18 July 2022

10 Years On: The Lone Ranger Again

Well folks...it's the ten year anniversary of The Lone Ranger (2013)! Why do I still care about this? Well, no one else was going to honor the decade mark of one of our greatest modern blockbusters. Or...um...a really big movie that had no impact culturally, critically, or commercially. But it's really good, I swear. I'm also curious to look at this again based on two things we're now dealing with in 2022: 1) the complete and utter unbankability of its two principal stars and 2) its notorious absence from Disney+...or anywhere.

To be honest, I had trouble even finding an image that wasn't dead

For better or worse The Lone Ranger has become a sort of poster child for one of Norwegian Morning Wood's primary ambitions - to dissect mainstream popular culture to find out why certain properties hit big and why others fall by the wayside. The latter is obviously far more interesting to me, and there isn't a movie made in the past ten years that better shows this phenomenon. Why didn't The Lone Ranger succeed?

It reunited at the time still major A-lister Johnny Depp with Gore Verblinksi yet again after Rango (2011) and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. That series was still riding so high it cranked out Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) a few years later. I mean, neither that or On Stranger Tides (2011) were any good, but they were still making money. And it's clear that Verblinksi's ability to wrangle both complex character work and an astounding amount of callbacks with period action is what made the original trilogy great. Anyone notice how no other modern pirate movies are any good? There is a lot of lightning in a bottle here.

The Lone Ranger had this star and director pedigree. It had the momentum of Armie Hammer, then a fresh face ready to breakout. He started with The Social Network (2010) and J. Edgar (2011), but soon was one of the better parts of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and perhaps his most notable work, Call Me By Your Name (2017). It was really ready to peak.

It was a western, of course, which isn't always the most popular genre these days, but they still do reasonably well enough. But it was also a heavy, HEAVILY revisionist western that touts less the glorious, God-driven conquest of the West by righteous Americans than elucidates the wholesale slaughter and treachery bestowed upon the indigenous peoples of this continent in order for our nation to claim its destiny. So, it's got a unique spin. Not only that, but it's based on a very popular pre-existing property with a classic score to fuel its action - there is little that beats the William Tell Overture.

Actors, directors, genre, context - it also adds action. Some of what I might say is the best train action...ever in a movie. That's the one thing that folks might still talk about, but the adventure sequences are legitimately phenomenal. There are thrills, turns, danger, building upon highs and lows and heavily based in character. It's a tremendous achievement. It's what Verblinksi did with ships but with trains. It just works. Everything in this movie works.

But it failed. I suppose there are cracks everywhere. It was maybe one white-faced character (ironically playing redface) for Depp too many. Verblinksi lost cred because of going over budget and reshoots (for the record, I still have NO idea why this is ever considered a bad thing, like who cares. Base your judgment on the text). His assurance as a director fell further with A Cure for Wellness (2016), which I still think is pretty good until the ending is overburdened with stupidity. Hammer always seems appealing but actually lacks the charisma to carry a movie. Getting by on the skin of his teeth, if you will. And no one actually wants to see a movie about why American history is bad on the Fourth of July.

And all that based on a previous IP, thing? Well, my dad wasn't really lining up for this movie and he was Hi Ho Silver's prime fan in his youth. It tended to stray really far from the source material, and mostly just aped its music and setting to tell its own story. I mean, that sounds perfect, right?! Well, all of the goodwill it had built up was squandered pretty fast. Ultimately, while I really liked it, I can see why maybe the masses wouldn't. Hence why the only thing we talk about these days are those trains.

As if The Lone Ranger couldn't sink any further, though, now we have some problems with its cast. We were already squint-eyeing Depp for this since he justified his casting by saying he was like 1/64th Cherokee. I mean, whatever, we can all do ancestry.com. The Depp / Heard trial this year was a huge event and even though officially the outcome was pretty much "They're both abusive idiots" it's easy to take that any direction you want. You can say that Heard was an out of control maniac (funny, most men seem to be doing that online), or you can say that Depp was a toxic vortex. Both are probably right, but everyone has been distancing from Johnny over the last few years. It doesn't help make people want to revisit a notable career misstep.

And Armie Hammer. Man. Maaaan...every story in the past year is crazier than the last. His wealthy family cut him off, he's selling timeshares in the Cayman Islands, he expressed violent sexual fantasies, and has been credibly accused of sexual assault. And he apparently likes eating people? Or wanted to? I really don't think that Armie Hammer ever ate anybody. That's his character from Sorry to Bother You (2018). But it doesn't do The Lone Ranger any favors. It is unbelievable that this doomed movie has found a bigger mess for itself.

I was really excited about Disney+ because I can't find this film on streaming anywhere. I thought, "Oh, Disney+ will just automatically have every Disney blockbuster, money in the bank!" This thing is not on there. It might be an attempt to continue distancing the studio from two actors who are now box office poison. Or maybe it's because it was just a complete flop that no one is really proud of. Maybe it's simpler than that, apparently it had a contract with Starz that only expired last November. But that is getting to be eight months ago now. Where is our Lone Ranger, Disney?! I want to see the trains!

There is a special kind of hell for this movie. I should just buy the DVD. But as much as I love it, I kind of don't want to give Depp and Hammer residuals, you know? Maybe I can take solace about my money going to Verblinski, or Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, or James Badge Dale, William Fichtner, or anyone else who is awesome in this. Yeah, there aren't a lot of great female roles. That's unfortunate.

Part of this then becomes Death of the Author-type stuff. Can we separate the artist from the work? Man I'd like to. The Usual Suspects (1995) is a really fun movie, folks. Both Depp and Hammer are terrible, but I don't think either are Spacey or Cosby level rapists. Right? I dunno, maybe post something in the comments if I'm wrong. Or we can talk about where exactly that line is. Can we laugh at Louis CK? Can we laugh at old Louis CK? No one for some reason seems to have any issue at all with Mike Tyson. I don't know, I don't have the answers and I struggle to reconcile the fact that I love this movie with the crimes of the people involved in its creation. Trains go fast.

It also occurs to me that the current year is 2022, not 2013, so it hasn't been ten years yet. But these idiots are still in the news right now, so I wanted to get this out. Next July we'll have to do a big bash!

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