When the last two films in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise wound up
shipwrecked and crashed upon the rocks – huge box office numbers notwithstanding- the powers that be at Disney were left with a seriously tough question.
Well, the answer is… yes, but not completely all the way “back.” Not yet, anyway.
If I may clarify – yes, there is a new Disney movie coming out this 4th of July weekend that is directed by Gore Verbinski, that is written by the duo of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and is starring Johnny Depp as a quirky, out-of-his-mind anti-hero that tends to stray on the other side of the law.
But, the thing is, there are no naval battles, swashbucklers, yo-ho-hos, or bottles of rum and it is does not have the words “Pirates of the Caribbean” attached to the title. However, for those “Pirates” fans out there on the verge of walking the plank, thinking that the franchise is over, I have good news – “Pirates 5″ has officially been greenlighted, albeit without Verbinski behind the helm.
So, how is this possible, you may ask?
Pay attention everybody, it’s quite ingenious really. They switched out the ocean for the desert. They replaced the ships with horses. And they refurbished all of those pirate-types and rear admirals, cleaned them up (actually, not that much cleaner), and switched out their frilly shirts and bandanas into ten-gallon hats and dust-covered jackets. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. They changed the name of Johnny Depp’s character from Captain Jack Sparrow to Tonto.
Thus, the newest, viable, live-action franchise in the Disney stable was born.
Say hello, to “The Lone Ranger.” Hi-yo Silver, awaaaaayyyyy!!!!
Total brilliance, right?
Not so fast, Kemo Sabe. The biggest problem with a movie-version of “The Lone Ranger” is that most of the moviegoers that were born after the year 1980 have no frickin’ idea who The Lone Ranger is.
They have no idea about the history of the character and how it was created as a radio show in 1933. They don’t know the story of John Reid and how and why he wears a mask, takes on the evil bad guys, while riding a horse named Silver around the Old West as the “William Tell Overture” plays in the background.
In fact, most of these kids have no idea what the William Tell Overture sounds like in the first place. Sure, when they hear it they might say, “Oh yeah, I know THAT song.” But that’s usually accompanied with something like, “I had no idea that was this Lone Ranger dude’s theme song.”
And therein lies the biggest problem that “The Lone Ranger” must contend
with, which is the same problem that also plagues every other Golden or Silver Era TV/radio show, obscure, cult comic book/graphic novel, or remake of a successful foreign or independent film.
To be brutally honest, not many people, going into this film, know who this guy is.
So when the “William Tell Overture” is eventually heard (and it’s early on – so, chill – it’s not a spoiler), only a handful of audience members will know how to react to it. It’s the same with the origin of “the mask,” the back story of Tonto, or the utterance of the aforementioned “Hi-yo Silver, awaaaay!” It just doesn’t get the desired effect that is needed to warrant The Lone Ranger being brought back from the dead… again.
And this isn’t some low-budget retelling of the legend, like the 2003 made-for-TV movie starring Chad Michael Murray on The WB. Neither is it the failed 1981 film, “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” which starred that acting prodigy Klinton Spilsbury (who?) in the title role and grossed around $12 million at the box-office. This is the real deal. In fact, this version is so real that it was rumored to have a budget between $200 and 250 million, as well as a slew of production hiccups and various other setbacks.
So, here’s the real, real deal. First off, a slew of resources and top-tier talent was put behind a character that hasn’t been relevant for decades. Secondly, the genre of this particular film (the polarizing “western”) isn’t exactly EVERYBODY’S glass of sarsaparilla. And third, the bankable star of the movie (Johnny Depp) doesn’t even play the good guy character of the film. That honor goes to relative unknown Armie Hammer (who played BOTH Winklevoss Twins in “The Social Network”).
Of course, Captain Jack Sparrow wasn’t really the good guy in “Pirates…” either, but Capt. Jack was a charismatic buffoon who managed to luck into heroic deeds from time to time. Depp’s character of Tonto is a very hard one to peg down and ultimately get behind. Tonto is borderline batshit, although he does claim to be a valiant Comanche warrior who is on the hunt for the ancient Native-American mythical beast known as the “wendigo” – which, according to the dictionary, is “a demonic being who eats people or possesses them and turns them into cannibals.”
Wait a minute, you might say, the bad guy in this film is a monstrous adversary who is possessed by a demon and eats people? How can this film be bad?
I know, I know. I experienced the same excited reaction after the “wendigo” concept was unleashed on me and the rest of the unassuming audience – who, most likely, expected the bad guy to be the same ole’ tired western cliché like a dirty gunslinger or greasy railroad tycoon. Well, I hate to be the one to get your hopes up, just to dash them to pieces again, but I’m sorry to say that – despite the briefly visited notions of creative, original and interesting antagonists – the same ole tired western clichés are regrettably a major part of the story line of “The Lone Ranger.”
This goes double for the film’s villains, which might go down as some of the least-threatening adversaries in this summer’s movie season. Even Gargamel from the upcoming “Smurfs 2,” looks like he’ll be more frightening than these guys were. I mean, this is the only movie where a bad guy literally rips another guy’s heart out of his chest and EATS it and gets NO reaction, whatsoever. Not even an “ewwhh” or a “yuck” – nada.
However, it was no fault of the actors portraying the villains, as William
Fichtner (who plays the hare lipped villain Butch Cavendish) and Tom Wilkinson (who portrays Cole, who brings possible bad intentions, along with the railroad, to life in Texas in 1869) do their damndest to make these dudes scary, but their motives make it just so hard to buy in.
QUICK SIDE NOTE: This must be the “Summer of James Badge Dale” (which, itself, sounds like a good name for a western movie), as the hard-working actor is averaging about a blockbuster-a-week during this summer. In this movie, he plays lawman Dan Reid, who just happens to be the big brother of the college-educated John Reid, who just happens to eventually become The Lone Ranger. Dale also starred in “Iron Man 3,” opposite Robert Downey J., as Savin – the sneering, cocky henchman for the film’s villain Aldrich Killian. And last, but (in my opinion) not least, he had a brief role in “World War Z” as Captain Speke – a soldier who helps Brad Pitt’s character out during his stop in Korea.
Even some of the most dependable actors working in film today end up drowning in the 149 minutes of drawn-out and dragged-around story. It’s absolutely amazing how nothing ever seems to happen, but everybody’s always going somewhere. It’s like an exercise in cinematic futility. If not for the comedic stylings of Depp – and the way he has utterly mastered the art of saying something while saying nothing – the film would’ve been a complete failure.
So, I guess it was a good idea to cast Depp as the Native-American Tonto, after all. He certainly would NOT have been a viable option as the title character, that’s for sure. By the way, the makeup for Tonto is awesome (as is the weird half-dead crow on top of his head), even it was straight jacked from a Kirby Sattler painting called “I am Crow.”
Even when the characters do end up reaching an interesting destination and you think the story is going to travel to new and exciting heights, it simply flatlines. Nowhere is this more evident than in the scene in which The Lone Ranger and Tonto visit a travelling brothel/saloon – that’s like a cross between “Moulin Rouge” and the “Titty Twister” in “From Dusk Till Dawn” – which is owned by a one-legged dancer named Red Harrington (played by Helena Bonham Carter – who, is apparently the only actress that’s allowed to play the innkeeper-type role in films during this era of history).
Again, a scene that started out brimming with possibility ended up falling flat on
its face and being just plain boring. Even when Red reveals that her leg is fake, made of ivory, decorated with scrimshaw and has a hidden compartment that fires bullets, it just isn’t interesting. In fact, I remember thinking, “Wow, this would’ve been cool… if it wasn’t done a thousand times better by Rose McGowan’s character in “Planet Terror.”
Those previously mentioned 149 minutes of horse-riding train robbers squaring off against horse-riding vigilantes is stretched out until it just can’t move another inch with ripping in two. Thankfully, that painful tear never really occurs, but it sure does cut it close. There were moments – in between the umpteen fights on top of moving railroad cars and various gunfights and ambushes – where I simply wish the movie would’ve simply ended. There’s just so many times you can watch the same dudes jump off something (whether it be a train or a cliff or whatever) in order to escape certain doom.
The usually reliable duo of Rossio and Elliot tried to fit too many storylines into the script, which they thought would help the audience connect with the two protagonists. For me, the inclusion of Tonto’s history was one of the biggest letdowns that graced the 2+ hours of the see-saw screenplay. It just added more confusion to an unnecessarily confusing story. It could have been much simpler (and waaaaay shorter) and audiences would’ve been just as happy – even happier. Instead, it’s the exact same thing that happened to “Man of Steel” earlier this summer. The only difference is that the character of Superman is definitely more well-known and popular than The Lone Ranger will ever be.
However, what I believe to be the worst blunder that the film made was the inclusion of this strange, interspersing storyline that takes place over 50 years past the primary storyline in 1930s San Francisco. It opens up the film by featuring a young boy – dressed in cowboy duds and a mask like an adolescent version of the Lone Ranger – that walks into an old west exhibit in a travelling circus and comes face-to-face with a living, breathing part of the exhibit entitled, “The Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat.”
Eventually, the apparent wax sculpture comes to life (the audience has no clue whether this is magic, a hallucination, a daydream of an imaginative child, or the real deal) and alludes the fact that he is the legendary Tonto. This is supposed to introduce a clever excuse to tell the legend of the masked man (to both the audience and little boy), but I just found it clumsy, poorly thought-out and badly executed.
Another plotline of the film that I thought should have been crumpled up and left in the trashcan by Elliott and Rossio is the character of Rebecca Reid, who is the poorly-constructed love interest for BOTH Reid brothers (played by English actress Ruth Wilson in her first, Hollywood movie). See, Rebecca is married to and has a son with older brother Dan, but she has a romantic history with John when they were younger. It continuously brings the film to a screeching halt – in terms of pacing – and, if truth be told, it makes The Lone Ranger seem like the kind of a-hole that would try to sleep with his brother’s wife only mere hours after his brother was just violently murdered. Not exactly the stuff of legends. More like the stuff of soap operas, if you ask me.
Anyway, the film is far from perfect. In fact, it’s not that close to being good, either. That being said, anybody who’s heard about “The Lone Ranger,” read about it, or seen the commercials and/or the trailers for it know that the only reason that people are going to flock to see a film based on a 1930’s radio show is the same reason that people packed theaters to see films based on a boat ride at Walt Disney World – simply to see Johnny Depp play a quirky weirdo with a funny accent. And guess what?
Disney wouldn’t have it any, other way.