In Jonah Hex, Josh Brolin creates one of the most memorable and entertaining on screen heroes since Hellboy. And then he’s wasted on a movie which doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing, where it’s going, or why anyone bothered to make it in the first place.
It’s not a problem at first, because it takes a few minutes before the movie bothers to attempt some sort of plot. Jonah Hex appears on screen, a permanently disfigured cowboy with a vicious growl, and a sarcastic sense of humor. Brolin’s Hex is immediately engaging, and even though he’s only able to actually move half his face, it’s easy to see what he’s all about. To get things moving Jonah kicks some meaningless ass, and that seems pretty cool. Then there’s a bad guy, played by John Malkovich, who wants to destroy America on its hundredth birthday using some sort of impractical super weapon invented by that evil genius Eli Whitney. Its inner workings look more like the imaginings of Rube Goldberg to me.
We’re supposed to be interested in John Malkovich’s villain character, whose name I refuse to learn, because he has a history with Hex. The movie shows us that history, and then shows it to us again. And then it shows us to it again. And then later we see it another time. And maybe a couple more times too, for reasons which can only be described as “filler”. Jonah Hex is only around seventy minutes long (the press notes claim 80 minutes, don't believe it), barely enough to fill the required running time of an after school special. Subtract all the replays of Jonah’s past, remove all the random and meaningless footage of Jonah standing in an imaginary desert, and I doubt the film would even crack an hour. It’s a blessing really, since even that seventy minutes feels like two years.
It’s obvious that this is a movie with problems, problems which someone tried to fix by chopping it up with a carpet knife and then sticking it back together with painter’s tape. It’s all a question of making choices, and whoever edited Jonah Hex makes all the wrong ones. For instance a potentially wrenching scene in which Hex decides to permanently scar himself rather than allow his enemy the satisfaction of marking him, is glossed over, rushed, and mostly ignored while instead the movie replays meaningless moments we’ve already watched for no particular reason.
It’s not all editing though; the script was probably always kind of a mess. Super weapons are almost never a good story decision and this one’s dumber than most. Jonah Hex’s dialogue is clever and thanks to Brolin perfectly delivered, but no one else in the movie ever says anything worth hearing. Some of it’s bad writing, some of it’s both bad writing and bad acting, as in the case of Megan Fox. Luckily Megan Fox is barely in the movie, unfortunately barely in the movie is too much. It’s not really because she’s bad, it’s more that there’s no reason for her character to be in the film. It’s as if someone wrote the script, noticed they forgot to include a part for a woman, and so another writer was brought in to randomly toss in some hooker to show up once or twice to add boobs. At least she’s not playing a boxing leprechaun. Michael Fassbender, for some reason, is.
Yet for all it’s fatal flaws it’s hard to hate Jonah Hex. Josh Brolin’s too good, his scarred and frequently witty character far too engaging. It’s just that no one bothered to write him a movie. Instead he’s stuck wandering around in this thing, with nowhere to go, no one of consequence to kill, and without an adventure worthy of his considerable talents. Jonah Hex would hate this movie. He would make fun of this movie. If this movie isn’t good enough for its lead character, it’s probably not good enough for you too.