Jonah Hex (2010): a recap (part 4 of 6): When Jonah comes mooching home again
Previously on Hex Collects Checks: Bounty hunter and part time medium Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) had to find his old commanding officer/fellow Mustache Club member Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) in order to prevent him and his band of neo-Confederates from building a doomsday machine and destroying the United States immediately, as opposed to 150 years hence. A hot tip from a dead man led Hex to his unit’s old colonel, Royal Slocum (an actor, presumably). Hex met him, killed him, and burned down his business before heading off on another lead that in no way required him to have talked to the dead man or met Slocum.
Jonah goes to a military cemetery that’s apparently just down the road from the place he burned down. The dog sidekick he picked up there doesn’t want to go in. There’s every reason to believe that the movie is about to forget that Hex got a dog sidekick.
Hex finds the grave of one “Jeb Turnbull”, digs up the corpse, and lays a hand atop his to bring him back to life. The now-ambulatory Jeb immediately jumps on Hex and tries to strangle him.
Hex knocks him free with a shovel. To prevent another attack, Hex sits on Jeb’s chest in a classic “older brother” pin.
“Christ, you are such an asshole,” Jeb says. No argument here.
His options being limited, Jeb consents to talk to Hex for a while. Having been dead long enough to have sat through Hell’s orientation seminar, Jeb doesn’t need Hex to explain anything like he did with the last guy.
The two men get to chatting about the circumstances surrounding Jeb’s killing at Hex’s hands. A competently written movie would communicate the history between them through hints and subtext under the guise of a natural-sounding conversation. This, however, is Jonah Hex.
Jeb: You killed me, Hex.
Hex: You drew on me.
Jeb: You disobeyed a direct order.
Hex: To burn down a hospital.
Jeb: He was my father and my commanding officer. I didn’t have a choice.
Hex: Neither did I.
Okay. Audience, we all caught up? Good.
Hex finally chokes out an apology to Jeb for killing him, and he’s doing an incredible simulation of genuine pathos. Then he follows up with: so where’s your dad, please? I really really really want to kill him.
“I been watchin’ him, and I been watchin’ you,” Jeb says. “Truth is, it’s gettin’ real hard to tell the difference between you two… you’re just two men hell-bent on murderin’ folks to make the pain go away.” Ugh, okay Mister Principled Centrist, we’ve seen one of these guys kill evil murderers exclusively, and we’ve seen the other guy blow up passenger trains and burn a child alive, but go on with your bad self.
Jeb finally tells Hex that his dad’s in a place called “Fort Resurrection.” Hex declines to ask him what his dad’s doing, or what kind of forces he has, or how he can be stopped, out of courtesy, I guess. Jeb cautions Hex to do his very best not to die yet, because “they talk about you down here,” and “they got plans for you”.
Meanwhile, aw no, it’s Lilah again. She’s in a corset, making her already-icky bod even more thin and angular…
…and she’s arguing with a john whose jealous overtures she rebuffed earlier, in a scene I glossed over in part 2 because there’s only so much Megan Fox I can deal with in one sitting. The jealous john reports that it was he who reported Hex’s location to the army. Now that Hex is gone, he’s bought Lilah and plans to run away with her.
Lilah goes for her Derringer, but the john has it. There’s a struggle, and she produces a knife and stabs him to death. “I ain’t much for bein’ owned,” she says. Hate to be the one to tell you this, dear, but if he bought you, that means you were already owned.
We’re meant to take it on faith that that last scene will matter somehow. In a general store… somewhere… Hex is greeted by the shopkeeper/Hex’s black friend, played by Lance Reddick.
This dude’s name is Smith, because he builds weapons. Or because slaves didn’t get real names. Could be either. We learn that Smith built the Gatling guns on Hex’s horse. He’s got something new for Hex, too. I can’t really tell what the hell it is, and Hex asks no questions about it. It’s got a hammer mechanism, but also a crossbow that pops out, and an ammo clip full of what I assume are road flares? Whatever it is, it looks about as practical as snow tires on a surfboard.
Their conversation turns to politics, as I suppose happened often when ex-Confederates and ex-slaves became friends. “You and I both know the only reason you fought for the Confederacy is you don’t like being told what to do by the government,” Smith says. “You ain’t never believed in secessionism. And you ain’t never believed in slavery, neither.”
Not just no, but fuuuuuck no.
Okay, I’m truly sorry to get off on a tear here, but I have to. The idea that Jonah Hex’s cause can be understood, on any level, as a principled rebellion against the forces of creeping tyranny is as laughable in this context as it is in any other. Jonah Hex fought for the Confederate States of America. There is precious little room for ambiguity of motives in that case. Someone who didn’t believe in slavery wouldn’t fight for a nation founded on (to quote Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens) “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.” Someone who didn’t believe in secession wouldn’t have fought on a side that wanted to secede for decades, and finally did, over this issue of—and I can’t stress this enough—keeping slavery legal.
When you minimize or rationalize the role of slavery in the Southern cause, you knowingly or not promote an insidious conspiracy of historical revisionism, one whose standard-bearers range from tacit white supremacists to not-so-tacit-ones, and whose ultimate object is to pollute the historical narrative and mitigate white responsibility for the current state of American race relations. And the fact that a black man should be the mouthpiece for this kind of propaganda is beyond tasteless.
I know that Jonah Hex is too stupid a movie to have intended this line in that manner. I know perfectly well that they only dropped that rolling turd of a line because a black guy showed up, and they felt the need to emphasize that the hero of this movie isn’t a racist lest they discomfort modern audiences. But wanna know the funniest part about this whole thing? I noted earlier that the movie desperately wants Jonah Hex to be an “antihero”, but isn’t creative enough to commit to a characterization that is by definition multifaceted. This scene, though, offered them a gimme. Embrace the discomfort. By the way, viewer, did you know Hex is a little bit of a racist? Boom! Instant antihero!
Of course they were too cowardly to take this option. Promoting a racist misinterpretation of history is one thing, but making the (Confederate) hero a racist? That’s just beyond the pale!
Hex thankfully wraps up his purchase before my blood pressure reaches four digits. The very next scene takes place that night in Fort Resurrection. This could be almost anywhere, given that Hex’s magic horse, in addition to all its other powers, can apparently lap every horse from the seventh season of Game of Thrones with one leg tied behind it.
Hex easily dispatches two guards with a hatchet and walks right in through the front door.
Almost immediately, he happens upon a chamber which contains blueprints of the weapon Turnbull is building, plus extensive notes and a map showing its target. It’s seriously not even behind a door or anything.
There’s a flashback—or possibly this is taking place right now? it’s hard to tell—of Turnbull and That Fucking Guy admiring the weapon as Turnbull drolly recites its history.
In a bored drawl, Turnbull tells TFG how Eli Whitney, Jr. (whom he misidentifies as Eli Whitney, Sr., and unfathomably credits for starting the Industrial Revolution) invented weapons for the U.S. Army, including a superweapon originally conceived as a theoretical exercise: a “nation-killer”. It was supposedly scrapped. But they did machine all the parts and manufacture the ordnance and keep the blueprints so that someone else could build it. God, I just don’t know.
“Once they realized its potential,” Turnbull mumbles, “they could not fathom willfully visiting that kind of devastation on their fellow man.” He pauses. “But I can,” he adds. Thank you; that part was implied.
Hex exits the room and finds Turnbull. Again, immediately. There must be like three rooms in this fortress. Turnbull looks at him, his reaction absolutely nil…
…and shouts “kill him!”.
Dozens of men funnel into the room behind Turnbull. Hex whips out his new weapons. The hammer seems to ignite a fuse to an explosive rocket that’s launched by the crossbow part. I can think of at least one part of that setup that’s unnecessary.
It seems director Danny Hayward never met a gun battle he couldn’t turn into a dull slog. The score dials in some generic buttrock, and twin guitars whine in perfect fourths as Hex strides blithely down the hallway and effortlessly blows up clusters of gunmen wherever they appear, in a very video-gamey fashion.
The battle’s over in seconds. Hex drops both his decisive new weapons on the ground as soon as they’re out of ammo. He picks up a repeating rifle, walks into the next room, and there’s Turnbull again, sitting obliviously on a horse. “Sorry, Jeb,” he says as he draws a bead.
“Hey, Hex!” someone shouts. Hex turns and is immediately forced backwards by a shotgun blast. This Fucking Guy himself is behind the barrel.
“I’d know that half-cooked pie hole anywhere!” he taunts. He scrambles over to where Hex hit the ground, but the injured Hex is nowhere to be seen. TFG has the mooks spread out, so Hex can pick them off more easily. One mook gets killed, and another’s head is crushed by a rock, before TFG corners Hex again.
Hex stumbles, then draws and fires, hitting only a nearby box of TNT.
Aaaand it really ought to figure that the one thing in this movie that doesn’t burst into flames at the merest suggestion is a pile of explosives. There’s a hiss inside the box; TFG roots around in the box until he finds the dynamite bundle that Hex’s bullet somehow ignited, making sure to turn his back to Hex, so the latter can make his second stealthy under-the-nose escape in as many minutes.
Where is he? Inside a very convenient drainage pipe that TFG somehow can’t find. Hex whistles for his horse and rolls into the saddle from the pipe. Why was this fortress built with such an easy method of ingress? Fuck you, that’s why. TFG impotently throws his dynamite bundle in Hex’s direction as he rides away.
And that puts the lid on this chapter. Join us next time as things get really, really stupid.