Taking the Bullet

by wjw on January 10, 2015

I got a bunch of free premium channels for a limited time, and I saw “The Lone Ranger” so you’ll never have to.

I don’t know why I keep taking these bullets for you people.  It’s not like I’m paid for this, and it’s not like the bullets are real silver.

I thought, as I viewed it, that this might in fact be the worst movie ever made.  It’s well past the “It’s so bad it’s good,” and well into the “It’s so bad it’s perfectly unspeakable.”

Eventually I decided that there may be worse movies that I haven’t actually seen, so I’ll just put “The Lone Ranger” into the category of “worst movie costing over $200 million.”

And the thing is, the film kept whipsawing me.  It really is a well-made film, and Gore Verbinsky truly is a very good director.  Individual scenes were terrifically visualized and executed.  Parts of the overlong, overly complex final action scene are quite stirring.  There are very good actors in this film.  But other scenes were so horrible that I could only stare in disbeliefs.  They were working from the worst script ever.

It must have seemed a slam-dunk.  Disney wanted another franchise along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean, so they hired the PotC writing team, star, and director.  The director had previous experience directing a western, Rango, which also featured Depp.  And then the whole thing not only went off the rails, it plunged screaming off the rails into an abyss.

Here’s some of the things that went wrong.

Expectations.  Commencing a project like this, one would have to ask what people might actually expect from a Lone Ranger film.

I am possibly of the last generation that saw the Clayton Moore TV series, of which I actually remember very little.  I wasn’t a huge fan.  Never had the toys, never read the comic books.  And when I ask myself what I’d want from a Lone Ranger feature, I’m kind of at a loss.  Stalwart hero, loyal sidekick, pretty horse, bad guys . . . anything else?  Mmm, guess not.

So the creators had to try to figure out what the audience expected, and then either play along with or play against their expectations.  They decided to play against expectations by making the stalwart hero inept and the sidekick crazy, which means that any actual Lone Ranger fans will jump ship right at the start.

(We still got the pretty horse, though.)

I mean, we want the competent hero to kick ass!  We want the protagonist to protag!  Not having him protag is like making a Godzilla movie without Godzilla!  (Um . . . oh . . . wait . . . )

And it’s the first film of a franchise, so it has to be the origin story.  And the Long Ranger is basically a superhero set in the Old West, so the first film has to be an origin story explaining how the Lone Ranger gets his iconic mask, bullets, sidekick, and horse.

The Lone Ranger’s actual origin story— which was probably unknown to anyone who hadn’t listened to the original radio serial in the 1930s— is a standard superhero origin.  His brother is killed by baddies, and he dons the mask to go on a mission of vengeance.  Should be simple, no?

So why does it take so freaking long?  Why does it take 50 minutes for the John Reid to don the mask?

Because they decided to make him a putz.  At the beginning of the story, John Reid can’t ride, can’t shoot, can’t fight.   All he can do is get shot at, beat up, and used as an object for crude humor.   Having him be competent at something other than getting punched in the nose might have sped things along.

Would we wait 90 minutes for Batman to knock the bad guys sprawling?  Would you make a Superman movie in which it takes Supes 90 minutes to rescue someone from certain death?

There are lot of bad guys in the film, at least two sets of them who interact in various ways, and the whole middle 45 minutes just goes to explaining their complicated plot.  Can’t we have one set of bad guys with one plot?  Because then you could junk most of those 45 minutes, which do nothing but slow everything down.

And then there’s, o God, Tonto.  Now there are good reasons for not wanting to do the loyal Injun sidekick with the fractured English.  You don’t want the imperialist stereotype.  Fine.

But on the other hand, the creators didn’t want to go to the trouble of making Tonto a real Indian, either.  Maybe because Depp wanted to play him as a goofball.  So he’s the guy with the dead bird on his head.  So now we have two comic-relief protagonists.

But Tonto is also comic relief with a long, tragic backstory. Because that’s what we want, a comic sidekick with a horrendously tragic backstory.   Andy Devine and Pat Buttram always had lengthy, tragic backstories in all of their movies, right?

Plus there’s the frame story.  The whole tale is related by Tonto, who has graduated to the role of elderly sideshow attraction.  Tonto is clearly an unreliable narrator, because that sort of irony is totally what you want in your superhero movies.  It’s like having your Batman movie related by Solomon Grundy, or Superman’s adventures as told by Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Besides, after John Carter, I’d have thought that Disney would have had it with frame stories.  Would, in fact, have put up a big sign over the main gate saying NO FRAME STORIES HERE, EVER!

In addition to all that, there’s a cute kid who gets put in jeopardy, a couple of speeding, out-of-control trains, the U.S. cavalry, and (way too late) the William Tell Overture.

In fact everything in the movie is way too late, including all the parts that actually work.

So anyway, the movie didn’t do well, and the creative team are back to doing Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and 6 (formerly Lone Ranger 2 and 3).  

And I was left bewildered and screaming at my TV set.  Which, alas, is not entirely out of the ordinary for me.

kpacheneg January 10, 2015 at 5:41 pm

I take it then you haven’t seen Bayformers? :3

katfeete January 10, 2015 at 10:35 pm

I’m not sure why, but when you started talking about “incompetent Western superhero”, I suddenly visualized a mashup of the Lone Ranger and Lee Marvin’s Kid Shelleen character from Cat Ballou.

I… I would actually pay money to see that.

This movie, however, I think I’ll skip.

Kathy January 11, 2015 at 2:11 am

THAT was the noise last night. You screaming at the TV set.

Phil Koop January 12, 2015 at 2:32 am

Oh dear. You make it sound like a reworking of Don Quixote as narrated by Sancho.

Bruce Arthurs January 14, 2015 at 8:42 am

So, it’s the “Cutthroat Island” of Westerns?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.