Movie review: Jonah Hex

Taken to the big screen it doesn’t half make for a confusing, impenetrable mess.

The Batman and Superman movies are all well and good-to-middling-but-a-bit-overrated-in-my-opinion, but I swear to god; somewhere in the offices of DC Comics there’s a broomcupboard stuffed with obscure superheroes and comic book characters banging on the door, saying, “Me! Me! Someone make a film about me!” To which I say, “Shut up Wild Dog. You’re a rubbish college athlete who dons a hockey mask and fights crime by shooting people while wearing your college jersey as part of your costume. Nobody remembers you. Your film would be rubbish. Oh, by the way, your mum wants you home for tea by six.”

I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed my fair share of comic book movie adaptations – I loved the recent Scott Pilgrim movie with every ounce of love in my heart. But I’ve endured my fair share of garbage too. I recall a great Alan Moore quote in his 1985 essay ‘writing for comics’ where he preempts Hollywood doing everything to ruin his legacy with their adaptations of From Hell and Watchmen by explaining that the stories he writes as comic books are created with paper and ink because the story he’s telling suits that medium. Case in point; Watchmen was undoubtedly a great comic book, it suited Moore’s talent with words and Dave Gibbons’ flair with a pencil. But on screen, it was just loads of dudes in stupid costumes saying pretentious shit in sewers.

I couldn’t help but recall Moore’s philosophy when I was watching Jonah Hex, Legendary Pictures’ latest DC adaptation. You’d be forgiven for thinking, ‘Jonah who?’ Don’t beat yourself up about it. After all, the protagonist is an intriguing but obscure DC character who first showed his mutilated face in 1971 and never enjoyed anywhere near the same levels of fame as DC peers like Batman and Superman. But while the bounty hunter’s complicated and multi-faceted Western-set story made sense on the page – even going on to be something of an interesting curio in the DC canon – taken to the big screen (despite a decent performance put in by the ever impressive Josh Brolin – No Country For Old Men, Milk, et al) it doesn’t half make for a confusing, impenetrable mess.

The film’s been out in the States for a while now – it was released on June 18th to almost universal critical derision and pretty much total indifference at the box office. But before I proceed to add the imprint of my verbal boot to its ribs, I will say, for a genre fan like myself, it’s got a couple of neat, if trashy, touches. I sort of enjoyed the addition to Johan’s skill set of his ability to talk to dead people – no mention of that in the comic books ever, but a decent idea nonetheless. And any film that gives hard rock geniuses Mastodon the opportunity to write a movie score has something to offer the world.

But I didn’t have a clue what was going on for vast chunks of the movie. Not a bloody clue. It doesn’t help that director James Hayward (a Pixar-schooled nobody who’s only feature length movie prior to this was the ploddy Horton Hears A Who!) casts the increasingly batshit John Malkovich (a man who, after Eragon, The Mutant Chronicles and the forthcoming Transformers 3, urgently needs to fire his agent) as Quentin Turnbull, the film’s antagonist. Malkovich goes on to spend the entire movie overacting and being a complete dolt, frequently screaming his parts like a dog being chewed up in the blades of a combine harvester. If this movie had been made in 3D, I would have been poised on the edge of my seat, lashing out at his rendered form.

Then there’s the script – which clunks. The editing – which jars. The fact they wrote the part of a shit-kicking prostitute (a detail again absent from the comics, but less welcome than the chatting with dead people thing) into the story just so they could cast Megan Fox, who mopes around after Jonah without anything of worth to say or do, which sort of makes me angry in a I’m-not-terribly-fond-of-the-objectification-of-women sort of way. All of which makes me think this; much like I hope that idiot Wild Dog never gets his day on the big screen, I really wish they’d kept Jonah locked up in that broom cupboard.

(NB: The Heckler: The Movie, though? Yeah, I’d take that. Jack Black for the lead please. OH MY GOD, SOMEBODY MAKE THIS FILM NOW.)

James McMahon

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