I feel like I always begin the Geek Beat with a caveat -- take it as proof of my poor self-esteem -- but when you pen an unwieldy feature like this, you know people will at least read the first sentences. So, I take the chance to immediately temper my topic. As this week is about Jonah Hex, I feel it necessary to remind you all that I feel as silly theorizing about an as-yet-unseen film as you may reading it. But considering it's the freshest geek item out there, I feel compelled to write about it.
By now, you've probably watched the Jonah Hex trailer and you've formed some very strong feelings about it. Judging from the reactions I've seen all over this wide open Internet, they were probably negative ones. Hey, geekdom wouldn't be geekdom if you weren't furious that Jonah Hex wasn't branded by an Apache tomahawk. These little details are sacred to fandom, and I'm as baffled as anyone why studios choose to blow off classic origin stories. (Why, I've even written about that very topic before!) And yes, when people asked me what I thought a Jonah Hex movie should look like, I always said the same thing as every fan did: "It should look just like Sergio Leone, or High Plains Drifter."
But when you stop and actually think about the way we fan-dream these properties, it's pretty ridiculous. Worse, it's unoriginal. It's easy to say "I wanted Jonah Hex to look just like a Clint Eastwood movie," but if it actually did, what would be the point? Why hamper original work by demanding it look, feel, and entertain exactly the way old favorites do? You wouldn't have a Dollars trilogy if Leone had decided it should look just like John Ford. Why do we ask for reheated concepts? What does this lead to other than obvious homages, like Hex counting off how many coffins he'll need? I applaud broadsided references like those, but then I just feel a bit silly. Why do I need to see anyone but Eastwood count coffins? Why do you? It's a sickness we seem to share.
Yes, I'm taking that "it should look like" argument to its illogical extreme. I know those statements really mean that a director should take a movie, and build his own vision on it. You may even be jumping to the comments field to say: "Leone used Ford as his jumping off point, you ignorant [censored]," as if I've never read a biography of Leone before. (I have!) But my point is that we all need to let characters and properties try and be something new. You can't simultaneously hope that Jonah Hex revives the classic Western and doesn't stray from that dusty path, while simultaneously hoping he'll reinvent it by walking on the eerie side of things.
By now, you're probably saying that's not a contradiction, such a Jonah Hex movie is possible, and that's exactly what the DC Comics always did. And it's true! But if they'd adapted one of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmoitti's issues like All Hallows Eve or The Current War (and believe me, I wanted them to), I suspect the trailer would have met with similar cries of horror once El Diablo, prairie witches, or Thomas Edison's robots showed up. The sheer insanity of Jonah Hex and his world has always been what was appealing about him. It was a fever dream version of the Reconstruction Era, a world that could simultaneously feature classic gunfights and a zombie Wild Bill Hickock, and no one would have ever thought to make Wild Wild West comparisons ... until you tried to put it onscreen. Jonah Hex is the kind of character and concept that is going to be too far out for half his fans, and not freaky enough for the other, and I'm not sure there's a way to please everyone.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not making George Lucasy excuses, nor do I think a Jonah Hex movie is inevitably doomed. I don't think this upcoming one is, necessarily. I'm not going to say something snide like "Lower your expectations!" (I don't believe in doing that for summer films, remember?) I'm not going to say "What did you expect a Jonah Hex movie to look like?" either, although it might be the question to ask. After all, we're talking about a character who was taken to the post-apocalyptic future, and abandoned his Johnny Reb outfit for a studded codpiece. Complaining that Warner Bros didn't stick to the "classic" character or his continuity feels a little rich. Wishing that it looked like a half-dozen films that came before it feels cheap. Hoping that it could revive an entire genre was always extreme.
As corny as it sounds, why not be glad they tried? Again, I'm not trying to make excuses or give this film a pass because I like the source material or its cast. (You saw my X-Men Origins: Wolverine breakdown. You know what will happen if I don't enjoy something.) If it ends up being a bad film, I'm not saying you should support it no matter what the cost. But as we face a cinematic culture of reboots and remakes (as Drew McWeeny so aptly put it, the karaoke culture), I would rather have a campy Jonah Hex that tries to tame a new frontier instead of some jerk actually remaking High Plains Drifter. When we say "I want [x] to look like [y]," I feel like we encourage that mentality even more. We tell Hollywood studios that we just want to see the same movie over and over again, and that we don't want them to bend genres or shake it up.