I just moved halfway across the country and didn't get a chance to see The Lone Ranger. I figured it was probably terrible and figured I'd ask Grierson to make sure. Thus, a conversation between someone who hasn't seen The Lone Ranger but suspects it's lousy and someone who has seen it and therefore knows so.
OK, Grierson, so all my travels of the past week have made it impossible for me to see The Lone Ranger. But I think it's gotta be awful, right? It was ravaged by budget concerns, slapped together at the last minute, and bloated pretty much from the get-go. Our job, however, as PROFESSIONAL CRITICS OF CINEMA, is to go into every movie with as open a mind as possible, positioning ourselves as the ideal viewer, one who just wants to be entertained.
So, to you, PROFESSIONAL CRITIC OF CINEMA who has seen the movie, I have a few questions:
1. This looks like Wild Wild West, with Will Smith as Tonto and Armie Hammer as Kevin Kline. Is it?
2. Seriously, what IS with Johnny Depp as Tonto? Like, why is he playing Tonto again? He said he wanted to do a more "sensitive" portrayal of a Native American. Did he? Was it a really bad idea for him to try it in the first place?
Also, they at least play the song, right?
Hey, Will. I went into The Lone Ranger completely forgetting about all that preproduction chaos, which I think is just as well: As Matt Singer wrote a couple weeks ago about World War Z, there's no guarantee that a troubled production will automatically translate into a bad movie. (Apocalypse Now turned out OK.) But by the time I walked out of the theater, though, I sure remembered all those budget stories. Yeah, The Lone Ranger is just terrible—it's bloated, and tonally it's a mess, and it's not funny. It's just plain awful.
As for your specific questions...
1. I think The Lone Ranger is gonna be compared to Wild Wild West a lot because they're both Westerns, both action-comedies, and both wretched. (Also, they may both be commercial disappointments.) But what they most have is common is that they follow the same, overconfident formula, which leads to total disaster. WWW was made by the team that had such big success with Men in Black—star Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld—and they assumed that if a sci-fi mismatched-buddy-comedy worked, you could do the exact same thing in the Old West. Except Men in Black was really funny, and WWW really wasn't.
That's The Lone Ranger's problem, too. Star Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer all teamed up for the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. They've essentially made another Pirates but as a Western: Depp once again dresses up in makeup and plays a "kooky" character, and there are lots of extravagant set pieces, broad humor, and an ungodly running time. (The movie is 150 minutes long, which is still shorter than two of the three Pirates films they did together.) It's not so much that Depp and Hammer are Smith and Kline, but Lone Ranger sure is pleased with itself for the cleverness of its construction, which also sunk WWW. There are few things sadder than watching a bad, long, unfunny movie that seems to be high-fiving itself constantly because it thinks it's really fun and great.
2. Depp's performance as Tonto is more of the same shtick he's been doing for most of this century. He's not mimicking the flamboyant Jack Sparrow routine as much as he's going for the "I sure am quietly odd, aren't I?" bit that he used for Dark Shadows. I honestly don't know if Native American groups will get that annoyed by the portrayal: It's not that the performance is culturally insensitive so much as it's just a big, vague cartoon of a human being. What is pretty frightening is that this portrayal is Depp's idea of restoring honor to Tonto. I suppose it's good that Tonto doesn't run around scalping people and doing rain dances all the time, but Depp instead turns him into an "adorable" Charlie Chaplin-like figure whose straight-faced response to all the nuttiness around him is meant to suggest a heightened intelligence. It's condescending in its own way.
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3. And yeah, they do use the "William Tell Overture." It's the best part of the movie, no joke.
Yeah, but wasn't Rango good? That's what gave me hope for this: I generally feel like Verbinski is underrated. But I might be imagining that. More to the point, though: What's new? Like, this is the Lone Ranger, one of the most iconic American characters. Do they do anything new with him? Is there a reinvention? I like Hammer: How is he? This is gonna flop. Has to, right? This is now quite a few messes, misses, facepalms in a row from Depp. He needs to stop this, yes? What should he do next? Did the Pirates movies just ruin him forever? If you were to rank this among the Pirates movies, where is it?
Rango was good, but there was a care to that movie that The Lone Ranger doesn't have. It just feels slapped together in a desperate, cynical way—here's another action sequence, shut up—whereas Rango had real charm, humor and sweetness to it. I haven't seen Verbinski's "smaller" movies—The Weather Man, The Mexican, Mouse Hunt—but his blockbuster films are mostly unimpressive. I liked Rango and the first Pirates, but The Ring did nothing for me, and the Pirates sequels he made (Dead Man's Chest and At World's End) just went on forever.
Hammer is fine in The Lone Ranger, but if you'd seen him in this only, you'd be hard-pressed to understand why anybody would think he was a good actor. He's far removed from his Winklevoss-twins turn in The Social Network—and he's not even as funny as he was in Mirror Mirror. That's a big problem. Like a lot of origin-story blockbusters, The Lone Ranger is about how an ordinary guy becomes a mythic hero, but the script is totally by-the-numbers, laying out all the big trademarks—the silver bullets, the white horse, the mask—in uninspired fashion. You don't walk away from the movie thinking that Hammer was born to play the Lone Ranger. Honestly, I'm not sure if I could even tell you anything about who the Lone Ranger is from this movie.
If The Lone Ranger does flop, there will be approximately 150,000 "How can Depp resurrect his career?" pieces out next Monday. Part of me wonders if Depp will care all that much, though. Did you read his interview in Rolling Stone? This is a guy who doesn't watch his movies and talks a little about retiring from acting at some point. For him, it seems like the process of putting together a character is more rewarding than what the final product is—or how it's received. He's too good of an actor to be "ruined forever," but I will be selfish and say that I miss the Depp who also did smaller movies like Donnie Brasco. I missed that guy a lot during The Lone Ranger.
As for ranking The Lone Ranger alongside the Pirates movies, it's way worse than any of them. It's such a joyless romp. At least Pirates—at the start, anyway—was powered by this strange, funny Jack Sparrow character. The Lone Ranger doesn't even have that. I realize the more I dump on this movie, the more people might be tempted to think I'm exaggerating. I really am not. Some bad would-be blockbusters are crazy misfires that people enjoy laughing at—like After Earth--but The Lone Ranger is that other kind (like the Transformers movies) that are just loud and crass and stupid. Watching actors I like get dragged through this junk is deeply depressing.
Man, you Grierson & Leitch jerks just hate everything.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.