The latest in Disney’s summer blockbusters has been declared a bust. And, while there is no denying the economics (there is a consensus that too much was spent and that worldwide revenue will not come close to matching costs), the failure of the movie is of some interest. How could a film with proven producers and director, a longstanding title, and one of the most popular and talented actors in the world be a bust?
There was the basic set up. Metamorphosizing a beloved hero into a simple straight man, and converting an almost silent sidekick into a comedian in this reboot likely did not appeal to long time fans. The use of an ancient Tonto (Depp) to narrate the story didn’t work either. The dialogue was done poorly and Depp’s timing was way off. He also never seemed to connect with the kid.
Still, the plot was interesting and the signature traits of the Lone Ranger were present – integrity, no killing, and ridiculously good marksmanship. These have been present in every incarnation of the character in the radio, movie, comic, and even cartoon versions and they were present here. To me that was all that mattered. Tanto’s more visible presence did nothing to diminish that, and in fact made the Lone Ranger more interesting.
The problem, I think, is the popularity of the Pirates movies. Sure the producers gave a nod to Pirates fans early on with the watch that Tanto seemed enthralled with, but it was not enough. In every scene the audience was expecting Johnny Depp to slip into a buccaneer outfit and begin slurring his speech, or run in that unique style of his. And he didn’t.
And that was the audience’s fault. Johnny Depp is a phenomenal actor with great range who has played many different and diverse characters during his career. To pigeonhole him into the limited role of Jack Sparrow or some similar character is to forget much of what he has accomplished. Certainly the Tonto figure had to be given a more developed role in a modern remake, but to expect the actor playing him, a man who believes he is of Native American descent, to play such a revered role comically was unrealistic. To do so would have been a disservice to the role, not to mention to Native Americans as a whole.