Mar 6, 2020
Jonah Hex (2010): a recap (part 6 of 6): The Conflagration Proclamation
Last time on Hex Mix: A mortally wounded Jonah Hex somehow rode his horse two-thirds of the distance across the United States and somehow found his friendly neighborhood Native Americans, who somehow cured him of his bad case of missing chest meat. Lilah was somehow found by Turnbull’s flunky and kidnapped. Hex, patched up and angrier than ever, somehow crossed the country again and somehow found the ship carrying Turnbull’s weapon on it with minutes to spare before it launched. The flunky somehow knew he was coming and intercepted him, but Jonah killed him. Twice.
Jonah boards the ship and sneaks above deck, where all of Turnbull’s men are gathered. Turnbull’s giving a super-villainous pep talk which, like all this movie’s dialogue, is cheesier than a French picnic and hovers around the far edges of coherence. Of particular note is the following line, which is so stupid it’s brilliant:
“When we reach the Potomac, our enemy will learn that we have arrived to do that thing which we were most assuredly convened to do!”
Turnbull’s inspiring his foot soldiers to such an extent that Hex is able to sneak right up behind them and draw a bead on Turnbull. Turnbull is the first to notice him. He pulls Lilah up and holds her in the classic human shield posture. “They say you have no heart, Hex, but I think your problem is quite the contrary. You’re a softie. You’re incapable of sacrifice.” It’s not clear what he even means by this. This movie strongly gives the impression of having been written in many locked rooms by people not allowed to talk to one another.
Hex surrenders, and he and Lilah are chained up together below deck. The ship is quite soon within sight of Washington DC, and I could say something about how those old ironclads didn’t move that fast at all, but this movie clearly doesn’t care, so why should I?
A henchman looks at the Capitol through the telescope, which has the outline of the Capitol inscribed on its lens, and nothing I can say will make that any easier to process.
“Three minutes till we’re in range,” he says. How… I just… how’d he come up with that number? Did the computer calculate the ETA based on the radar readings? Just… just get fucked, Jonah Hex.
We’re shown the steps of the Capitol, where a bicentennial celebration is going on. President Grant is giving a speech that seems rather sparsely attended.
But you know who is there? Smith! Remember him?
He’s got his two adorable kids, too!
Oh no, not the Smiths! If the whole family dies, how will Hex prove he’s not racist?
Meanwhile, back on the ship, Hex is taking stock of his and Lilah’s options. “What happened to that Derringer in your bustle?” Hex asks.
“They took it.” Lilah says.
“What about that knife in your garter?”
“What about that…”
“They took it all, Hex.”
Hex smirks. “They searched you pretty darn good, didn’t they.” Oh ho ho ho! The joke is that they forcibly stuck their fingers into Lilah’s vagina and asshole.
Hex starts mansplaining how he thinks their escape is going to shake out, but he doesn’t get very far before Lilah’s out of her cuffs. “Tallulah Black’s momma didn’t raise no fool,” she explains. Um… surprise, Jonah Hex fans! Yeah, all twelve of you! Jonah Hex just lobbed you a FANSERVICE BOMBSHELL in the form of a different, much less interesting version of a character who only dates back to 2007. When you can’t even pander correctly, you’ve got problems.
Hex, for his part is bamboozled by the revelation. “Tallulah,” he mumbles. “Tallulah? Tallulah.” Yup. Tallulah.
Back above deck, there’s a commotion. A ship is intercepting Turnbull’s boat, and its captain is Lieutenant Grass, Will Arnett’s smarmy character from earlier.
Yes, folks, a naval vessel is being commanded by a Lieutenant. In the Army. And despite the fact that the government knows Turnbull has a superweapon, and is planning an attack, and Hex told them exactly where the weapon would be, they couldn’t find the means to send more than one boat after it.
Grass barks through a megaphone that the entire crew of the ship is under arrest for treason. Turnbull responds by turning the weapon on the opposing ship and unceremoniously blowing it up with a glowy ball.
Below deck, Hex and Lilah/Tallulah jump into the thick of it. They strangle a few guys, steal their guns, and start gunfighting. Tallulah handles herself with skill and aplomb, despite the fact that her twiggy arms look like they’d snap if she shot anything bigger than a rubber band gun.
Hex goes up the stairs and starts shooting people on the main deck. A mook has Tallulah pinned down on a corner. She escapes by shooting a nearby gas lamp, setting him on fire, and then shooting him when he runs screaming into the hall. They sure do set a lot of people on fire in this movie, don’t they?
Speaking of which, Hex is now out of ammo, so he picks up the flamethrower and turns it on the mooks on the deck.
A well-placed bullet from Turnbull disables the flamethrower. Turnbull tackles him and both fall to the lower deck. Before he falls, Turnbull shouts to his men to begin the firing sequence.
The shells are fired. One of the shells strikes the Capitol steps (tragically, missing the Capitol Steps), mere feet away from both President Grant and the Smiths. Another strikes the Washington Monument, shearing some bricks away from its side. TENSION! DANGER! STAKES! the movie insists, but no one’s buying it.
Tallulah tries to get the drop on the guy operating the weapon, but fails.
And here comes perhaps the most baffling of Jonah Hex‘s stylistic choices. Turnbull starts beating Hex with his eagle-headed cane, and with every blow, the viewer is treated to single-frame flashes into the red-clay Ghost Cowboy dimension from earlier. Soon, the flashes give way to entire shots of the ghostly versions of Hex and Turnbull duking it out.
What is all this supposed to represent? A hallucination? A spiritual battle? A symbolic representation of their conflict? Whatever it’s supposed to be, it does nothing but confuse and baffle.
Both the ghost and real versions of Turnbull are winning their respective fights. Because this whole scene isn’t yet confusing enough, they start splicing in SWEET JESUS MORE FLASHBACKS of the night Turnbull killed Hex’s family and burned him.
Ghost-Turnbull shoots Ghost-Hex twice, and then keeps beating on him. Flashback Hex screams on his cross. The Ghost-Dimension echoes with Flashback-Turnbull’s words about putting a mark on Hex’s flesh. The glowing yellowish-orange ball slides up a belt toward the weapon. Ghost-Turnbull holds his pistols to Ghost-Hex’s melon.
It appears as if everything is all over for Hex, and for Lilah, and for the United States. Oh my. I can hardly bear it.
Tallulah, still being strangled by her assailant, reaches for Hex’s hatchet. She fails to grasp it, but instead pushes it over an edge where it falls right within Hex’s reach.
Hex grabs the hatchet, and the tide turns. He whacks Turnbull with the dull side, bringing him to his knees. Ghost-Hex grabs Ghost-Turnbull’s cane and gives him a few good whacks. Real Hex, still prone but with Turnbull off him, throws his hatchet, and it lands exactly where the belt feeds into the machine, blocking the glowy ball from reaching the gun.
Real Hex grabs Turnbull, as does Ghost-Hex, who appears silhouetted dramatically against the sun.
Flashback Turnbull tells Flashback Hex, “I want you to watch.” Real Hex says, “Watch this,” and traps Turnbull’s neck in a big, conveniently placed mechanical gear.
Ghost-Hex begins wailing on Ghost-Turnbull, and finishes him off with a cowardly pistol shot to the back. Real Hex hurries upstairs, punches out Lilah’s assailant, and he and Lilah jump overboard as the yellow ball falls to the floor and the ship explodes.
The assembled crowd at the Capitol gasps in astonishment. “Happy Fourth of July,” Smith tells his sons. Jonah and Lilah pop up, survey the wreckage, and the scene dissolves out without any indication of how they got back to land.
The next day, Hex meets President Grant in the Oval Office. “Your reward,” Grant says, handing out a handful of bills. “And full pardon,” he adds. Wait, pardon for what? Oh, right, Hex killed a sheriff way back in part 2 and that fact never mattered once until right now.
The Prez also wants Hex to consider a job as the Sheriff. Sheriff of what? The United States, that’s what.
Hex points out that countries don’t have sheriffs. (They actually do; they’re just called attorneys general.) But he promises to always be available if the country needs him again in a sequel. Oh, you’re precious.
Later on, Hex visits Jeb Turnbull’s grave which is CLEARLY IN A DIFFERENT CEMETERY THAN IT WAS BEFORE and apologizes to him for killing his dad. To his gravestone, not to his face, which Hex could totally do, but doesn’t. Hex mounts his horse, tips his hat to his dog, and rides away.
But Jonah Hex can’t resist one more snippet of unnecessary voiceover. “They say a man with vengeance in his heart is supposed to dig two graves,” Hex grumbles, “one for his enemy, one for himself.” Actually, they just say the first part; the second part is inferred, and saying it aloud kills all the rhythm and poetry. “Well, I guess mine will just have to wait.” Gosh, it’s nice when a movie just comes out and says its protagonist had no arc and learned nothing.
So that was Jonah Hex. A movie critic I admire a lot once said that, as a general rule, movies that try to be good and fail are more entertaining than movies that try to be bad and succeed. She did not mention the third, least entertaining category: the movie that doesn’t try to be much of anything.
If I had to describe Jonah Hex in one word, it would be “listless”. There are no high or low points, just a steady plod through a mire of beige-colored anhedonia. The core of Jonah Hex’s badness isn’t gross incompetence or poor artistic judgment (though I could point to plenty of examples of both); it’s that the entire production suffered a consistent and overwhelming lack of give-a-shit. From the acting to the set design, from the writing to the music, everything’s a first draft, a placeholder, a phone-in, “good enough”. No one had enough passion or craftsmanship to improve on any of their mediocre ideas, or enough artistic vision to make them fit together into a coherent whole.
And you could say that it was a foregone conclusion that a movie based on a comic with a miniscule fanbase, produced as a quick-and-dirty cash-in on the superhero craze, wouldn’t try very hard. Far from excusing anything, though, this mercenary attitude makes Jonah Hex‘s listlessness downright offensive. Millions of people who dream of working in the movies will never get to. Of those who do, only a tiny fraction will ever find themselves attached to a production with major studio and distributor backing, Oscar-winning talent, and tens of millions of dollars to play around with. There is absolutely no reason for a film like that, such as Jonah Hex, to feel this perfunctory and joyless. If you can’t approach making a film as the privilege it is, then it shouldn’t be made. Full stop.