One of the worst things about the miserable “Alice In Wonderland” was the way it served as a needless sequel to the original story, casting Alice as a warrior who was part of some ancient prophecy, returning to “Underland” after a long absence. Because of that structure, the notion of a sequel to that film becomes even more narratively useless than normal.
But, hey, at least Johnny Depp can count on another $50 million or so.
I wouldn’t care as much if it seemed like Depp was still doing a “one for them, one for me” sort of thing, but it’s been a while since he’s been that guy. Sure, he helped Bruce Robinson finally get a film made again with “The Rum Diary,” but part of that is the debt that he felt like he owed Hunter S. Thompson, who always wanted a film version made from that book. Most of his credits for the last few years have been brutally mainstream, and it’s getting harder and harder to remain a fan of the guy’s work when they announce a fifth “Pirates” movie or a wildly unwanted “Wonderland” sequel.
I like James Bobin a lot, and I wish he wasn’t locked in to direct this film. Right now, he’s making his second Muppets movie for Disney, and it’s obvious they want to keep him part of the family, keep him working. I read somewhere today that Depp is obviously closing this deal in order to make up for “The Lone Ranger” bombing, but I don’t buy that for a second. He’s already strengthened his ties with Disney by setting up a deal for his company Infinitum Nihil to produce films at the studio, and another billion-dollar-earning “Pirates” film would more than make up for any perceived underperformance from his “Lone Ranger” pet project.
I guess what it really comes down to is wondering just how many times Depp needs to cash in one of these mega-paydays. How much is enough once you start playing that game? At what point does he turn back into the guy who starred in “Blow” and “Before Night Falls” and “Donnie Brasco” and “Ed Wood” and “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas”? Money obviously matters to him now or he wouldn’t have walked away from the Whitey Bulger role when they couldn’t pay him $23 million to do it. He is in a position now to charge a film $1 for his salary if he truly wants to get it made, and his casting would be worth millions in terms of international financing. That’s when movie star clout gets interesting, when people subvert it towards funding the unfundable, and if that was the game Depp was playing, I wouldn’t begrudge him a single one of these mega-sequels.
But when the mega-sequels become the whole business model? That’s when it gets scary. I’ve met and interviewed Depp many times, and I’ve been lucky enough to observe him at work over a longer stretch of time, and what truly frustrates me is that the guy is obscenely talented. When he’s got a piece of material that is up to snuff, he makes unexpected choices and he has the ability to really make a piece of writing sing. He isn’t very good at playing “normal,” but who cares? Something like “The Tourist” is a waste of his particular charisma.
I hate feeling like this about him. I hate feeling like I want to tune him out. For so many years, it felt like fans of his work were having to tell people constantly that they were missing out, and now it’s the opposite. Now I feel like he’s become the worst possible version of what he was, and it’s hard to get excited about any of the choices he makes.
I’m sure some of you will yell at me in the comments section and tell me how much you’re looking forward to another wonderful, rapturous “Alice” and more “Pirates” and blah blah blah. All I know is, it’s been a long time since I was genuinely excited by a choice he made, and that’s a drag. I’ll grant you “21 Jump Street,” but beyond that, it’s hard not to see him as the exact kind of movie star that young Johnny Depp would have hated.
Here’s the original report. “The Lone Ranger” continues to clog up theaters nationwide as we speak.