If you were one of the few with the blind courage to pay and see Jonah Hex, then you’re most likely aware that it is not the most impressive summer blockbuster in terms quality, to say the least. The saddest fact about this monumental (rumored 65 million dollar) misfire? It had so much potential.
All the ingredients were there to make for a dynamic comic book movie, from the caliber of actors present, to the excellent DC Comic source material and a script from Neveldine/Taylor, the duo behind the Crank films.
Where did it all go so wrong?
It surely wasn’t the fault of Neveldine/Taylor script because, while they are the sole creditors, this isn’t the movie they would’ve made, or the one they wrote. A bit of what they envisioned survived the final film, but saying “survived” is too generous.
While they may not have intended to make a straight western like the comics, at least they would’ve made something distinct. We’re dealing with a surge of comic book films right now and this one won’t be remembered. It’s painfully paint-by-numbers and not the piece of craziness we would’ve seen if Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor directed as intended. If you’re interested in what their version would’ve been like and how their original draft differs, look no further.
Balls to the Saloon Wall
One of the biggest issues with Hex is the confused tone. Ranging from brooding seriousness to pure goofiness, it never knew what it wanted to be. The original script, on the other hand, knew exactly what it was: a balls-to-the-wall action movie. When you read the script, you’re actually laughing with it. When you watch the movie, you feel like you should be laughing, but it’s so sad that you can’t muster enough steam to let out a single chuckle at it. Brolin has stated before that the tone was something they played around a lot with in post-production. That indecisiveness shows on the screen.
Here’s an idea of what the tone is like in the Neveldine/Taylor draft: there’s a moment where Hex jams a piece of dynamite into his horse’s nuts to so it could blast off like it was shot out of a cannon (as described in the script). Moments similar to that happens throughout the entirety of the script.
Make no mistake, this would’ve been a hard-R Hex as well. The violence is graphically detailed and Hex spouts obscenities left and right. It would’ve been a total grindhouse film, but with an epic scope behind it. Even Hex’s introduction – which, in fairness, is slightly similar to the film’s- actually feels like a worthy intro. The sheriff’s men Hex faces off with are torn apart by his Gatling guns. Even the shooter in the coffin’s eye pops out from being shot in the face. All of this takes place during a storm as well. There’s an energy on the page, but what we got didn’t even come close to that.
Some may call this gratuitous, and it is, but at least it’s consistent and the action itself isn’t just a bunch of random explosions thrown in for the sake of explosions. There’s a description during the train sequence that labels it “beyond violent” and that’s what most of their film obviously would’ve been. Most importantly, you can actually feel the stakes at hand. This wasn’t the fairy tale version we got where everything goes to plan and ends happily-ever-after. Violence could’ve added weight to it all, but sadly we got a watered down PG-13 cut for the teens.
The Lone Gunman
Jonah Hex is quite a departure from how he was originally envisioned, and for the worst. Throughout the film it doesn’t even seem like he remembers his dead wife or child. And if he did actually feel bad, would he seriously be shacking up with a young prostitute? Doubtful. He was written as more of a foul mouth with guilt. Our hero should’ve been a bit more on the extremist side and an actual lone gunslinger. He ends up coming off as more of a counter-terrorist agent instead of an actual bounty hunter. It’s was like a weak episode of 24.
Lilah is described as an actual convincing prostitute. Unless I’m mistaken, most ladies of the night didn’t look like Fox back then and didn’t have pearly white teeth. Instead, she was originally described as a battered down one-time-beauty in her mid-thirties. Basically, not someone who looks 20 years younger than Hex. On paper the idea of Fox being Josh Brolin’s love interest sounds odd and it ends up being odder on screen. Originally, Lilah was hardly a major role. It’s obvious when Fox got involved they threw more scenes her way and, despite that, she’s still short changed.
Something many nerds will surely cry foul about: that there was no sex, as shown in the original Comic-Con footage. Initially, there was a rather heavy sex scene that plays parallel to showing how Hex got all his bullet wounds. One change with Lilah that I’m sure I won’t even have to elaborate on: Lilah’s face practically gets burnt off towards the end. At one point Burke (Michael Fassbender) pays her a visit – not knowing at all she is tied to Hex- and pours acid on her face for fun. Hex arrives right after it happens and practically watches as her face melts. Again, it doesn’t have to be explained why someone would think it’d be a bad idea to do that to Megan Fox.
Lastly, we’ve got the Quentin Turnbull character, played by John Malkovich. Turnbull ends up being nothing more than the mustache-twirling villain we’ve seen before. You generally expect something unique from Malkovich, but in the film he’s given nothing to work with (same goes for Fox, who’s getting a little unfairly called on). Originally, the country’s centennial celebration — a big half-baked theme in the film — meant far more to Turnbull. He lost his slaves, his money and then some; he lost everything. It’s a greater motive. Turnbull is far more intimidating in his character descriptions, as though he’s some monster filled with rage roaming the earth. The loss of his son is still a part of his motivation, but the idea of him losing Jeb (played oddly by Jeffery Dean Morgan) just puts the cherry on top.
Changed or Cut Out Completely
The film is filled with plenty of conveniences and is overall a contrived, choppy narrative. You know the very abrupt way the government finds Hex at the beginning? How some random sap that loves Lilah and rats on Hex to the government lackeys? Yeah, that laughably bad gimmick isn’t in the script at all. All the conveniences, unexplainable plot points and about everything else that doesn’t work wasn’t in the initial draft.
Lastly, here are a few more (minor) differences that got changed or cut out completely.
- They didn’t write the opening credits spelling everything out for you like a child. There were less monologues from Hex.
- There were zombies. When you actually get to see Jonah Hex on a mission looking for an old friend’s daughter he encounters one. The daughter is turned into one as well.
- There were hooker descriptions that actually sounded like 19th century hookers.
- There was a scene where Hex was hallucinating that he was thrown back into a Civil War battle. This comes right after he was shot up by Burke and given “medicine” by the Apache. It’s a bizarre sequence, but an interesting one nonetheless.
- There was also a flashback of Jeb Turnbull and Jonah fighting in the war that showed them as actual friends. While this wasn’t in the original script, apparently Jonah shot Jeb himself according to a reader’s review at Aint it Cool.
- The ridiculously goofy half-snake/half man sequence was slightly different. First off, he’s simply described as someone horribly mutated. At one point, Hex is even thrown in the ring and has to fight him off.
- Doc Cross Williams has more than one line. You may have, or understandably not have, noticed Michael Shannon under all that makeup as the cage-fighting ringleader. There was another scene that involved him talking to Lilah on a train after the incident involving the mutated creature and Hex.
- Will Arnett’s Lieutenant Grass actually had something to do. He had plenty of more scenes that either were never shot or, most likely, left on the cutting room floor.
- You get Hex actually smoking as he does in the comics. This is pure speculation, but I’m guessing Warner Brother’s president Alan Horn — someone notorious for hating smoking in movies — wasn’t too hot on the idea of a smoking hero.
- There was a mysteriousness to Hex here that isn’t in the film. You get a broader sense of what people think of him and how big of a legend he really is. There are sequences of people describing the rumors tied to Hex’s past.
- The climax originally was going to take place at Fort Jackson, not Washington DC. The idea of Turnbull attacking DC via boat was an idea Hayward came up with.
- Burke’s death was much, much better. It’s not shown on-screen, but it’s later revealed that Hex skinned off his face with a bowie knife; he does it to throw it in Turnbull’s face (metaphorically speaking).
- Remember the unexplainable and useless scenes of Quentin Turnbull and Jonah Hex fighting over red clay? In the final film it’s offered as a very tedious parallel battle between them but, originally, that was actually the final battle between the two. It was a satisfying and drawn-out battle, but what we got on the ship lasted mere seconds.
- Another superior death scene: Hex beating Quentin Turnbull to death. Instead of leaving him to die as he does in the final film he finishes him off by pounding him senselessly until there’s nothing left.
- Lilah isn’t present at all during the final battle nor the final scene. It ends with Hex ridding off with ambiguity as to where he’s going– it’s very Fistful of Dollars like. The ending we got between Fox and Brolin was from the two weeks of “additional photography” that they did.
- There was no painful ending with the president telling Hex, “America needs a sheriff!”
- More examples of Neveldine and Taylor type of violence: balls being shot off, dogs ripping balls off, you see Jonah Hex kicking a dog, Jonah Hex pointing a gun at a dog, and, finally, and Turnbull killing a dog.
Its Balls Ripped Off
So, while you’ll see Neveldine and Taylor’s names at the end credits of this crushing disappointment of a summer movie, they’re not at all the ones to blame. Who is though? Is it Hayward? Warner Brothers? Or perhaps Brolin himself, who seemed to have more control than Hayward. No idea. It’s been rumored there was plenty cut out so possibly some of these much needed scenes were shot, but that’s something we can’t confirm until the inevitable Director’s Cut hits shelves.
One thing we do know: this could’ve been far better, and a character like Jonah Hex deserves better. This is another black-mark for an already disappointing summer rather than the strange film we would have gotten from Neveldine and Taylor. They wrote a solid script that someone butchered into 80 minutes of the worst kind of mediocracy, something the real Jonah Hex would never stand for.