It seems that whilst Disney’s animation arm continues to be a big hit amongst audiences, some its live-action releases can’t seem to catch a break. Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful was a success for the studio in the spring, but Gore Verbinski’s summer blockbuster, The Lone Ranger, sadly seems to have fallen upon a similar fate as Andrew Stanton’s John Carter did last year.
One factor the two movies have both faced is the bad press. The impact of reviews is far from guaranteed – plenty of films receive terrible reviews from critics but are welcomed with open arms by audiences, and vice versa – and yet, with high-profile movies like these where word of mouth goes in place of an already established world, riding a wave of negative reviews is that much harder to overcome.
In the States, the film opened over the Independence Day weekend in the #2 spot behind Universal’s hugely successful Despicable Me 2. Following a slew of negative reviews from critics, the blockbuster took $29.4m. over the three-day weekend, and $48.9m. across the full first five days, opening on the Wednesday rather than the usual Friday. For a blockbuster budgeted at roughly $225m., it could have had a better start.
But for all the negative press, the audiences that have seen the film have enjoyed it. In the US, Verbinski’s movie came away with a respectable B+ CinemaScore, equalling that of recent successes World War Z and 2 Guns. And IMDb currently have its user rating at 6.7, from an average of a little over 32,000 users – a score that sits it alongside the likes of Top Gun, Bad Boys, Wanted, and thousands of other hits. And all this goes up against a Metacritic score of 37 and a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes (who have it at 61% from audiences).
This is not to suggest that audiences’ opinions are “better” or more valid than critics’, but it’s no secret that they are typically, arguably even inherently, very different. The point of this article is not to go into much detail on this, but simply to suggest that critics’ reviews shouldn’t be relied upon by audiences to make up their minds, as it appears has been the case with The Lone Ranger.
For whatever reason, many films that start out getting bad press snowball on from there, and it becomes a massive uphill struggle to come back from that. World War Z is one of the few in recent memory to succeed in this respect, having been plagued with negative press before anyone had seen a single shot of the film.
The Lone Ranger is, of course, not perfect.
Many reviews have criticised Johnny Depp for his performance as Tonto, suggesting it mimicks his work as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates franchise. Whilst this is not objectively true, it is possible to see where these reviews are coming from, even whilst thoroughly disagreeing with them.
Yet it seems ironic that some of the reviews Stateside have critiqued the film as being empty, full of big action sequences that are universally understood, thereby palatable to the international box office – ironic because, not only is this lambasting misplaced, but it’s the same critique that has been made at America’s expense for years.
The action sequences here are among the best that Verbinski has shot, and one need only go back and watch the first three Pirates films to be reminded of how fine his action sequences are. Yet it’s not just the action that makes watching The Lone Ranger such an enjoyable experience; it’s the story, and the characters that people it.
Furthermore, the critique that its running time (which clocks in at a little under two and a half hours) is far too long seems unfair. If you’re enjoying the film, then you want to stay with these characters for as long as possible, and it’s a breath of fresh air to find a Hollywood blockbuster movie willing to go beyond the two-hour mark these days. From where I was sitting, co-writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe penned a fantastic script, which Verbinski and editors James Haygood and Craig Wood brought to life with a pace fuelled by adrenaline in all the right places.
Armie Hammer, previously seen largely in supporting roles like The Social Network, gives a standout performance in the lead as the eponymous Lone Ranger / John Reid. His brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), has been the Texas Ranger of the family whilst John has been out getting an education. But when push comes to shove, the younger Reid takes up the mantle, wears the mask, and fights for the woman he loves.
Is it entirely original? Of course not – it’s an adaptation; it isn’t trying to be entirely original. But it is original, even whilst paying homage to some of the classic and underappreciated movies in the Western genre.
For one thing, it adds a very healthy dose of comedy to a genre that often takes itself rather seriously. The American West has, after all, historically been a place where “Men” can make something of themselves, thus proving their virility. As much as John Reid fights to save his childhood sweetheart, played so well by rising star Ruth Wilson, he’s not doing it to prove himself a man, but to avenge his brother’s murder and bring justice to the town of Colby. And when faced with a system plagued with corruption, he puts on the mask and becomes the outlaw fighting for the good of the people.
And Tonto? Depp elevates the character to something more than just sidekickhood, and the posters promoting the film have deservedly given Hammer and Depp equal setting (albeit, perhaps tilted a little in Depp’s favour, given his status as a household name).
Hans Zimmer’s score is every bit as thrilling as you’d expect, with fantastic use of Rossini’s iconic overture from his William Tell opera. And there’s no denying that Bojan Bazelli’s work as cinematographer alongside Verbinski leads to some of the best shots of the American West that have been seen in film for years.
Exactly why critics have picked on The Lone Ranger, so harshly, or why the stars and producers of the film went as far as claiming in interviews that the harsh treatment harmed the film, will forever remain a mystery. For one reason or another, it seems many like to jump on a bandwagon, exaggerating certain aspects and understating or entirely neglecting others, in order to prove a point (in such cases, often ill-conceived).
To reiterate, this piece is not targeted at those who have negatively reviewed the film having genuinely not enjoyed it, or even at those who have gone in with a closed mind and decided in advance that they wouldn’t like it. What it is trying to do is fill more seats in the cinemas, to encourage people to make up their own minds and not believe the bad press that has been building in recent weeks.
On the press circuit last week in the UK, with Yahoo, Hammer and Depp were forced to come out in defence of their own movie, and the critical reviews were rightfully where they hit back. Said Hammer, “This is the deal with American critics. They’ve been gunning for our movie since it was first shut down. I think that’s probably when most of the critics wrote their initial reviews,” something which Depp agrees with.
And Verbinski himself says, “Our movie is not a sequel, and it doesn’t have giant robots, and The Lone Ranger can’t fly. I think that we’re counter-programming, so if you want to see something different, come see the movie. And it’s odd to be given a lashing because of that.”
To suggest that there is a ‘vendetta’, as such, against The Lone Ranger isn’t quite accurate. But it has definitely felt that there has been a bandwagon that critics have been only too happy to jump onto, and it seems to have cost the movie its box office success.
In the year since its release, audiences have largely woken up to the fact that John Carter isn’t nearly as bad as critics first made it out to be. In its first week of release on DVD and Blu-ray alone, the film made a further $36m. in the States, which is almost half of its entire domestic take in American cinemas.
The Lone Ranger is sure to have a similar fate, for audiences to find it and fully appreciate it a little further down the road. It is a good movie, and good blockbuster. And as Bruckheimer has rightfully said, the cost of the movie shouldn’t really matter when you’re considering how good it is; the ticket price is still the same.
Talking to the press, Hammer added, “If you go back and read a lot of the negative reviews, most of them don’t have anything to do with the content of the movie, but more what’s behind it,” and he is absolutely right.
Whether you see The Lone Ranger in its theatrical release – and you really ought to; the blockbuster sequences deserve as big a screen as possible – or in its home entertainment release in a few months’ time, it fully deserves your attention, if only to make up your own mind about how good it really is.
All anyone can ask is that you don’t believe the bad press, for this or for any movie, and that you see for yourself what all the commotion is about. And with any luck, in the case of The Lone Ranger, you’ll come away having discovered a new favourite movie.