Every summer there's a flop that becomes an easy punching bag as evidence of how Hollywood has failed. Last summer we made merciless fun of Battleship, the summer before that it was Green Lantern; none of them were necessarily the worst or the least successful movie of their years, but they made for the biggest targets.
This year the unlucky victim is The Lone Ranger, the big-budget, big money-losing effort from director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Johnny Depp-- the trio who started printing their own money thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The Lone Ranger is continuing to limp along at the American box office after its disappointing July 4 bow, having made just $86 million here, but it's about to open in the United Kingdom, and to strike back against the idea that it's a movie everyone already hates, the film's cast is lashing out against the real reason The Lone Ranger tanked. And, surprise surprise, the critics are to blame.
"They decided to slit the jugular of our movie," said co-star Armie Hammer in an interview with Yahoo! Movies UK. "I think it was the popular thing when the movie hit rocky terrain they jumped on the bandwagon to try and bash it. They tried to do the same thing with to ‘World War Z’, it didn’t work, the movie was successful." Depp, too, was happy to blame the critics for pre-judging the film, which famously shut down production and was retooled with a smaller-- but still gigantic-- budget:
“I think the reviews were written 7-8 months before we released the film. I think the reviews were written when they heard Gore [Verbinksi] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and me were going to do ‘The Lone Ranger’. They had expectations that it must be a blockbuster. I didn’t have any expectations of that. I never do.”
Depp, whose face alone has helped movies like The Tourist and Public Enemies make more than $200 million worldwide, is clearly lying through his teeth about not expecting The Lone Ranger to be a blockbuster-- he knew as well as anyone how much money Disney spent on the film, how hard they marketed it, and how much the film was engineered to appeal to as many audiences as possible. If there was a single movie this year expected to be a blockbuster it was The Lone Ranger, a film based on a familiar character that had no business being revived except in the form of a cash grab.
That "blockbuster expectations" comment is probably the least infuriating thing about all of this, which is what happens when the people who made a bad movie are backed into a corner and asked to own up to it. When trying to sell a movie to another audience, no one behind The Lone Ranger can admit "Yeah, people just didn't really like it." So their only recourse is to blame critics, the soulless monsters who just have their knives out for every good-hearted blockbuster and who can't enjoy a good time at the movies. Never mind that critics completely flipped for the summer's surprise hit The Conjuring, or embraced Guillermo del Toro's monsters vs. robots epic Pacific Rim. Or, more importantly, that movies with terrible reviews become hits all the time. When Grown Ups 2 or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen become hits, Adam Sandler and Michael Bay get to flip everyone the bird and scream "Critics don't matter!" When The Lone Ranger and John Carter tank, Gore Verbinski and Andrew Stanton get to lick their wounds and scream "Mean old critics ruin everything."
I haven't even seen The Lone Ranger, so I have no idea if critics gave it a fair shake, or if in three years we'll all look back on it as the forgotten blockbuster classic that should have been (I've got my doubts about that last part). But many, many years of giant Fourth of July hits that critics hated-- Men in Black 2, Terminator 3, every Transformers movie-- prove that critics simply do not have the power to tear down a big blockbuster that audiences actually want to see. The Lone Ranger was rejected by audiences for any number of reasons that had nothing to do with mean critics who wanted to tear it down. Audiences in the UK now have the chance to find out for themselves what those reasons are.