The Lone Ranger: A Good Movie Under a Bad Mask

I think I cursed Gore Verbinski. In my World War Z review, I said going over-budget is a bad omen for a film. I also said that the only directors who can go over-budget and still turn a profit were Michael Bay (Transformers franchise) and Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). Well, it looks like Verbinski’s luck just ran out. Now, we just have to hope that curse finds its way to Michael Bay so we won’t have three more Transformers.

The Lone Ranger cost around $225 million to make. I believe it was only supposed to cost $200 million, but Verbinski kept going back to Disney to ask for more money. And why would they say no to another $25 million? For one, $25 million is goddamn pocket change for Disney. And then there’s also the fact that Verbinski successfully turned four Pirates movies into blossoming profits for them—and did so after going way over-budget. It’s not like they had a reason to worry. After all, Gore Verbinski + Johnny Depp = MONEY, right? Wrong, apparently.

The problem started with a Wednesday release (not a good idea) against Despicable Me 2 (bad idea) before the 4th of July (extremely bad idea). Despite it being a holiday weekend, the movie only brought in $50 million. If you need a point of reference for just how pathetic that is, think about this: Man of Steel, which was kind of meh, brought in $116 million on opening weekend (Friday-Sunday). The Lone Ranger had five days and made half of what Man of Steel did in three. See what I mean?

Disney won’t give two shits though. They’ll be bummed, sure, but they’re still flying high with Iron Man 3 and Monsters University. They’ll just write The Lone Ranger off as a loss and keep chugging away like they did when the $250 million John Carter tanked with a $73 million box office total (Thankfully, The Avengers covered that and more). But here’s my question: When do their Marvel and Pixar films stop covering their asses? For now, they’re lucky. And, hey, it’s not like The Lone Ranger can’t make up some of its loss this week. But it’s damaged goods now. When people hear that a movie flopped at the box office, they instantly assume that the movie was shit. So…was it? I guess you’ll just have to find out, won’t you? But first, the plot!

Here’s how Disney describes the plot: “From producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, the filmmaking team behind the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, comes Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ The Lone Ranger, a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes. Native American spirit warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice-taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.”

The Lone Ranger is a really good movie. No, I mean it. The cinematography is beautiful, it’s well-acted, and the music is exactly what a blockbuster soundtrack should sound like (I love you, Hans Zimmer. You’re still my favorite). The problem is just that, well, that really good movie is masked by useless shit.

An arduous pace, a dry script, and too much exhibitionism ruined what could’ve been a great summer blockbuster. Nevertheless, the worst thing about this movie was how the story was told. Rather than letting the events unfold in a normal timeline, Verbinski and the writers tried The Princess Bride method with an old Tonto recounting the story of John Reid (Armie Hammer) to a young boy at a carnival Wild West Show. I’m pretty sure this was an homage to Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, which is nice, I guess, but it took away from the story more often than not because the kid kept interrupting the story with questions (Shut up, Fred Savage).

Also, I couldn’t stop shaking my head at how The Lone Ranger bore a striking resemblance to Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean films. No joke! It was like watching Pirates set in the late-1800s in Texas. Don’t believe me?

The film’s hero is a bland good guy who never does anything wrong—or at least he doesn’t until he meets his wacky sidekick, who he finds imprisoned (Sounds like Will Turner and Jack Sparrow, right?). The good guy has been forever in love with a woman he can’t have because she’s married, though she secretly has always been in love with him, too (A little different given that Elizabeth Swann was just engaged, not married, but still). The good guy’s love interest gets taken hostage by the villainous outlaw, and the good guy searches for her (cough, cough). The good guy’s sidekick has a past beef with the villainous outlaw (Jack Sparrow and Barbossa). There’s a gun with a single bullet meant for the villainous outlaw (Seriously?). There’s a weird gun triangle between the good guy, the villainous outlaw, and another dude (This happens in both Dead Man’s Chest AND At World’s End). There’s a battle between the “savages” and the military while the good guy and his wacky sidekick are in a cave (I wasn’t kidding). AND the good guy and his wacky sidekick hijack a train (We’re taking over the ship!). Where’s the originality? We’re just being sold the same movie in a different package.

But people liked the Pirates films, so shouldn’t it follow that they’d like The Lone Ranger, too? Not exactly. Westerns are hard to sell. If it hadn’t been for Quentin Tarantino’s Academy Award-winning involvement, I doubt Django Unchained would’ve been as well-received by audiences. And, as I said above, when people hear a movie flopped, they usually don’t go see it in the theater (They wait until it’s on Netflix or at Redbox). Yet I have a feeling that the main reason why The Lone Ranger isn’t doing well is because people are tired of Johnny Depp.

Don’t get me wrong. Johnny Depp did well as Tonto (I’m curious to see the reception among the American Indian communities). In fact, he took a racially-stereotyped character created solely for comic relief and gave him a serious emotional burden, as well as a position as more of the brains of the operation than the plucky sidekick (I called him sidekick above because Tonto’s not technically the hero of this story). Think of him as Q to John Reid’s James Bond.

Now, that’s not to say Depp as Tonto wasn’t still wacky and funny. Because he was. And his weird humor paired with Armie Hammer’s dorky, naïve humor worked really well. The problem lies with Depp’s overexposure as a character actor (A character actor is considered someone who often plays unusual or eccentric characters). This was a man who once carried smaller, independent films with his heavy-hitting acting. Now, he’s become whatever his mask is. In the last decade, he’s been Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd, the Mad Hatter, Barnabas Collins, and now Tonto. It’s like we’ve lost Johnny Depp. Seriously. Try to describe him without using the words weird, wacky, odd, unique, or different. It’s hard, isn’t it? I think people got bored with this schtick.

Forget about Depp for a moment. Two actors who delivered the strongest, most believable performances in this movie were Armie Hammer, who played the title hero, and William Fichtner, who played villainous outlaw Butch Cavendish. Hammer was handsome but awkward, tough but inexperienced, and compassionate but foolish—the right combination of light and dark for John Reid. Fichtner, on the other hand, is tougher to describe because I think he can naturally play the villain. I mean, he didn’t look scary at all (In fact, he looked rather scrawny and had a cleft lip). But, goddamn, he had a snakelike voice and shifty eyes that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. The only thing that disappointed me with their performances was that Reid and Cavendish’s final confrontation was never really resolved. Cavendish got crushed by a train while Reid got away, but I felt like it could’ve been a really great moment for both of the actors if Reid had actually killed Cavendish. Damn writers…

Now, you know I already complained about how this movie was just overloaded with bloated, unnecessary things. But the one thing that made this movie great was the climatic chase scene with the two trains and the confrontations between the heroes and the villains (Yes, villains, because outlaws never do anything without a backer. Keep that in mind if you see this movie). There was danger, comedy, action—everything to really round out the whole movie. And, of course, the entire sequence was set to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” which was just perfect. It was such a campy throwback to the old Lone Ranger. I loved it (Thank you again, Hans Zimmer). Not to mention, you could tell how choreographed this scene was by how flawlessly everything flowed together. And you know what? That one great sequence made you realize just how off the rest of the movie was.

What do I mean? Well, as I said, this sequence was so thought-out and had a great balance of campy humor and violence that it doesn’t fit with the first three-quarters of the movie. Or perhaps the first three-quarters of the movie doesn’t fit with this one scene. The tone of The Lone Ranger was so indecisive, it was giving me whiplash. We were thrown back and forth between the shenanigans of John Reid, Tonto, and the weird-ass spirit horse (who was a scene-stealer) and an incredible amount of gloomy violence (like Butch Cavendish carving out and eating Reid’s brother’s heart, the flashback to the massacre of Tonto’s village, and the aftermath of the Comanche vs. the cavalry). Not that you can’t have both light and dark or funny and sad in one movie, but you have to do so in a way that isn’t jarring. And this movie’s tone was extremely jarring, so much that I wondered who Verbinski and the writers were truly targeting for their audience. It was almost too dark for kids and too goofy for adults. So, basically, The Lone Ranger wasn’t the great movie it could’ve been because it had a major identity crisis.

Overall, The Lone Ranger is a good movie that was bogged down by its own confusion with what it wanted to be. The director and writers clearly couldn’t decide whether they’d go with the playful “Hi Ho, Silver!” approach or the conflicted vigilante approach. So, instead, they chose to do both, which threw off the entire balance of this movie’s nature (Points for my Tonto reference, anyone?). Besides the sluggish run-time and unnecessary narrative structure, everything else is beautiful. Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, and William Fichtner deliver strong performances; the cinematography made me want to pack up my things and move to the desert; and Hans Zimmer perfects yet another blockbuster soundtrack (Seriously, buying this right now). After seeing The Lone Ranger, it was hard not feel bad for its dismal box office total. *sigh* Here’s to what could have been…

The Lone Ranger: B-

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