One of the reasons I really like “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is because the film’s existence is such a cheerful, celebratory end zone dance by Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, two men who were in desperate need of at least a solid triple at the box-office.
It’s hard to remember at this point a time in which Johnny Depp was thought to be box-office poison. It’s true, though. He had a long and fascinating string of good choices that did nothing to help make him a movie star. They made him a better actor, and I think his natural talent has mainly to do with the way he would approach his roles. He made big decisions, risky decisions about voices and make-up and physical traits. In “Cry-Baby,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Benny and Joon,” “Ed Wood,” “Dead Man,” “Fear And Loathing,” and more, he did really good work. The films just weren’t hits, though, and it was starting to look like he’d used up his 23 chances. Tim Burton seemed to be the one collaborator who he could turn to for even a glancing chance at commercial relevance. I don’t think that is the goal of someone’s career, but it is a requirement if you’re going to keep getting the opportunity to star in interesting and exciting films.
When 2003’s “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl” rolled around, it was one of those films that people scoffed at from the moment of announcement. It wasn’t until the actual press screening that I heard that change, and it was immediate. It was a surprise because it seemed like there was no way for it to work. A movie based on a theme park ride is pretty much the definition of “crass corporate synergy,” but it worked. And a big part of that is because Verbinski needed a hit as well. “The Ring” had finally broken him through after the false starts of “Mousehunt” and “The Mexican,” and “Pirates” was his chance to prove himself as one of the few guys in town able to orchestrate a giant sprawling physical shoot and make it feel fun and stylish. That is not easy, and just because you can make a good movie, it doesn’t mean you can make every single kind of film. There are plenty of people who have the ability to make smart small character driven movies who just get swallowed by big movies when they make the jump.
Verbinski and Depp at this point are obviously working from a totally different position of clout than they were for “Curse of the Black Pearl,” and so this is a different kind of test. Now they’re trying to prove they can kickstart a new franchise, and based on this trailer, I’d say they’re probably on the right track. Depp’s Tonto is going to be controversial. There’s no doubt he’s drawing on a long tradition of Hollywood convention and stereotype, and what he does with that is going to determine how well the character works in the final film. I like what we see of Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger here, and of course the action is on a gigantic insane scale, with a trailer that is punctuated by a big gag that probably isn’t possible, but it sure is well-staged.
What do you think? Hi-yo, Silver, or no sale, kemosabe? You tell me.
“The Lone Ranger” opens on July 3, 2013.