“Revenge Gets Ugly”
Directed by Jimmy Hayward
Starring Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox and Michael Fassbender
When his family are murdered and his face branded by the insane General Turnbull (Malkovich), Confederate deserter Jonah Hex (Brolin) is saved from death by Native Americans and sets out in search of revenge.
Jonah Hex is a bounty hunter and sometime outlaw himself. His only friend is his occasional lover Lilah (Fox), which is hardly surprising given his tendency to growl at people when he doesn’t just shoot them out of hand. Having been mostly dead himself before a passing band of Native Americans got all necromantic on him, he can call the departed back to a semblance of life to question them, and is also armed with a variety of steampunky weapons made by a man named Smith (Lance Reddick) and a tomahawk of apparent, but non-specific symbolic importance.
What’s wrong with it?
From a purely technical perspective, it’s really fucking dark. As in, scenes are basically invisible on anything less than a cinema screen.
Hex’s backstory is presented in a blatant violation of the principles of ‘show, don’t tell’, to the point that it takes half the movie to work out why he turned on his regiment.
It is never established why the Native Americans restore him to life twice.
In a scene where Hex questions his deceased erstwhile bestie, Jeb Turnbull, as to his father’s whereabouts, Jeb notes from his privileged position as one of the departed that ‘it’s getting hard to tell the two of you apart’. This is not a matter that is ever resolved. Hex is a murderous monster with a gun, Turnbull is a murderous monster with a city-destroying super-cannon; the difference is purely one of scale, and the plot brings no semblance of redemption, nor even really of realisation to Hex. He remains the killer he always was.
There is some tonal dissonance in the film as well. The action is cartoonish, albeit with a lot more death than the average superhero film, but the themes are much darker and in particular Turnbull and his monstrously chipper Irish sidekick Burke (played with nightmare fuel joi de vivre by Michael Fassbender) are pure horror show.
Megan Fox’s Lilah is a hooker with a heart of gold and as tough as they come, except when it’s time to be captured or rescued. Also, she must have the best skin care regimen in the old West, because she fucking glows, thanks to some soft-focus camerawork to hide the slightest blemish in her skin, something that is especially egregious next to the scarred Hex.
The juxtaposition of Hex’s supernatural origin and powers with Smith’s anachrotech weaponry is jarring, especially given the brief runtime of the film. The limited run also results in a rushed plotand a number of unanswered questions: What is the significance of the dream sequence where Hex and Turnbull fight next to a coffin? How does Burke find Lilah? What is the importance of the tomahawk, beyond being an Indian thing?
Hex’s weapons are also odd given that industrialised warfare is so clearly Turnbull’s thing, given his use of a superweapon designed by Eli Whitney, creator of the cotton gin and champion of interchangeable weapon components.
A possessive customer claims to have bought and to own Lilah; an odd claim in an explicitly post-Civil War setting. Also, this is part of a general trend of sexualised violence towards Lilah which is uncomfortable to watch.
Josh Brolin just looks like a bully fighting John Malkovich. The age gap isn’t actualy that high, but Malkovich’s white wig makes a big difference.
What’s right with it?
Malkovich, Fassbender, Brolin and even Reddick are wasted on this material.
In fairness, I learned a little about Eli Whitney, father of American industrialisation.
How bad is it really?
Jonah Hex is simultaneously dull, unpleasant and incomprehensible. It takes half the movie to really nail down what Hex’s backstory even is, and by that point he’s established as such a vicious shit that it’s hard to care. He never confronts the accusation that he is like Turnbull; never successfully refutes it, nor even accepts it, True Detective style. As a result, the film lacks resolution. It doesn’t really have an ending, just an explosion.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Brolin and an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan shine in the confrontation between the long dead Jeb Turnbull and his killer.
“You killed me!”
“You drew on me.”
“Granted, that was a mistake.”
What’s up with…?
- Hex’s casual disregard for his weapons? He discards gattling guns and exploding bolt autocrossbows as if they were candy wrappers.
- Hex vomiting a crow during his resurrection?
- The magic cannon? The giant revolver-cannon makes sense as Eli Whitney’s supergun, but then it fires this glowing sphere that makes the cannonballs explode, and it is never given any explanation. It’s not like Whitney was an industrial chemist or physicist. Also, how is the sphere fired without breaking?
- The snakeman? One of the fighters in a sideshow pit match is a preternaturally agile guy with filed teeth who drools venom. The fuck?
Production values – Not bad. Mostly the effects come down to explosions, but the resurrection power is nicely done. 4
Dialogue and performances – Frequently mumbled, which in fairness is about as much as the material deserves. Brolin at least has the excuse that he’s wearing half-a-pound of facial prosthesis. 16
Plot and execution – Rushed, cluttered and confusing. It would help if it wasn’t so damn dark most of the time. 15
Randomness – The anachronistic guns, the magic cannon, the snakeman; Burke’s magical whore-finding ability. 13
Waste of potential – He was much more interesting in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. 11