In keeping with my innate ability to at least attempt enjoy the heck out of almost any piece of cultural garbage, this weekend I hied myself down to the Battery Park cinema and paid $13* to see Jonah Hex. Yes, that Jonah Hex, the one the AV Club gave an "F" to and called "a film... so stitched together, it’s a wonder it doesn’t rip apart in the projector." The one currently batting at 14% on rottentomatoes.com. The one that only made $5.1 million on its opening weekend. To put that last number in perspective, Toy Story 3 made $41 million on its opening night.
A rational person might ask themselves "Why?" when faced with the sight of an actual person who paid actual money to see Jonah Hex and didn't then sneak into another film (like Toy Story 3). This is a valid question. After all, what kind of person would willingly pay to see a pseudo-gothic Western based on a long-running comic book directed by the guy who helmed the animated Horton Hears a Who and written by the goons who wrote Crank? The answer is: this person, right here, who owns all three Underworld movies on DVD.
I went to go see Jonah Hex for the following reasons:
1. Michael Fassbender
2. Josh Brolin
3. Daniels from The Wire
4. an un-credited Jeffrey Dean Morgan
5. Will Arnett
6. Aidan F-ing Quinn
7. Oscar Nominee Michael Shannon (No, really)
Look at that cast. Those are some GQMFs right there. That is a gigantic aggregation of on-screen talent and I didn't even list John Malkovich**. I thought, surely this group of people, assembled together in one project, will produce a film that is at least moderately worth watching. These terrible reviews can't all be correct.
Jonah Hex tried even my ability to find entertainment in a shitty movie.*** From lopsided-flashback beginning to abrupt and unintentionally-humorous end, Jonah Hex is a movie that has no idea what it wants to be when it grows up. All the things that looked awesome in the previews- horse mounted gatlin guns! Michael Fassbender's wierd maori chin tats! -were bright moments in a gray sea of confusing vengeance metaphors, strange red-tinted fight dream sequences, and a plot that focuses around the theft a superweapon invented by Eli fucking Whitney for the sole purpose of destroying the U.S. It was an apt metaphor for this movie when, towards the movie's climax, when President Aidan F. Quinn is making a speech on the steps of the half-built Capitol building, the crowd in attendance doesn't number more than 500 people. Only 500 fictional CGI people cared about this President's speech enough to show up. (Let's not even go into the historical accuracy of this cinematic depiction of the Centennial- in reality, the big shindig was in Philadelphia, and ten million people went.)
The frustrating thing about this cinematic half-assery was that Jonah Hex did not have to be a terrible movie. Jonah Hex has been running since 1971, and has some great storylines that could have been mined for adaptaion (including, apparently, a jaunt to China, if Wikipedia is to be believed which, I get, doesn't necessarily have to be) Even the origin story of Jonah Hex is pretty cool: Hex's face is disfigured by the Apache tribe that adopted him as a child as punishment for breaking the rules of sacred battle (no joke!). In the film, Hex's face is branded and his family slaughtered as vengeance for the death of Quentin Turnbull's son, Hex's best friend. This version of the origin story makes sense- it gives Jonah a Big Bad to fight against, and provides personal motivation for his journey. But even this version of the story doesn't get the treatment it deserves. As one review pointed out, the moment where Hex decides to mutilate his face even further rather than bear Turnbull's brand is shown in an off-hand moment told in a (fucking) flashback. (If anyone can point me in the direction of the review that made this point, I'd appreciate it.)
Before I wrap up, let me just address the hot elephant in the room: Megan Fox. Now, a lot of people don't like her, because she says ridiculous things in interviews, and is famous for being hot in the Transformers movies, and has an assortment of stupid tattoos. These things are all true. But in a movie where the wittiest banter is between Josh Brolin and a dog, having an actress rise to the occasion of being hot and occasionally shooting guns is actually kind of an accomplishment. Her character, Lilah, is a version of a character from the comic, Tallulah. In the comics, Tallulah is also disfigured and, after hooking up with Hex, becomes a badass bounty hunter herself. How much more interesting would that have been?
All in all, Jonah Hex rose to every poor expectation I had. The actors were completely and utterly wasted on this movie. (As the Pajiba review says, "they assembled a fucking amazing cast and then wasted them like showgirls pre-pretty button pushing at casino buffet salad bars"). DC Comics better think long and hard about their strategy for movie adaptations going forward, because if Jonah Hex is the quality of film they're planning on producing, they might as well set their entire back catalog and all their money on fire.
* Not counting popcorn and soda, for which I had to take out a loan)
** Or Wes Bentley. Or Tom Wopat
*** For perspective, I own and have watched more than once the Doom movie on DVD. In my defense, I got it for free.