Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 19, 2010)
Most of the super-successful comic book movies come from “heavy hitter” characters such as Batman and Spider-Man. However, that doesn’t mean that lesser-knowns can’t do fine as well. No, the likes of Hellboy and Blade didn’t earn mega-jillions, but they established decent audiences for themselves.
Someone thought Jonah Hex might muster a new franchise, so the film – titled Jonah Hex, natch – got a prime summer 2010 opening date. It flopped – it really flopped. The movie earned a ridiculously low $10 million in the US and barely received a release overseas. With a budget of $47 million, Hex was relatively cheap for a big summer flick, but it didn’t come close to recouping its costs.
And the critics hated it, too! Given its utter failure to find favor among almost any camp, I formed a perverse desire to see the film and decide if Hex deserved its fate.
The flick starts with a prologue set during the American Civil War. Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) fights for the Confederates under shdjsahkd Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich). When Hex ignores orders so he can save a hospital, Turnbull’s son dies and the commander holds Jonah responsible.
To get revenge, Turnbull torches Hex’s house, an action that kills Jonah’s wife Cassie (Julia Jones) and son Travis (Luke James Fleischmann). Turnbull also brands Hex’s face with his initials and leaves him for dead. Hex survives – barely - and gets revived by an Indian tribe.
But the Indians can’t bring Hex all the way back, which leaves him with an odd “gift”: he can communicate with the dead. This helps him on his quest to find and kill Turnbull, but it ends up that a hotel fire does the job for him, so his nemesis dies before he can enact his revenge. Without that mission, Hex turns to bounty hunting; he pursues clearly guilty parties for profit.
As it turns out, rumors of Turnbull’s death were exaggerated, and he conducts terrorist acts in the US. These occur close to the US Centennial in 1876, and President Ulysses Grant (Aidan Quinn) fears that Turnbull plans to seek a powerful weapon. The President figures only one man can stop Turnbull’s plan: Jonah Hex.
With the awful box office take I mentioned earlier and a miserable Rotten Tomatoes index score of only 13 percent, one might expect Hex to provide a genuinely awful film. It’s not, but it is a genuinely mediocre and forgettable film.
What went wrong? Nothing in extreme, but the movie suffers from a general feeling of “cruise control”. No one ever really seems to be in charge of the project, as it simply tosses out the expected violence and mayhem without much drama or panache to go along with it.
The negligible plot and development don’t help. We learn only the rudiment of the Hex/Turnbull relationship, so their hatred for each other never manages to gain much traction. Supporting characters fare even less well; for instance, traditional “hooker with a heart of gold” Lilah (Megan Fox) comes along for the ride, but we don’t find out much about her or really care. She’s there as eye candy and an inevitable damsel in distress – backstory, schmackstory!
I’m not sure why Hex seems to dispense with niceties like story and character development. No, I don’t expect great dimensionality from a summer movie based on a comic book, but surely the filmmakers could’ve tried harder to rise above the standard braindead shoot-‘em-up territory.
This seems especially true since Hex clocks in at a mere 82 minutes – and the long end credits mean the story finishes around the 73-minute mark. That barely qualifies as feature-length, and I see no clear reason the movie needed to be so short. Perhaps the filmmakers figured the “short ‘n’ sweet” emphasis on action would make it more winning, or maybe they thought that the additional showings theaters could run would help it make a jillion dollars.
Both were wrong. Again, Hex never qualifies as a bad movie. It seems darker than usual for most summer fare – indeed, it’s so violent that it must’ve flirted with an “R” rating – and it features a nice cast. In particular, Brolin delivers a reasonably gruff and dynamic lead performance. Hex also looks pretty good, as it provides a nice western sensibility.
Hex just doesn’t ever manage to do anything especially memorable or engaging, though. It rushes through its flimsy story and barely makes an impact. At no point does it qualify as a bad film, but it never flirts with greatness – or even averageness – either.