July 03, 2013

Critics agree: Lone Ranger is bad

The first Lone Ranger review I read wasn't too bad:

The Lone Ranger: movie review (PG-13)It's all too much and not enough—a succession of disparate, can-you-top-this episodes inelegantly piling up like skidding cars on a freeway. And that's not even taking into account the action scenes.

2 of 5 stars
But then the critics got serious:

The Unforgiving: Ten Savage Disses of 'The Lone Ranger'The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, opens tomorrow. It has been, quite easily, the most debated piece of entertainment in Indian country for the past year. But among critics, there is little debate: This, they say, is not a good movie. At the review-agregating site Rotten Tomatoes, which provides a rating based on critical consensus, The Lone Ranger enjoys a 17% approval (and falling—it started the day with 20%). Ranger's box-office competition is faring much better: Despicable Me 2, also opening tomorrow, scores 80%, while the top three earners in theaters now, Monsters University, The Heat, and World War Z, enjoy respective 78%, 62%, and 68% favorable ratings.

It seems to happen every year: Critics so gleefully attack one particular film that it seems almost a contest to see who can deliver the best zinger. Here are some of the nominees.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: "Even Johnny Depp can’t save the day":

"Director Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger is for anyone who thought the Native American guy from the Village People and a western-wear model would make the perfect blockbuster-action team."

Two Jews on Film, StarPulse.com: "Johnny Depp Is More Jack Sparrow Than Native American Warrior Tonto":

"At times [Johnny Depp] sounded like a bad Catskills comedian instead of a Native American warrior."

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: "The Lone Ranger: Hi-Yawn Silver, Awaaaay!":

"Depp's presence in the movie actively undercuts our investment in the Lone Ranger as a character, much less as a hero. Imagine Christopher Nolan casting Joan Rivers as Alfred in the Dark Knight movies so she could follow around Batman and make jokes about his ridiculous outfit."

Bob Mondello, NPR: "A Familiar Wild West, But The Guy In The Mask? Who's He?":

"The script fancies itself a critique of capitalism, a manifesto on manifest destiny, and a saga about silver mines and the slaughter of Native Americans. All very admirable, if not a great fit for scenes that involve Depp communing with snaggle-toothed cannibal bunny rabbits and taking a runaway train ride or six."

Drew McWeeny, HitFix: "Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski Fail to Bring The Lone Ranger Back to Life":

"At two-and-a-half hours, it may be the single most punishing experience I've had in a theater so far this year. ... Let's be clear: this is a terrible film by any standards. ... When you cut from the violent genocide of an entire Indian tribe to a wacky scene with Silver the horse standing on a tree branch and wearing a cowboy hat, it's pretty clear you have no idea what story you're telling or why. ... Someone needs to drag this thing out behind the barn and put a silver bullet in its brain."
Blame Depp

More negative reviews, with the emphasis on how poorly Depp portrayed an Indian:

Lone Ranger is Johnny Depp's tribute to shitty superhero origin filmsDepp puts a lot into doing his clown-face over and over again, as he tries to forcefeed a dead corvid, and meanwhile his comic timing is slowed down to a crawl as the movie lurches from scenes of mass slaughter to wacky "we're robbing a bank for justice" montages.

The expectation of wackiness and hijinks and amusement-ride fun revolves around Depp—so his mumbling, alienated performance is a crucial part of siphoning the fun out of the movie.
Cowboys and Idiots[Depp's] caricature is about as nuanced as a live-action Warner Bros. cartoon, set within a film that makes a white hero out of the plight of Comanche people (the Lone Ranger is honored for eventually saving the silver that more evil white men were attempting to steal).

His one-liners were largely met with awkward silence in the New York screening that I attended. They’re dumb one-liners, and Paula Deen just happened. Tonto repeatedly showers the dead bird on his head in birdseed and at one point wears a paddy hat to impersonate a Chinese railroad worker. That this is The Lone Ranger's most interesting character should speak volumes about how uninteresting this movie is.
Review: How Bad Is The Lone Ranger? Even the Horse Is LousyAfter years of fools like me swearing by Johnny Depp's genius, it's come to this: a 50-year-old being paid millions by Disney to wear Kabuki-for-idiots makeup topped off by a dead bird on his head. Can Depp possibly be serious when he talks in interviews about the importance to him of The Lone Ranger doing right by Native Americans? His Tonto is a minstrel act, pure and simple. At times, his cutesy reaction shots remind you of the way old-timey directors used to insert cutaways to the family Scottie covering his eyes with his paws or cocking his ears in perplexity.Doug George-Kanentiio: Tonto lives up to name in Lone RangerNothing makes sense in the film from the stunning lack of historical accuracy to the silly action sequences, the simplistic dialogue or the physical settings.

At one moment the characters are in the dust plains of what is supposed to be Texas then riding through Arizona’s Monument Valley before having their ranches burned in what looks like the high mountain meadows of the Canadian Rockies.

Tonto is placed in a diorama at the beginning of the movie, a take off on Dustin Hoffman in “Little Big Man” but without the acting. Is he Ishi, the last of his tribe, or a 120 year old man trolling for peanuts and cracked corn? There are scenes with cannibalistic rabbits, a horse which licks up scorpions before donning a white cowboy hat, a bad guy ripping out a human heart before eating it and a prostitute who has a hollow ivory leg containing a double barreled shotgun.
Norman Patrick Brown rating for Lone Ranger: 'Seven Burnt Frybreads'This almost a quarter of a billion dollar slapstick "native" pirate of my beloved Canyon De Chelly and Monument Valley made me kinda sad. It was not funny, what I disliked about the movie was everything, its premise and its fantasy script of non-native writers who romanticized what probably they always wanted to write "a western," all with spiritual Indian speak with spirituality, and made up history to make up for the use of native imagery and profit.That's seven out of eight "burnt frybreads" where eight is the worst, I think.

And from Micah Ian Wright, a Native screenwriter:OMG, The Lone Ranger was the worst movie I've seen in years. Bloated, meandering, and bloodthirsty. Who was this for? Because it SEEMS like it's for 12-year-olds, but it's far too bloody and violent for anyone under 14. I read that they spent $220 million making this and it doesn't show. They built miles of train tracks ad two locomotives but ALL of the trains look like the fakest CGI. Oh, and it fails the Bechdel Test HARD. Avoid at all costs. Unless you love famous white actors performing cringeworthy wacky slapstick redface. Heap Big turd, this movie am!Mixed to positive reviews

There are some mixed to "positive" reviews. In general, they say the movie is a big shambling mess, a pastiche of past Westerns, winking at the conventions it subverts, with lots of comic moments. In other words, Pirates of the Comanche.

‘The Lone Ranger’: Bizarre blockbusterWhile I laughed a few times and was engaged by the Rube Goldberg quality of a number of the more over-the-top action sequences, and thought Depp was reliably droll, particularly in his conversations with the expressive white horse (probably played by several animals, I'd reckon) who will come to be called Silver, I have to admit that my direct experience as I left the screening was a hard-to-shake "what the hell was that?" feeling.

Three of five stars.
Hero Rides Again, With Big Boots to FillIn the end, though, “The Lone Ranger” can’t quite pull off the daredevil feats it has assigned itself. This is an ambitious movie disguised as a popcorn throwaway, nothing less than an attempt to revise, reinvigorate and make fun of not just its source but also nearly every other western ever made. In trying to balance grandiosity with playfulness, to lampoon cowboy-and-Indian clichés while taking somber account of a history of violence, greed and exploitation, it descends into nerve-racking incoherence.The Lone RangerLuckily, "The Lone Ranger" is more than the sum of its references, because Verbinski and his screenwriters wind them around the core of a vision. This is a story about national myths: why they're perpetuated, who benefits. As we watch this story unfold, we're not seeing "reality," but a shaggy, colorful counter-myth, told by a "Little Big Man"-looking elderly Tonto to a white boy at an Old West museum in 1933 San Francisco. Old Tonto is a "Noble Savage" in a glass case, surrounded by a Monument Valley diorama whose color and texture prepare us for the CGI-infused storybook landscapes of the film itself. Tonto wants to stop that boy from swallowing the official version of How the West was Won, and from reflexively trusting authority of any kind, ever.

3 1/2 of four stars.
“The Lone Ranger”: Rip-roaring adventure meets dark political parableI can already tell I’m going to be a lonely voice on this one, so let me be clear: “The Lone Ranger” has significant problems, including the pairing of Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer as Tonto and the Lone Ranger, which never pays off the way it’s presumably meant to. Verbinski veers back and forth between hard-hitting, often violent dramatic episodes and the low-key, farcical relationship between his two leads, and the effect can be disorienting. Conventional wisdom has already decreed that this movie is a flop, and so be it–don’t let me stand in the way of some satisfying groupthink. Still, I halfway believe that the discordant qualities of “The Lone Ranger” are intentional–and I know for sure that it’s an ambitious and inventive film that’s always trying to tweak formula and play with audience expectations. If anything, it’s overstuffed with imagination and ideas, and when it comes to Hollywood movies I very much prefer that to the default setting. See it with an open mind, and you may well be surprised.Review: 'The Lone Ranger' Is A Fun Summer Ride[The movie is performing poorly at the box office] Which is all a shame, because it’s a wonderful movie. Let me be honest and tell you up front, I originally was excited when I first heard about the film, but as more news came out the negative press coverage sank my hopes. By the start of this week, I didn’t even plan to see it in theaters, and felt it probably wasn’t going to be very good. However, the review over at Salon said a few things that got me interested enough to reconsider seeing it in theaters. But I still went in with low expectations, and I thought the best case would be that it was a mixed bag filled with more “bad” than “good.” Most likely, though, I thought it was going to be awful.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be funny, exciting, heartfelt, and just full of real joy and great entertainment. I’m an overall fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, having loved the first film and really liked the second, then been okay with the third but disappointed with the fourth. Well, The Lone Ranger isn’t quite as awesome as the first POTC movie, but it’s better than the sequels of that series, if you want a quick comparison. If you at any point were interested in a Lone Ranger movie, or saw the trailer and thought you might be entertained by this film, then there’s a very strong chance you’d like it or even love it. If the main reason you’d skip seeing it is the fact the reviews are so negative it sounds like a disaster, then you should see it because those reviews aren’t remotely accurate in reflecting the actual quality of the film.
Plus a smattering of other positive reviews:

The Lone Ranger's Lonely Defenders: Critics Ride to the Maligned Blockbuster's RescueThe reviews for The Lone Ranger are in, and by and large they're pretty dire: Criticwire's C average is the only place the movie musters a passing grade. But a small handful of prominent critics have made a strong case for the movie's virtues, going so far as to suggest that those who pounced on the film this week will be eating their words in the not-too-distant future.Most moviegoers are fans of the Pirates movies. These movies are lightweight entertainment, instantly forgettable fun. I can't remember anything from them except Capt. Jack's attitude.

Despite critics saying this movie is different, it sounds like more of the same. The Pirates movies subverted the conventions of pirates and The Lone Ranger subverts the conventions of Westerns. Ho-hum. Subversion isn't anything new, so the question is how well the movie does it.

Let's say The Lone Ranger almost as good as a middlebrow Pirates movie. Is that a real recommendation? I'd call that more of a failure than a success. If you can't make a blockbuster that wows audiences and critics with $225 million, give the money to someone who can.

Then there's the whole issue of the message The Lone Ranger sends about Indians--which is a different matter from the movie's quality. I don't hear anyone saying it portrays Indians as well-rounded, complex characters who deserve to star in more feature films. It seems to be a failure in that regard too.

For more on Johnny Depp, see New Tonto as Racist as Old Tonto and Videos Rip Johnny Depp's Tonto.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

Looks like you called it on this one a LONG time ago, Rob, including discussion of the limits of Depp's star appeal. Without checking, this seems to me the first of his mega-flops.