Saturday, May 6, 2017

Steampunk Cowboy Ghost Rider, or Thoughts on Jonah Hex

I remember being fascinated by Two Face’s digital makeup in The Dark Knight (2008) but by the time Jonah Hex (2010) rolled around I was over it; there’s been an oversaturation of all things digital, to the extent that movies have morphed into videogames and vice versa.  Based on the 1970’s DC comic, this was the first film appearance of the character as Hollywood struggles to make the Western genre relevant to a contemporary, 21st Century audience. 
Josh Brolin in a role that at least on paper he was born to play, is the titular character, a tortured ex-Confederate officer, now hideously scarred bounty hunter who can speak to the dead.  It’s a part origin story and revenge action movie, not as bad as Will Smith’s Wild Wild West (1999), not as spectacularly grandiose as The Hateful Eight (2015) or as much fun as Franco Nero’s Django (1966).  I suppose in the spectrum of the modern western it’s below Cowboys & Aliens (2011) but above Johnny Depp’s The Lone Ranger (2013).
With John Malkovich as Quentin Turnbull, the southern nemesis, Megan Fox as Lilah Black, the hooker with a heart of gold who looks good in a corset and Michael Fassbender stealing every scene he’s in as Burke, the Irish dynamite happy minion.
The Western genre is problematic, it’s hard to tell stories about good and evil and bringing civilization and order to the untamed west without addressing that pesky genocide issue.  Even modern remakes like Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven (2016) seem disingenuous when compared to the sweeping heroics of the 1960 original.  HBO’s brilliant Westworld series sidesteps all those issues by setting their story in the future; it’s a lot easier for audiences to tolerate robot abuse.  There are no smallpox infected blankets but they can always download a virus.

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