Ever since the film adaptation of “Jonah Hex” failed spectacularly back in 2010, fans have been clamoring for a proper depiction of the grizzled Western bounty hunter. On that front, “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” delivers…sort of. If we’re just looking at Jonah, Johnathon Schaech plays him with a sharply focused intensity that breaks through the layers of prosthetic scars, never batting an eye as he throws a punch or fires a gun. Maybe it’s his professed fondness for the comics that keeps his performance grounded yet still fun for the actor.
The problem lies in the source material. Jonah remains a satellite character throughout much of the episode, required to do little more than stand there, kick ass, and be gritty as the Legends seek shelter in the 1871 town of Salvation. He helps them when they get into a bar fight, urges them to take down a gang of marauding outlaws, shoots a bunch of guys, and that’s about it.
While the writers could certainly explore Jonah with more depth in future episodes (the guy’s got an insanely rich backstory), here, his sole function is to push Rip’s story forward. Midway through, we find out that the former Time Master actually met his wife in this era, then brought her to the future once he realized their Oklahoma town would soon be destroyed. Jonah socks Rip upon hearing about his abandonment of his community, urging him to stay and prevent Salvation from suffering the same fate. Rip reluctantly agrees, and the episode ends in a thrilling shootout that melds a Western gunfight with the futuristic flames, lasers, and flying powers the Legends are known for. Needless to say, they win, even though the victory feels a bit anticlimactic due to Jonah’s brief amount of screen time.
There’s also a severe imbalance of tone in “The Magnificent Eight.” Once the Legends don cowboy garb and stroll through the muddy streets of Salvation, they never break out of dress-up mode, with The Atom going as far to put on a corny Southwestern accent and say his name is John Wayne. That makes sense to some degree, considering that other than Rip, who’s been here before, the heroes are merely playing dress-up, and if anyone’s going to embrace old movie tropes, it’s The Atom. But the campiness extends to the episode’s production value as well. The guns, boots, and Stetson hats all look like they’ve been pulled from the costume rack of “Oklahoma!”, never weatherbeaten enough to be convincing. Then, when a saloon erupts into an all-out brawl, it’s filled with more goofy Western cliches, from shit-kickers being flipped onto tables to the pianist who keeps playing music in spite of the mayhem. Elsewhere in the score, there’s foreboding harmonica music, canned whip cracks, and mariachi trumpet.
Granted, all of this could be emblematic of “Legends” not taking itself too seriously, but when the show mixes a theme-park concept of a Western with the deadly serious Jonah Hex, a grim subplot about Professor Stein saving a child from tuberculosis, and Hawkgirl encountering an older version of herself, the whole thing starts to feel tonally uneven. On one hand, Hawkgirl comes to an important emotional discovery, realizing that although 1871 Kendra chose to break her cycle of death and romance to live alone in the woods, that doesn’t mean present-day Kendra has to do the same thing. She can still love Atom. She can still be her own person.
On the other hand, that message gets undercut when it’s revealed shortly afterwards that the boy Professor Stein’s been treating is actually a young H.G. Wells. You’re meant to assume that, having witnessed the Legends’ collision of the past and the future, he’ll grow up to pen “The Time Machine” and other great works of science fiction. But what about the fact that Wells was English? Or that he never lived in Texas? Or that the whole joke feels woefully out of place? It’s tempting with comic-book adaptations to throw everything into the pot — action, humor, darkness, the works — but there needs to be at least one cohesive element that binds it all together. Otherwise, even a faithful depiction of Jonah Hex feels wasted.
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