Way back in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl wasn't expected to be a success. Back then, as Chris Nashawaty told it in Entertainment Weekly, Johnny Depp couldn't lure moviegoers and $135 million seemed like too much money to spend on a movie based on a theme park ride. But, of course, the film proved everyone wrong, becoming a massive success and spawning three sequels, a franchise that has grossed over $3 billion worldwide.
This July 4th weekend, Disney is hoping to recreate that success with The Lone Ranger, also directed by Gore Verbinski and also featuring a heavily made-up Johnny Depp. But will it work? Or has the novelty worn off?
Early trade reviews have not been kind. Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter writes: "Floated conceptually and commercially by another eccentric comic characterization by Johnny Depp, this attempt by Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer to plant the flag for another Pirates of the Caribbean-scaled series tries to have it too many ways tonally, resulting in a work that wobbles and thrashes all over the place as it attempts to find the right groove." Alonso Duralde at The Wrap calls the film "joyless" and "seemingly endless."
Though, it should be noted that, no matter how fondly the first Pirates movie may sit in our memories, the initial reviews for that film weren't great either. Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum gave it a C, writing: "Dead men tell no tales, the sea chantey goes, but neither will ticket buyers after sitting through this F/X-rattling Disney feature based on the Disney theme-park attraction and founded on the Disney notion that American character is best strengthened by exposing children to the horrors of computerized skeletal buccaneers: Minutes after we’ve left behind the clatter and spectacle, all remembrance of plot vanishes."
Still, despite the cold critical reception there was something novel about Pirates that caught on. Depp's performance was hailed as revelatory, and won him an Oscar nomination. (He lost to Sean Penn in Mystic River.) Here was someone doing something strange, interesting, and maybe even a little perverse in a big budget studio film. But now, 10 years later, Depp's idiosyncratic performances in blockbuster films are nothing new. In his Lone Ranger review for Variety, Peter Debruge explains "Naturally, audiences will look to Depp to pick up the slack, though this time, the star’s eccentricities seem more calculated — and ultimately less amusing — than before." Since we've now seen his Willy Wonka, his Mad Hatter, and his multiple turns as Captain Jack Sparrow, we're more likely to just shrug our shoulders at his Tonto.
At the moment, the film's financial outlook is a bit dim. Ben Fritz writes in The Wall Street Journal that The Lone Ranger is projected to gross $60 to $70 million over the weekend, coming in behind Despicable Me 2. That would be, according to Fritz, "a disappointing start," especially considering the film cost upwards of $200 million to make.
Disney isn't one to ditch a franchise lightly, though. The Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer, has said that he's signed on for a "couple" more movies, E! reported, while love interest Ruth Wilson mentioned she's in for three. Depp's deal is more nebulous, but he's said that he's into the idea of coming back. What remains to be seen, of course, is if anyone will want him to.