With its stop-start production saga and its poor performance at the box office, a disproportionate amount of ink has been spilled on Disney's The Lone Ranger considering its really just a mediocre Western that wants to be a tentpole franchise in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean.
When it bombed over the summer, the big names behind the film, including star Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, lined up to blame its poor performance on negative reviews. It was a ridiculous reaction that gave film critics way too much credit for their ability to influence commercial success (how to explain the popularity of Transformers or The Fast & The Furious then, Johnny and Jerry) and not enough credit for their intellectual honesty or their proclivity for defending movies that they like.
But, you know, having seen The Lone Ranger now, I don't think it was completely baseless. It's not great, but it's not terrible by any stretch either. The critical negativity surrounding the film seems just as out of line as the excuses from the people behind the film for its poor performance. The thing is, it has its moments, and Depp's performance as The Lone Ranger's sidekick Tonto is actually quite good. It's certainly the best collaboration between Depp and director Gore Verbinski since the first Pirates of the Caribbean. That includes the bewilderingly beloved Rango.
So why did it flop? Well, I suspect the tarnished reputation of Depp, Verbinski and Bruckheimer after the last few Pirates films came home to roost here. I'd also guess that The Lone Ranger just doesn't mean that much to the chil'ren these days. Much to my chagrin, Westerns seem to be a slowly dying breed in Hollywood. That has to be doubly so for a hero with no special power and roots in the golden age of radio. Finally, casting Armie Hammer as the lead seems like a miscalculation, at least in terms of box office draw.
Oddly enough, none of these factors have much to do with the actual piece that was produced. With an elderly Tonto recounting how he and The Lone Ranger first met and began fighting evil in the Old West, it's actually an entertaining and humorous origin story. Hammer, playing an awkward and stuffy lawyer thrust in to the role of vigilante after his much tougher brother Sheriff Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) is killed by outlaws, is a capable foil for Depp's Tonto, who is a mad sage outcast.
There are problems aplenty. The plot is bloated by at least three main villains -- Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole, a railroad tycoon, William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish, a cannibalistic gunslinger who does most of the dirty work for Cole, and Barry Pepper as a corrupted officer in the U.S. cavalry. Helena Bonham Carter shows up as a brothel madam because, I guess, she could? She's non-essential, serving to establish Cavendish as someone with a taste for human flesh, but little else. This is how you end up with a nine-figure budget and a run time that pushes two-and-a-half hours.
But even accounting for those flaws, I can't say I didn't enjoy myself. Hammer and Depp have real chemistry and there are several outstanding action sequences aboard fast-moving locomotives. Maybe it's just me, and I'm pulling for a genre I love more than I'm pulling for the film itself, but I'd rather watch a Lone Ranger sequel than a 47th Spider-Man reboot. It doesn't seem likely that I'll get that chance. Just as with The Lone Ranger himself, I guess the rest of the world has moved on.