Something is happening in Hollywood. Something which isn’t new but is becoming more apparent with each passing year. Studios are throwing vast sums of money at films in the hope that the sheer amount of razzmatazz on screen, couple with stars and overblown effects will prize people from their sofas and towards the cinema. The problem with this is that the films are becoming ever more formulaic and uninspiring as studios attempt to attract the maximum number of people to their films. It’s the same with most art forms that the more broad you make your product, the less exciting and unique it will be. Mumford and Sons might outsell Goat but only one of those bands sound like a Saturday night pub band that got too big for their cowboy boots. When I think of the studios that are producing the type of big budget, low risk films I’m discussing here, the one that springs to mind first is Disney.
Disney obviously have a tradition of making family movies and as such you aren’t expecting gore or thrilling twists but they’ve managed to entertain generations of people simultaneously for decades while maintaining their wholesome image. They also have a strong tradition of borrowing stories from other sources but appear to be on a run at the moment of producing the blandest of films which are amongst the most expensive in history. Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, John Carter and now The Lone Ranger are all films which make use of established, much loved characters in films which Disney have sucked all the life and fun out of. The problem they’re really facing though is that they’re no longer guaranteed $600 million if they plough $250 million into a movie and not only that, the films themselves are dull and don’t even warrant a second viewing.
Despite the long rant at Disney, I’m actually here to talk about The Lone Ranger. The film is based on a radio and then television series of the same name which was hugely popular from the 1930s and even still rerun on TV when I was a child in the early 1990s. The series charts the struggle of a masked Texas Ranger and his trusted sidekick Tonto in battle against the crocks, gunslingers and rustlers of the Old West. In the 2013 film it is Armie Hammer who plays the Ranger with Johnny Depp as his Native American partner Tonto. What little I remember of the black and white TV series from my childhood was that it was exciting and fun. Little of that is transposed on to this paint by numbers film which is afraid to paint out of the lines for even a second. The film is two and a half hours of dull talking, boring action set pieces and jokes which fail to raise a laugh.
It’s disappointing to see a film which cost so much in which it seems as though no one is trying. I’m sure that no one set out to make a bad film but I don’t understand how they did. They had all the tools at their disposal from decent actors with star quality, beautiful landscapes, established characters and enough money to feed Somalia for several months. How they packaged that together and came up with something so boring is beyond me. It’s hard to tell when you’re meant to be excited about this film. There are long periods of dialogue in which little happens. I have no problem with slow, dialogue heavy films and actually prefer them to a blockbuster but here the dialogue meanders around for a couple of hours with nothing to say. There’s basically three loose strands of plot which are given an age to be discussed but none of it is of interest. There weren’t many children in the screening I went to (a bad sign for a family movie) but if there were, I couldn’t see where they’d get excited.
The set pieces were the sort of thing which has been done to death and they were made even less interesting by the overused CGI. The effects were generally fine but in some scenes they were quite poor. An early scene of buffalo crossing the plains looked awful. In the action scenes there’s always a lot going on which feels like an attempt to engage the audience but even with trains flying everywhere and horses in unusual situations, I barely raised a smile. The movie has a Code-era morality to it which is very liberal, wholesome and right on. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have heard Fox News moaning about it in the same way they did with The Muppets but despite the film’s left leaning politics and ethics, there is something not quite right with the film’s depiction of The West.
The main issue I have is that Johnny Depp is playing a Native American. It might look funny to see him in war paint with a dead bird on his head but if he’d been blacked up, holding a basketball with gold teeth then people would be offended. I don’t really understand the difference between blacking up and ‘war painting up’ and a lot of the humour that his character provides comes from the silly Indian stuff he does. It feels like it’s taking Hollywood back ninety years. There’s no irony behind the decision either as there was in Robert Downey Jr’s turn in Tropic Thunder. It’s something I wasn’t comfortable with. Depp’s performance doesn’t even allow you to forget about the dodgy ground he’s on. He puts in another one of those big, wobbly, wide eyed, look confused performances that he’s been phoning in for the last few years. I’d love to see him return to smaller films in which he acts rather than prances about for he is in danger of being remembered not as that interesting actor he was in the 90s but as that fool who’d only play exaggerated characters in terrible films.
As so far as being a Western, the film fails again. It’s like a highly sanitised version of a Western. Everything is very clean and organised, even the dirty beards looking ordered and ‘on purpose’. The film takes from many films in the genre and takes out all the fun and edge they had, plonking itself firmly in the middle of the road where passing traffic can stare at it disappointingly. The film is dull, uninspiring and bland and I’m sick of Hollywood producing such expensive tripe in the hope that they’re too big to fail. I’m glad that this movie and others have.