Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chronic Review: Jonah Hex!

Just as an aside, my usual habit is to spoil the ever loving shit out of anything I review. So forewarned is forearmed and all that rot...

I was always going to see this film in the theater, but there was no real urgency to it....until. This movie hit and the world lost its mind. Rottentomatoes had it wearing a 9% fresh rating a few days ago. It's at 15% as I type this. People are reacting to this movie as though it caused the BP spill and a new form of syphilis. And then I just HAD to go see it.

Is it a bad movie? Well yes it is, actually. I can think of four significant (and sadly very correctable) objections to the Jonah Hex film:

Objection # 1: The Tone is a little too goofy
Jonah Hex is supposed to be a weird western saga. There should be some menace, a feeling that all is not well in the universe. There should be an element of fear or at least discomfort somewhere in this movie, and there never ever is.

There was one moment when we had just an inkling of the correct tone for the film. Hex approaches a dead man to interrogate him, and for one sparkling shiny moment, there is a feeling that something dark, interesting, slightly out of control is going to happen. Then all the corpseness falls away from the actor's face, he looks like a normal guy, and the entire effect is ruined. Sad.

I get it, by the way. The job of the movie studio is to sell tickets, and I'm sure they believe (perhaps correctly) that a really dark and unsettling Jonah Hex will not play to the wider masses. So they don't do it. They try to tell a lot of jokes, and they're very careful to let you understand that Jonah Hex is a good guy at all times, and there's a Pretty Woman love story with a whore in it.

Yay for the masses, I suppose. Arrrgh for those expecting a Jonah Hex movie.

Objection # 2: It's too political
I guess that since Jonah Hex was a confederate soldier, it may be unfair for me to criticize the film's politics. Maybe if they'd stuck to the politics of 1876 I would have been more comfortable with it.

Somehow this "western" has overtones of terrorism and big government, and not only was all of that entirely unnecessary, but it absolutely detracted from the very simple revenge story. Trying to make that story hinge upon the heart and fate of America was just a poor idea poorly executed.

Objection # 3: What is with the tech obsession?
Why in the world is this movie trying to be James Bond? I just can't fathom it no matter how hard I try. A large portion of the comic's charm, the character's charm, the genre's charm is its distinct lack of technology.

We want to go see Jonah Hex so that we can escape mini guns, rocket launchers, and WMDs. I want to know who put that in the script, and then I want to know who looked at it and said "Yup, that's a keeper!" These people should not have jobs any more. I was waiting for Brolin to pull off his boot and make a phone call with it.

Now to be fair, it isn't unprecedented for Jonah Hex to use an automatic weapon. He's appeared in the comics with such weapons before. But that scene with the cannons on the horse? That doesn't make sense on any level.

Just before he opens up with that monstrosity, he makes a joke about how he didn't drag the full body of his fourth bounty because the guy was too heavy for his horse. That guy is too heavy, but your building evaporating cannon makes sense? It's just gratuitous and it doesn't fit, and that's the least grating of the many tech items in the film.

Hey! Assholes!!! This is a western. Yeah, a western. You no use techie. It not future enough for techie. Go write Star Trek and leave Jonah Hex alone. It's unbelievable.

Objection # 4: The Obligatory Romantic Puke Shit
Note to Hollywood: not everything needs to have a romance in it. I know they'll never get the memo, and no matter how many films they ruin with this bullshit, they'll never believe that the ill-conceived, misbegotten, oddly fitting romance nonsense was part of the problem.

It doesn't make any sense. It's part of the tone problem. And by the way, there were no packs of satisfied women walking out of that theater thinking they just watched "Fried Green Tomatoes" with guns. You poisoned your soup for no reason.

Women want largely the same thing everybody else wants: Batman stories that don't suck. We've seen the research. And you know what? If you could have demonstrated inside the story that there is some compelling reason these two fell for each other, I'd feel differently. Maybe they should have hung a really weird story around Jonah and Lilah's doomed romance. I think I could have enjoyed that picture.

But that's not what they did at all. They plopped a square romantic peg into a round western actioner hole, and it hurt going in. Badly.

So that's that. And just as an aside, I don't list this as an objection, but did you know that Jonah Hex was a certifiable pyro? Because apparently, he is. Can't visit anything or talk to anybody without setting it or them on fire. Just so you know.

OK. Now that I've had my go at the movie, I have to admit that none of those things end up being deal-breakers for me. Just off the top of my head, let me list five comic book films that are WAY worse than Jonah Hex:

  • Ghost Rider
  • Elektra
  • Punisher War Zone
  • Batman & Robin
  • The Spirit

Yeah, the tone is slightly off, but at least it's consistent. Josh Brolin doesn't do anything wrong as Jonah Hex. And the script doesn't butcher the character, either. I would say the script cheapens the character in his romance with Lilah and the fact that he wears the white hat a little too comfortably. But for the most part, he's a no-bullshit gunfighter with a rigid personal code who will shoot you in a heartbeat if you step on that personal code. They got that part correct.

This movie never drags, and it had the good sense not to run three hours long. Does the plot really make sense? No, it really doesn't, because they had to shoehorn in the whole domestic terrorism angle and make Jonah Hex an acting US Marshall. But the revenge angle? Call it cliched or iconic, but that part works. Malkovich does nothing to make the Turnbull character compelling, but you can understand why Hex wants him dead, and that's enough to drive the story.

So yeah. I understand the frustration with this movie, because it's so easy to see the film it could have and should have been while watching the disappointment in front of you. But as a film...this isn't really even in the bottom half of the superhero genre. Go watch Catwoman and come talk to me about bad movies, my friend. This is a walk in the park!

By the way, you should be doing this anyway, but you need to check out the Where Monsters Dwell radio show this Wednesday. They're going to have Jonah Hex comic writer and all-around entertaining bastard Jimmy Palmiotti on to talk about this movie! And just sos you know, Palmiotti isn't going to sugar coat this if he doesn't like it. It might be the most entertaining interview you hear all year!

- Ryan

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