APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 18: The Lone Ranger (2013)

So who is this movie for?

Anyone that cares about the Lone Ranger is either ancient or so deeply invested in a character that hasn’t appeared in popular media since 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger. Sure, there were comic books from Topps and Dynamite Comics, as well as a collection of short stories and a 2003 WB TV movie that had Chad Michael Murray as Luke Hartman instead of John Reid. Actually, nobody really saw that movie as it was a pilot for an unpicked up series that was played in summer when nobody really ever watches.

Columbia Pictures had wanted to make a Lone Ranger film since 2002, as The Mask of Zorro was successful. Columbia wanted Tonto to be a female love interest, which would have made a small number of fans upset, but by 2005, the project was in turnaround.

Entertainment Rights eventually brought producer Jerry Bruckheimer in and got The Lone Ranger on board with Walt Disney Pictures, who were looking for another Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. They doubled down on that, casting Johnny Depp as Tonto and had Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio start writing a script that may have been about supernatural coyotes.

Finally, Gore Verbinski was hired to direct and Armie Hammer was selected to play the Lone Ranger. But the film was nearly canceled when Disney CEO Bob Iger and then Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross had concerns over the film’s budget. Once Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Depp and Hammer deferred 20% of their salaries to minimize the overall cost, production began in February 2012. And then Ross was out and Alan F. Horn was in and he was already concerned. After all, bad guy Butch Cavendish ate the heart of the Lone Range’s brother.

Wasn’t this a family movie?

Who was this for?

If you can’t answer that, then how can you put $250 million into production and $150 million into marketing?

Even though the movie made $250 million worldwide — which is a great showing — it didn’t have a chance of breaking even.

So why did this movie get made?

I wonder that myself.

Why does it start not with the origin of its characters but instead with an old Tonto sitting inside a museum display?

Why do the Lone Ranger and Tonto come to blows in the film?

And again, who wanted this movie? I mean, I love The ShadowThe PhantomGreen HornetDoc Savage and other radio era heroes, I also realize that I am not the audience that makes you money.

The origin is pretty good, though. Lawyer John Reid is returning to Texas on one of Latham Cole’s (Tom Wilkinson) trains, which also has Tonto and Cavendish (William Fichtner, who I love and would cast in any movie) on board. The Texas Rangers, led by John’s brother Dan (James Badge Dale), have captured Cavendish, who is soon rescued by his gang. With the train derailed, Dan deputizes John just in time to walk into a trap where everyone dies except John, who Tonto believes can’t die thanks to a white horse hovering over the not dead man’s grave. Now, the world may believe that John is dead, but he has a mask, a mission and a silver bullet made from the fallen Rangers’ badges. Tonto tells him to use it on Cavendish, as he thinks that the criminal is actually a wendigo.

How did Tonto come to believe this? When he was young, he rescued Cavendish and showed him a mountain full of silver ore in exchange for a pocket watch. Later, Butch murdered Tinto’s tribe to keep the location a secret, leaving the Native American burdened with guilt.

But man, the rest of the movie is a mess. It’s a big loud mess and I should love it, but I just see so much excess on screen when this could be lean and fun and the same budget could have made five of these movies. How much did this movie lose? Studio president Alan Bergman was asked if Disney could recoup its losses on The Lone Ranger and John Carter through subsequent releases or other methods and he said, “I’m going to answer that question honestly and tell you no, it didn’t get that much better. We did lose that much money on those movies.”

I mean, as written many times, a bomb doesn’t necessarily make for a bad movie. And I’m guilty for looking at those issues as much as the film, just like Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Hammer and Depp all said, claiming that bad reviews were influenced by all the production troubles and big budget.

Westerns have continually failed over the last few years and even though I’m the kind of weirdo who can tell you that there’s a scene in this that is taken directly from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and got the John Ford reference, you have to sell audiences as to why a Western works. That’s why The Hateful Eight works and this doesn’t. Then again, that’s not a big franchise movie and hey, Tarantino picked this as one of his top ten movies of 2013.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this movie is that I had never seen Armie Hammer in a movie before, but knew him from the allegations that he had asked a girlfriend to remove one of her ribs surgically so that he could eat it. Another girlfriend claimed that he repeatedly wanted to eat her flesh and would lick cuts that she had.

Everyone’s kink is everyone’s kink, but wow, dude.

And Johnny Depp…

Anyways. Let’s get past the budget and scandal and think to something Bruckheimer said.

“I think it is going to be looked back on as a brave, wonderful film. I’ve been through this a lot with journalists. We made a movie years ago called Flashdance, and I remember one journalist just giving us the worst review ever. Then, about five years later, we get this kind of love letter – that he totally “missed” it. That he loved the movie, and it’s kind of the same with you that, any time it’s on, you have to watch it. It happens, you know.”

This is not that love letter.

The Lone Ranger is a movie that thinks that putting huge set pieces in the place of human drama equals a great movie. And I get it, I know how blockbusters work, but after two Lone Ranger movies with good Butch Cavendish actors and not much else, do I have to wait until 2057 for someone to do it right? This is a few steps removed from The Wild Wild West, another heartbreaker of a movie because it’s a franchise that only fat old men like me care about and the movie was made to totally not be for us — rightly so, because it needs a mass audience — but it no way connects with anyone other than the whims of its filmmakers.

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