Well, my one burning question is answered. Jonah Hex is steampunk, sort of. Jonah has two mini, semi-automatic Gatling guns mounted on his horse’s harness (apparently no cranking required). The villain, General Turnbull, builds a secret weapon, a “nation killer” that is catalyzed by orbs filled with a glowing golden plasma.
It’s also dark fantasy because Jonah can reanimate the dead and talk to them.
It’s a comic book.
A brief bit of background; the time is shortly after the American Civil War. Hex and the Turnbulls, father and son, fought for the Confederacy. General Turnbull chose to kill civilians, so Hex betrayed them to the Union; the General’s son Jeb was killed by Hex. Turnbull took a terrible revenge upon Hex, including branding his face. Hex nearly died and in the twilight lands between death and life picked up this talk-to-the-dead thing, which could, I guess, come in handy.
The movie has that excellent comic-book-to-big screen look. It’s sweaty and gritty when it has to be—Josh Brolin as Hex is sweaty and gritty most of the time—lush and colorful when it has to be, and imposing and Victorian when it wants to be. Establishing scenes could have been lifted straight from splash-pages or centerfolds (I’m sure that’s not the technical name for a close-up that covers two pages). Most of the action sequences involve blowing stuff up, but there’s a weird prize-fight scene that’s kind of cool. Nothing blows up, but a lot of stuff burns. For a man whose family burned to death and who was branded, Hex is remarkably comfortable around fire.
The movie’s fine cast and good looks can’t quite lift it into the Success category. John Malkovich plays General Turnbull with a fine, measured malice. For me, 40% of a Malkovich performance is voice, another 40% is eyes. Eyes and voice get a workout here, but there’s only so much he can do with the material. In the early sequences when he is taking his revenge on Hex, he is a compelling villain; the rest of the movie he’s an Evil Overlord. The screenplay never bothers to tell us what drives Turnbull. The death of his son? The failure of the Confederacy? Maybe, but in the movie’s “real time” plot, Turnbull is willing to blow up anything and anybody, attacking towns in former Confederate states. What’s that about? The screenplay tries to address this by calling him a terrorist. Sorry, not good enough.
Lilah, or Talullah, played by Megan Fox, is the cleanest prostitute anywhere in the whole wild west. Even though she sees many sweat-and-whiskey soaked men in the course of her profession, and works in a dusty two-horse town, her hair and clothes are always perfect. Even at the end, when she is running through the steam-powered warship, shooting and cutting people, her cute white cotton batiste bloomers and camisole remain pristine. I find when I’m thinking, “Gosh,she’s so clean,” every time a character appears, that I’m not very engaged with the story.
The movie is short. The plot is linear, with no surprises. Michael Fassbender is entertaining as Turnbull’s second villain. He has Maori tattoos, an Irish accent, and no backstory. Brolin, of course, is good and growly as Hex. Aidan Quinn does a nice job as president if he is some generic president. If he is meant to be U.S. Grant, then not so much.
The film is 90 minutes long. If you see it at a matinee you will have invested exactly enough money and time in it. If you wait for Netflicks, you’ll be getting a bargain.