“Jonah Hex” is a comic book film and western, tries to be true to its source material and genre, yet misses the mark on many levels. A potential story of revenge and redemption gets lost. That’s not to say it’s out and out bad; it’s just not as good as you’d like it to be.
Despite the half-scarred face, Josh Brolin’s Hex is still almost too good-looking, if you can believe it and also, isn’t nearly as surly as the comics (You think Wolverine has attitude?). His performance still nails a lot of the qualities that have made the gun-toting DC Comics anti-hero a cult favorite for nearly four decades. At times, he also recalls Clint Eastwood at his acerbic best in 1960s spaghetti westerns. Brolin, powerful in “No Country For Old Men,” is one of the few actors who could lead a revival of western films, which have been almost MIA overall from the cinematic landscape in this decade.
And then there’s John Malkovich as the baddest of bad men, pure nasty evil, a 19th century post-Civil War Confederate terrorist who’ll kill anyone and everyone in relentless campaign to destroy the U.S. in total.
Parts of the movie draw from the comics of various eras by Hex creators, writers John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga, writer Michael Fleisher (also known for his gruesome fine run on The Spectre) as well as the most recent 2005 revival by writers Justin Gray and JImmy Palmiotti. Hex first appeared in “All-Star Western” #10 back in 1972, which became “Weird Western Tales” a couple of issues later and then, he finally got his own book in 1977.
The movie’s origin story is slightly altered from the comics as it’s told early in the film, somewhat truncated, mixing stark and brutal live footage with comic book panels. It sets up Hex’s near death, forced to watch his family killed for “betraying” Malkovich’s psychotic Quentin Turnbull as he then seeks final revenge and roams the west as a bounty hunter who’s a wanted man himself.
There are some other solid acting turns, especially Michael Fassbender as sociopath and explosives-loving Irishman Burke. Also, the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan gets too little screen time as Turnball’s long-dead son Jeb, once the best friend of Hex until he was forced to kill him. Aidan Quinn’s President Grant doesn’t capture the actual historical ballsy ex-General in the White House at all.
And finally we have Megan Fox, “Ms. Transformers.” Yes, she looks hot amd fetching as ever, but her performance is wooden. While her prostitute Lilah (taken in part from the latest comics) is Hex’s last anchor to his humanity yet she plays it beyond flat and only comes to life near then film’s end when her resourcefulness hinted at earlier on suddenly brings some fire.
While there are some surreal supernatural elements – though Hex’s ability to talk to the dead, which is mighty handy, is not from comics – the steampunk element takes over and it’s nearly “Wild Wild West” (not the great ’60s TV series, but the awful Will Smith piece of wretched junk from a decade back). The film’s writers tried to way to hard to create a “big story” of Hex saving the nation as Turnball makes off with a federal stock of “super-weapon” explosives with plans to blow up Washington D.C. during the Centennial.
Despite the lame latter parts, the look of the film is still quite stylish, though at times, the pacing is awkward. But that may not be the fault of Canadian-American director JImmy Hayward, who also gave us “Horton Hear a Who.” Perhaps there’s a better director’s cut that may surface on a DVD release. In that respect, “Jonah Hex” recalls “Ghost Rider” as a somewhat botched, yet still watchable comic book adaptation.