatic moments...will Turnbull and his men blow up Washington? Or will Hex stop them in time?
In the end, it is a basic revenge for revenge tale that is pretty entertaining along the way.
Hayward shows a good eye for the camera, with some nice framing and interesting point of view shots. He can also show the panorama when necessary.

Other than Malkovich, the acting is pretty solid. You are seldom pulled out of the movie and reminded these are not real people, they are actors playing created people.
Unfortunately, this is not true with Malkovich. He tries to be smooth but comes off cheesy and over acting. He is like a serious version of Jim Carrey...and that is not meant to be a compliment.
Brolin, on the other hand, brings a nice presence to the Hex role and there are some great supporting actors such as Will Arnett in a serious roll as Lieutenant Grass and Tom Wopat as Slocum.
Ultimately, I enjoyed myself enough that a movie I was prepared to hate I walked away from having had a good time.

* It is only fair to note that under the Vertigo banner, Hex DID in fact engage in stories of this nature. And, in this writer's humble yet accurate opinion...they sucked so bad I have not read his new series, either.

The Weasel is (strongly) satisfied.


Riot Kitty said...

Blake can't wait to see this - he got more of these comics in NY :)

Frank Johnson said...

Hey it's Frank. Your neighborly Rose Garden usher. How have you been? I've been doing pretty good. I just moved to Vancouver so life is being good at the moment. I just saw a great trailer at called Skyline that is coming out in November. Looks awesome. Plus are you going to see Piranha 3-D? I know I am.

Boonie S said...

Interesting post. Thanks for this.

All the best, Boonie

Anonymous said...

I need to see this flick. But I also had some reservations because I read a few of the comics during my youth.