Obviously, this hasn’t worked out the way its makers wanted – it’s one of a run of films based on second-rank comic book characters greenlit after the tentpole success of The Dark Knight or Iron Man by studio heads who don’t realise that not all comics brands are of equal weight or have enormous crossover potential. At 83 minutes and with several montages (one animated) to cover the hero’s several overlapping origins (Reb Civil War hero, ethical betrayer of his evil guerrilla comrades, family man who loses his family, scarred by villain, scarred again by self, left for dead and brought back to life by Indian magic medicine, turned into grouchy bounty hunter), it’s plainly been edited to the bone – after the screening, several critics wondered if the prominently-billed (and distinctive-looking) Michael Shannon was even still in the movie (I think he is, but minutely) and a threat to the entire United States on the Centennial Day is whipped up and done away with double-quick. It also makes peculiar choices like intercutting the actual fight (on a boat, at night) between Jonah (Josh Brolin) and his arch-enemy Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) with a symbolic fight (in a red-lit desert with appropriate coffin and crow left over from Django) between the same principles – which means you get two confusing, not-well-done battles instead of one proper climax. At some point, it seems to have been thought of as a harder-edged film with gruesome gore and sexual content (the heroine is a hooker), but then all that’s been dropped so it’s full of snarling set-ups with no pay-offs.
Jonah sports that odd rope-of-flesh-across-the-mouth scar from the comics and trudges from place to place, unleashing twin gatling guns mounted in saddle-bags without frightening his own horse and displaying a few supernatural powers he’s picked up from being nearly dead one time – when he touches a dead person, they come back to life briefly and talk to him. President Grant (Aidan Quinn) knows that Turnbull, an ex-Confederate guerrilla known ‘to his Mexican slaves’ as ‘a terrorista’, is planning to strike against the US, and that Hex – whose family Turnbull burned alive (before scarring his face) in revenge for Hex killing his son – will be motivated to stop him. The script by the Crank team of Neveldine-Taylor doesn’t convince on any level: here’s an approximation of a conversation between Jonah and his dead former best friend – Dead Guy: You killed me! JH: You drew on me! DG: You disobeyed an order! JH: Your father told me to burn down a hospital! It’s all like that, and only Malkovich is ham enough to give his rants a twist – Brolin, after a run of good performances, must have hoped for a lucrative franchise, but really can’t make much of this combo of Josey Wales and the Crow; and Megan Fox, with what looks like some sort of digital skin-cream, plays the whole film (but for a final scene) in just corset, boots and lingerie (with hidden derringer and stiletto) as the thinly-conceived whore heroine (Jonah is too hung up on his dead Indian wife and son to commit to anyone, but – like Josey – he attracts a trail of followers, including a nameless horse and a mangy fighting dog).
Being a comic is a vague excuse for stylistic excesses beyond even spaghetti westerns – hence, the steampunk town-destroying weapon (credited to Eli Whitney) and a cage fight which pits an Ultimate Combat Hulk against what looks like a leftover ‘Dark Seeker’ from I Am Legend (whose director, Francis Lawrence, is rumoured to have come in to tidy up after credited Jimmy Hayward left). The comic has had some fine runs, ranging from grittily realistic Western tales through some wildly fantastical business from Joe R. Lansdale to a recent Deadwood-Lonesome Dove-influenced meld of history and blood-soaked melodrama; this doesn’t really settle on a workable approach. Oh, and the rock music score is horrible. With an unrecognisable Michael Fassbender – literally unrecognisable, the Empire reviewer thought he was Michael Shannon – as a tattoo-bearded Irish secondary baddie in a literally bad hat, who gets killed (‘that’s for my wife’), brought back to life, and killed again (‘and that’s for my son’) by the pissed-off hero.