Of all the supernatural powers and companions Jonah Hex possesses, his horse may be the most impressive. Consider that in the first scene, Hex’s horse is forced to carry or drag three dead bodies, two mounted Gatling guns, and Jonah himself, which probably totals up to over a thousand pounds of steel and dead weight. Now consider that this same horse can handle both the whiplash and noise generated by having those two Gatling guns firing from either side of its neck and I think you’ll agree: That’s some horse.
You’ll note that I began a review about an Old West gunslinger who revives corpses and shoots dynamite crossbows by talking about his horse, and that should probably tell you something. Jonah Hex is a faint gesture of a movie, so hobbled and reliant on narrative shorthand that I’m halfway convinced audience members should get a cut of the box office for filling in the blanks. How do characters get from one place to another without any connecting scenes in between? What happens in the movie’s many fight scenes? What the hell does Megan Fox’s character have to do with anything? Friends, Jonah Hex has more pressing matters at hand, such as the devising of a dozen ways for a legendary gunslinger to not actually sling his damn guns.
In brief, Hex (Josh Brolin) is a bounty hunter and former Confederate officer hired by the U.S. government to track down his old general, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), who wouldn’t you know it also killed Jonah’s family in revenge for Jonah killing his son blah blah blah. Turnbull, previously thought dead, has turned himself into a homegrown terrorist bent on tearing down the Union. Such people and factions did exist after the Civil War (and well into the 20th century), and, come to think of it, that’s not a half-bad plot for a Western.
But Jonah Hex is paradoxically both more and less convoluted than this bit of simple business, though God knows why. Sergio Leone made legendary Westerns with half as much plot, but screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor thought they also needed to give Jonah the ability to speak to the dead (which doesn’t add a whole lot), an assortment of goofy steampunk weaponry (kind of a letdown when the guy’s supposed to be amazing with just a pistol), and a love interest in the prostitute Lilah (Megan Fox), a character that apparently exists only because there are no other women in this movie.
(Incidentally, Will Arnett—GOB of Arrested Development fame—fills out one of the movie’s many threadbare roles and deadpans the whole thing. And yes, it’s true, my friend Joe and I hummed “The Final Countdown” more than once while he was on-screen. In our defense, he says the word “magic” and is involved with the sinking of a ship. We are only human.)
What the hell kind of movie is Jonah Hex? I’m not sure, but it’s no Western. The very best Westerns have little to do with plot and everything to do with attitude, scenery, and atmosphere; in a Western, the setting is the MacGuffin, not the plot. Jonah Hex operates on an inverse property, where no one says or does anything not directly related to the plot and a few scenes just lay there, not adding anything to character or story. What attitude it has it borrows from Mastodon’s hilarious metal soundtrack and, I don’t know, the screenwriters asking their 14-year-old nephews what they think is “awesome.”
Nothing about Jonah Hex is awesome.