The comic book is to this age what shoot’em up Westerns were to an older time: an outlet for children’s heroic fantasies. So perhaps Jonah Hex, a combination of the two, was inevitable.
This DC Comics Western slyly refers to this fact, as a Frontier father watches his son read an illustrated Western storybook by candlelight. The father tells him it isn’t highest literary material. He can feel his son’s brain turning to mush.
The father is Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin), who witnesses his son and wife burned to death in their cabin as revenge for a Civil War betrayal. Driven by a need to avenge his family, Hex turns into a deadly bounty hunter after the war, with a bullet hole in his right cheek for his trouble. His arch-rival, Southern general Quentin Trumbull (John Malkovich), falsely believed dead, plots to re-start the Civil War with a top-secret super-cannon. The government hires Hex to track him down (did I mention that Jonah Hex walks with the animals and talks with the animals, too? Not to mention his habit of speaking to recent corpses.)
Directed by Jimmy Hayward, whose background is in animation, Jonah Hex attempts a stylized version of a Clint Eastwood Western–anti-heroic violence mixed with a self-indicting moral indifference. But what starts as intriguing ode unravels into mere aping. Brolin’s leathery performance slowly slips from homage to mimicry.
The film has all of the trademarks of the DC Comics brand for lesser-known comics. A lesser-level star (Josh Brolin). A starlet (Megan Fox) who can handle action. A revenge story. A bright-crayola War on Terror metaphor. Thrown into this formula is Tom Wopat. It’s always good to see one of the Duke boys getting in on the action. Too bad this Civil War film had no role for General Lee.
Another trademark of DC Comics films: the setups raise expectations that the resolutions rarely meet. “Jonah Hex” wears down from a buyable premise to a yawn of an action ending. If you can stand the violence, there are amusing parts along the way before it sticks its foot in its grave.