Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!”
When Disney announced that they will be adapting the classic Western TV show The Lone Ranger with director Gore Verbinski attached, I was quite optimistic. Verbinski showed with his excellent 2011 animated feature Rango that he knows how to craft an effective Western, and I was eager to see him try to repeat that magic in live-action form. Then came the casting announcements. It was no surprise to anyone that Johnny Depp would get a prominent role in the film, since he was the star of Verbinski’s hugely successful Pirates of the Carribean films and was the voice behind the title character in Rango. Everyone expected him to get the title role in The Lone Ranger, but then it was announced that Depp would be playing the Masked Man’s Native American faithful sidekick, Tonto, with young actor Armie Hammer playing the Ranger. This announcement sapped almost all my enthusiasm for the project for several reasons, but the recent release of the first trailer has replaced my disappointment with an all-out disdain for this movie and a feeling that it will be one of the biggest bombs of next year’s crop of summer films.
My negative feelings toward Depp’s casting as Tonto work on two levels. The first is that, in 2012, a white actor has been cast as an iconic Native American character in a high-profile movie. While there are not a lot of prominent Native American actors working in Hollywood, there are a handful who have been in some big films, such as Adam Beach, who gave a wonderful performance as real-life World War II veteran Ira Hayes in Clint Eastwood’s underrated 2006 film Flags Of Our Fathers. While Tonto historically isn’t the most positive portrayal of a Native American character in pop culture, casting Beach would have been a step in the right direction toward portraying a more grounded and noble Tonto for twenty-first century audiences. The casting of Depp in the role all but guarantees that Tonto will just be the latest in the series of goofy, off-the-wall characters that Depp has spent the last decade playing onscreen. His presence in the trailer, sporting black-metal face paint and a ridiculous-looking stuffed bird on his head, didn’t do much to sway my initial misgivings about the movie and Depp’s involvement in it.
Besides Tonto’s portrayal in the movie, the casting of Armie Hammer as the star of the film also makes me confident that this movie will fail. Hammer is a perfectly capable actor, as shown by his impressive performance as both of the Winklevoss twins in David Fincher’s The Social Network, but nothing he has done shows that he has the screen presence or the natural charisma to pull off such an iconic leading role. Early reports on the film seem to hint that the Ranger is going to be shown as more of a naive or dim-witted character and that Tonto is going to be the more capable character, which is an interesting twist on their dynamic but also saps any credibility the film’s title character should have. This dynamic was also used in last year’s adaptation of The Green Hornet, and judging by the disappointing box office and negative reviews that previous film got, that’s probably not the best model for Disney to use for The Lone Ranger.
If the trailer for The Lone Ranger accurately shows us what the movie is actually going to be, it seems to be going for a gritty neo-Western tale, but Depp’s ridiculous makeup and patented “Look How Weird I Am” stare betrays that mood altogether. Also, nowhere in the trailer do we hear the familiar strains of “The William Tell Overture” that have been synonymous with the character for nearly a century. Instead, we get some generic Western-sounding music that is eerily reminiscent of the theme from Deadwood. It could have been worse, though; they could have gone with Kid Rock’s “Cowboy.” Either way, there is nothing about this movie that makes me want to see it when it premieres or even to seek it out when it comes out on DVD and it has all the markings of a box-office failure on par with John Carter or Battleship from this year. Perhaps if it tanks, studios will think twice on greenlighting half-assed adaptations of well-known properties and Johnny Depp will consider going back to taking roles that don’t just involve eccentric costumes and endless mugging.