In 2003, Disney assembled a crack creative team to tackle a seemingly impossible proposition: turn the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park attraction into a movie. The result was "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl," which would spawn one of Disney's largest, most profitable franchises.
Ten years later, that same team (director Gore Verbinski, actor Johnny Depp, and super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer) have reassembled to tackle another dormant genre -- the big studio western. This time, the property is "The Lone Ranger," a character that originated in a series of radio serials but expanded to television and comic books.
The Verbinski/Depp/Bruckheimer "Lone Ranger" is a slightly slanted view on the masked avenger. This time, the titular hero is played by "The Social Network'"s Armie Hammer, with Depp playing his Native American compatriot Tonto. The film is also the biggest western in the history of cinema, with a budget northward of $200 million.
The question, of course, is whether Disney has recaptured lightning in a bottle or if it has got a costly flop on its hands. Read on to find out.
1. The Film Is Really Weird
Keep in mind that this filmmaking team began the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie (a Disney movie) with a small child being hung until dead. Verbinski has slotted similar weirdness into "The Lone Ranger," particularly in his characterization of the bad guys, one of whom is a transvestite serial killer.
2. No, Like Really Weird
There's also a fair amount of bloodshed and general darkness, particularly when our heroes enter a shantytown that contains a freak show, a whore house, and a body dangling neatly from an overpass.
3. It's Beautiful
Every frame of "The Lone Ranger" is jaw-dropping. Verbinski, who also helmed the underrated small-scale drama "The Weather Man" and Americanized horror movie "The Ring," has an unstoppable eye for beauty and impeccable craftsmanship. The widescreen vistas that Verbinski and company have captured are really spectacular, as are the handful of action sequences that punctuate the film.
4. The Train Chase Sequence May Be the Best 30 Minutes in Movies This Year
Even if you're not feeling "The Lone Ranger," you'll likely enjoy the scene's final sequence. Here, the various plot threads come together and make way for a spectacular train chase. Exquisitely staged and peerlessly shot and cut, this is the kind of big-budget dream-making that you see all too infrequently in Hollywood blockbusters. Afterwards you want to take a deep breath -- and clap until your hands are sore.
5. Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer Have Great Chemistry
Hammer plays a lawyer who returns to the frontier town where his brother is a Texas Ranger, only to get brutally shot down while hunting for a nefarious outlaw. Depp's Tonto is an outcast from his Native American community; a man with vengeance in his heart and a spiritual connection to the kind of mysticism that swirls around the Old West like tumbleweeds or dust storms. Together, they collide often and violently, but they both have a strict moral compass and the desire to see justice through.
6. Hans Zimmer's Score Delivers
Zimmer has had a long and fruitful history with Verbinski, contributing memorable themes to his movies "The Ring," "Weather Man," the latter two "Pirates" movies, and "Rango." This new score is no exception. The music here is a wonderful ode to the heroics of the old west -- referential but never derivative -- and a keen testament to Zimmer's tireless enthusiasm.
7. William Fichtner Is a Frightening Bad Guy
In terms of character actors, William Fichtner is a superstar. Here he plays the memorable Butch Cavendish. He's practically a reptile, with snakeskin boots, a rattle woven into his hair, and a jagged, curled scar. His post-murder trademark move is to remove and consume a part of his victim's flesh. That's right folks, there's also cannibalism in the $200 million, PG-13-rated summertime Disney movie.
8. Stay Through the Credits
The movie is super long, but there's a little treat if you wade through to the very end. It's another bizarre flourish in a movie almost exclusively defined by them.
9. There Aren't Any Werewolves
Early drafts of "The Lone Ranger" reportedly included supernatural elements as well as the existence of werewolves. Unfortunately, those elements have been removed, with the mysticism now implied instead of explicitly revealed. The scariest thing you'll get is a pack of demonic bunnies.
10. No, Depp's Performance Isn't Racist
One thing people will undoubtedly be worried about is how "racist" Depp's performance will be perceived. He is, after all, a white male who is playing a Native American character, complete with the accent and an elaborate make-up job that includes war paint and a dead raven perched atop his head. But his character is deeply felt and nicely layered, with nuance and shading that goes beyond the simplistic cries of culturally insensitive racism. The character always has a command of the situation and is often surrounded by actual Native American actors. It was Depp's involvement, too, that shifted the point of view of the movie away from The Lone Ranger and to Tonto. It's the best Depp has been in a while. He's so good you kind of want there to be another "Lone Ranger" movie just to see what Depp, Bruckheimer, and Verbinski will cook up next.