The Lone Ranger Disaster & A Review


A review of the 2013 big-budget Disney western The Lone Ranger and some thoughts about it being one of the biggest bombs in movie history

Johnny Depp Tonto Armie Hammer Lone Ranger

Disney mustn’t be feeling too good right now.

Their big-budget summer tentpole movie The Lone Ranger has resulted in disappointment in pretty much every area possible. Critically it’s been dragged through the dirt. Audiences kept their distance from it preferring to spend their holiday weekend doing other stuff and those that did show up to see the epic updating to this classic western character weren’t as excited over it as kids who listened to the Rangers adventures on radio and watched them on television decades ago were.

I doubt we’ll be seeing many little kids dressed as the Lone Ranger and Tonto this Halloween.

On top of all that every movie fan seemed really anxious and were getting somewhat orgasmic adding further to the pain writing and ranting about this bomb of a film. Gloating, calculating how much coin it has earned and ‘I told you so’ blogs and videos have popped up in its wake.

There’s no shortage of folks offering up a laundry list of reasons and theories as to why it failed so badly.  People not so subtly pointing out how embarrassed Disney and everyone involved with it should feel having made the latest and probably biggest cinematic flop this summer – and most likely the year.

The Lone Ranger Armie Hammer Johnny Depp Disney Bomb
This photo speaks volumes now

Everyone loves to talk about a big catastrophic movie disaster. Let’s face it – it’s fun! It’s somewhat ironic when a big spectacle of a movie gets more talked and written about it’s failures than anything else.

I bet the makers of it didn’t expect this when they first decided to do this flick. They were probably lost in misty visions of it raking in the dough, long lines outside theaters, kids playing with all the toys, eating all the happy meals and opening The Lone Ranger attraction in their theme park.

Sorry guys, not this time. Well, maybe they can still do a Lone Ranger theme park show. Heck, Waterworld has one.

I’m not going to pretend I have any inside scoop or an enlightening perspective as to why The Lone Ranger tanked so badly, what this means to Depp’s career, whether the role of Tonto should have gone to a Native American actor, how big of a blow this will be to Armie Hammer’s chances of being a leading man or where westerns will go from here. But since I actually saw this movie I figured I’ll chime in with some thoughts.

The Lone Ranger Armie Hammer Johnny Depp Helena Bonham Carter
Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp & Helena Bonham Carter

I actually had zero interest in seeing The Lone Ranger. Since first seeing the trailers for it it just didn’t look very good. It’s not like I wouldn’t have been interested in a Lone Ranger movie either. But as soon as I heard the makers of Pirates of Caribbean were behind this and Johnny Depp would be Tonto I knew this wasn’t going to be for me. I guess it wasn’t really for anyone.

Anyway, my friend is a huge Ranger fan and despite him knowing full well that this movie probably wouldn’t be too good, he was holding out hope for it. He’s a projectionist at a theater and once he knew they were going to have The Lone Ranger opening weekend he invited me to check it out.

With nothing better to do I figured why not. He graciously said if at any point I wanted to just leave during it he wouldn’t be offended. What a pal.

I stuck it out through the whole thing, along with six people in the audience. Yep, six people in the entire audience. And this was an evening show on its opening night too. You didn’t need a Ouija Board to see it didn’t look like too many people were interested in this. Oh and it’s a pretty bad movie to boot.

Lone Ranger Tonto Movie Disney bomb disasterThere’s really not a lot to talk about with this movie. It was everything I anticipated it would be from the first trailers I saw. Hollow characters, super strange tone, a convoluted story and Depp’s bird-headed showy turn completely upstaging Hammer’s Ranger.

There is absolutely nothing special or heroic about the title character. He’s essentially an incompetent goofball during most of the movie and it will leave you wondering, ‘why was this character so popular at one point?’.

There’s zero chemistry between Depp and Hammer. In fact the characters don’t even like each other or have any kind of connection at all. They were exactly what I predicted – flat characters running amongst big special effect sequences, none of which by the way are exciting or well choreographed.

William Finchtner plays Butch Cavendish with a cleft lip and pours on the evil without remorse. At one point he actually cuts out a guys heart. Although he was the most interesting to watch in all this and created a more compelling character than Depp,

I think the violence might have gone a bit too far in a Disney adventure. I’m surprised they ok’d it. Oh yeah, Helena Bonham Carter shows and doesn’t have much to do other than wield a fake leg that’s a gun.

I don’t understand how they could spend somewhere around 225-250 million bucks on this and have all the big action train sequences be such crap. I’m assuming that’s where a lot of the money went and they’re slapped together with very little of it making much sense.

The first train sequence is alright, since there’s not as many elements involved. The second big finale one is a real mess. They have multiple trains and cars and characters involved to up the ante in it and it ends up being too complicated for director Gore Verbinski to handle or make sense out of. He should have just stuck to a simple drawing of guns between the hero and villain.

The Lone Ranger Tonto Train stunt
One of the most expensive aspects to The Lone Ranger – the train sequences

Do filmmakers ever think out and design action scenes ahead of time anymore? You know, get a Tyco train set and plan out what they want to happen, where the other train cars will be in relation to each other during every stage of the sequence, how the characters move throughout the whole thing and try to keep the audience involved with it all?

Depp’s Tonto is given much more of a backstory than the Ranger and it’s not very interesting. Plus, at two and half hours, the movie is too long. It’s way, way too long. They probably could have cut an hour out of this thing! It is all a pretty bad bust.

What I feel most bad for is the Lone Ranger character and the western genre. I don’t have any doubt they could have done a decent Lone Ranger movie here. I don’t think the character is as passe as some others seem to and I think well made western films still have a place today.

The Lone Ranger Tonto Hammer DeppHad they taken a more serious approach, scaled things down and focused on these two characters who form an unlikely friendship and get thrust into an adventure would have been great. Sure, throw in some big exciting action scenes, but don’t go so far with the outlandish unbelievable stuff and make it feel like we’re watching a cartoon.

With all that they can do now with special effects wouldn’t it be possible to update some old standard western action scenes?  How about the classic stagecoach robbery with someone getting dragged in between the horses and under the wheels. Do something unique with it that they were never able to do back in the day. Have the camera follow our hero under the carriage, take us along for the drag, get up close with the horses hooves stomping into the dirt, let us see the spinning wheels closing in on our heroes head.

Get us on the edge of our seats hoping this man who’s made of flesh and blood will be able to get out of this predicament. We can identify with his pain as rocks are scraping up his back and dust is getting in his eyes. Instead they have these guys bouncing around like cartoons off trains and jumping through fire with only a bad one-liner to show for it all.

There’s no reason a Lone Ranger movie should have cost 225 million bucks! But that’s up to Disney if they want to spend that kind of money on what’s essentially a story about two guys on horses hey go ahead!

It would have been nice had the movie looked like it cost that much and had that epic scale you would think that budget would buy. If they’re filming in Monument Valley and all these gorgeous locations, it should really leave an impression – The Lone Ranger doesn’t.

Armie Hammer The Lone Ranger
Who was that masked man? – No one cared

It didn’t seem like anyone involved in this even liked the Lone Ranger. They could have taken a more Batman Begins-type of approach, introduce the origin of this character, start setting up all the iconic signatures that fans associate with him and come up with reasonable explanations as to why they’re there. So by the time the movie ends and we’re walking out of the theater these things hold more significance rather than just ‘oh he uses silver bullets’.

They’re re-introducing or rebooting all these old heroes and movie characters lately with more weighty backstories. Here it appeared they went the opposite route and just made the character a joke and didn’t make me like the guy. You can be sure we won’t be seeing anyone touch the Lone Ranger again for a long time now and he’ll be packed up again like they did to him in 1981.

Then westerns are going to take additional flak because of this too. I would hardly call The Lone Ranger a real western, but to most people that’s how they’ll think of it because it has horses and cowboy hats in it. So a finger will be pointed to the genre saying ‘no one likes you anymore’ and studios are going to be now even more reluctant to invest in making any.

Clayton Moore Lone Ranger Silver young fan boyAfter watching it me and my Ranger fan friend were talking about what the movie could have been. Had they gotten people to make it who actually respected the Rangers history, filmmakers who were western fans and were excited to reintroduce the genre to a new generation.

They stand up and proudly say to everyone – ‘Ok, so you guys like your superheroes, secret agents and sci-fi stuff huh? Well, generations before had it a lot better – they had cowboys! You have no idea what you’ve been missing! Here, let us show you!’

Nah. The Lone Ranger was just a big, bloated lazy attempt at a money-making franchise that didn’t offer anything. The film begins with a young Ranger fan meeting an elderly Tonto who tells him this story. The movie keeps annoyingly cutting back to these two throughout the whole thing, that’s yet another problem.

This is how they should have sold the movie to see if it was worth making. The writers standing with script in hand in front of people and telling the story that the movie would tell. Forget all the CGI eye-candy, just tell the story. Would it hold peoples attention? Would they get wrapped up in the drama unfolding? Would they hang on your every word? If not – rethink the whole thing.

Disneys The Lone Ranger movie bomb flop disaster
Take a final look fellas, no more adventures for you

The last time the Lone Ranger hit movie screens was back in 1981 in The Legend of the Lone Ranger. That too was a notorious bomb that was critically reviled and also gave the western genre a heck of a beating. I want to go back and rewatch that now. I haven’t seen it since seeing it on HBO back in the 80’s.

But now thinking back on it from what I can remember, I think it was better than Disney’s The Lone Ranger. At least from what I recall they took the character more seriously than they did here.

So let’s bid adieu to that masked champion of justice as he rides off into the sunset with his faithful first-billed sidekick by his side. Happy trails Ranger. Maybe we’ll be seeing you in another thirty-two years……or it might take a little longer this time.


9 thoughts on “The Lone Ranger Disaster & A Review

  1. You're totally wrong in everything you said. I enjoyed this movie tremedously. There is no one more than me that hates that wildly overplayed Jack Sparrow character, but Depp was not doing that character in this movie at all. In fact, Pirates of the Carribean had nothing to dow this movie, it actually has more in comon with the Zorro movies. Why on earth would you prefer a simple stage coach robbery for a finale is just beyond amazing to me and you didnt notice the character development of the Lone Ranger how he changed from a law and order man to one that of being a vigilante? Who says they didnt respect the character? Where is the evidence of this? Why would they hav to hire an American Indian to play the part of Tonto? Did you know that Depp has some indian anncestry? I think you paid more important to the critics and just assumed this would be a disaster which is was not. The public loved this movie, if not the narrow minded critics such as yourself who refused to give this movie a chance. Way to go.

    1. Exactly what is your source of evidence that "the public loved this movie"? It can't be the current domestic $86mil earnings as of August 1st. A blanket statement like "the public loved this movie" is no better than "everyone hates it"….

      Even if you're legitimately trying to defend something, back it up with your own evidence.

  2. Harrison Ford was the guy back in 1980 of Raiders of the Lost Ark that did the whole drag the guy under the carraige and show him being dragged through the dirt in the convoy that was carrying the lost Ark. Thats hardly a new idea.

  3. Thanks for the head's up. As I mentioned in a previous post, my dad was really looking forward to seeing this since he grew up listening and watching old Lone Ranger serials. But after reading such scathing reviews I think I'll give this a pass, and I'll try and convince my dad also.

    As for the westen genre taking extra flack, well the western genre has taken so much flack in the last forty five years that it doesn't make a difference anymore. Ever since the great Sergio Leone infused the tired genre with his trademarks, the genre has been pretty much over. That's not to say there have been a few great surprises along the way, one film that really stands out for me is Dead Man. A surreal acid western starring Johnny Depp, in fact his performance as Tonto is pretty much a copy of his co-star Gary Farmer's performance as the Native American character Nobody. I find it ironic that here in the U.K. a week before The Lone Ranger will be released, there is a restored re-release of Heaven's Gate, which is not only an over bloated western, but one of the most infamous box office flops of all time.

    In my humble opinion there is only one western that still needs to be made and that is an overdue adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's seminal western novel Blood Meridian, which, if faithful to its source, will not only raise the bar in screen violence but it will finally shed a cynical and most probably realistic savage light on the western.

  4. I really don't understand how they could have screwed this up.

    The origin story for the Lone Ranger has the makings of a great story. Bad guys get the drop on a posse. But they don't finish the job and accidentally leave one alive. The lone survivor is nursed back to health. The survivor goes on a revenge spree using a mask to intimidate and confuse his enemies. And the audience sits back and watches as the bad guys see their gang taken apart by a hero they don't understand.

    You'd think with the emphasis on moody heroes these days they would go with a less comedic take. Try to have it be like a lighter "High Plains Drifter." With the bad guys dying words being "WHO ARE YOU!"

  5. You don't mess with the Lone Ranger. It would have been so much fun to take my grandchildren to see a true american icon. But after reading the reviews, I just didn't want to tarnish the memory. Clayton Moore was such a white knight in my era. He wouldn't even appear without his mask. He took the character very seriously. I think he was finally sued and had to remove the mask and it was a sad day.

    1. Clayton Moore was REALLY dedicated to the role.

      The rumor was that he kept in shape and was a bodybuilder LONG after the role was over. The reason why is because he didn't want to appear pathetic to the children who were fans of the series.

      That's dedication!

  6. Excellent write-up, Sir! I didn't necessarily smell a box-office bomb with THE LONE RANGER, however knowing it was from the same team as RANGO, I was not interested at all. I don't get Gore Verbinski: the reason why he became a director was because of those Budweiser Frog commercials (no really!), he launched his career with a cute little comedy called MOUSEHUNT (IMHO, Gore's only good decent film). Then went on to do THE RING, one of the funniest films I've ever seen in my life then those bloated PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN flicks. Despite its nice animation, I was bored much of the way through RANGO, and still floored it got an Academy Award. Depp doesn't do much anymore–actually, nothing anymore–that I find interesting, and even though I liked Hammer in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, I still have no interest in THE LONE RANGER. Will wait to see it on DVD for free, if I choose to watch it.

    Also, a few things I'd like to throw in about the Western genre. While it has been essentially been dormant for decades, we still manage to get a Great Western every 20 years or so: I thought DJANGO UNCHAINED was not only the best Western film since DANCES WITH WOLVES (sorry, but UNFORGIVEN has never worked for me), but also second only to THE INVISIBLE WAR as my vote for Best Movie of 2012. If Quentin makes a sequel, it will make us forget THE LONE RANGER ever existed, I'm sure. 🙂

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