When Reviews Go Wrong: The Lone Ranger and Elysium

Back in Maine again. Sorry for the absence the last few days. Travel and finally getting sick were a bad combination for me. But I’m somewhat upright, and so I’m here to give you some blog fodder for the day.

I had the chance to watch two films on the plane back from Utah, and together they illustrate something I’ve long thought about the review process: how expectations can drastically affect a film’s final review.

First I watched Elysium. It’s the follow up film to District 9 from Neill Blomkamp–not a sequel, but rather the next movie he made. And now we’ve got Matt Damon and Jodie Foster instead of complete no names, and we’ve got better effects and a bigger budget. I loved District 9. It was a fresh take on sci-fi, and it was very well done. So I was eager to see what Blomkamp did next. It’s got a 6.7 on IMDB and a 47 on Metacritic, so I wasn’t expecting the moon and the stars, but I thought it might be decent.

What a train wreck. The story is simple: in the future, the wealthy build a place off world to go and live the high life while everyone else on Earth is doomed to a life of drudgery and crappery. Matt Damon, car thief with a heart of gold, dreams of going to Elysium. But those nasty rich people shoot down anyone who tries. Damon gets himself in a position where he’s got five days left to live, so he’s desperate: he’ll do anything to get to Elysium, where with a wave of a sci-fi wand he’ll be cured. Action follows.

And the whole movie stinks from start to finish. The writing was horrendous, the acting was lame, the action sequences choppy. I can’t really think of anything about the film that I liked. Some of the special effects were okay, I suppose. A 6.7 is wildly overrated, and a 47 is far too generous. Worse yet (SPOILERS HERE), the movie reveals at the end that all the people on Elysium had the technology and ability to cure everyone on earth, but they didn’t. Why? Because they didn’t feel like it.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. Not all rich people are awful. It would have cost the wealthy nothing to help out the poor in this world. And they didn’t because they’re all just awful human beings with no conscience whatsoever? Please.

This is a garbage movie from start to finish. 2/10. Complete waste of time.

Next up? The Lone Ranger. This was a movie I’d been very excited to see, and then I heard the reviews. It got a ton of negative buzz, and so I became less and less excited to see it. In the end, it settled down at a 6.6 on IMDB and a 45 on Metacritic. Virtually the same scores as Elysium. But I started the movie prepared to not like it at all. Still, it had to be better than Elysium, right?

For the first while, I was ambivalent. Johnny Depp is playing another strange character–a Comanche, no less. The plot seemed stilted and tone deaf at times. The movie was just . . . strange. I couldn’t place my finger on what exactly was off with it. But there was some humor, and the action scenes were fun, and I was enjoying myself for the most part.

But then I hit the climax of the movie, and suddenly, it all snapped into place. It was like one of those 3D pictures where you have to cross your eyes and at first all you see is static, and then there’s a dolphin jumping out of the picture at you.

In The Lone Ranger, there’s a very specific spot where it all came together. (Slight spoilers here): all is going wrong for the good guys. The bad guys have already mowed down the entire Comanche war party that might have stopped them. And now they’ve got another machine gun set up to do the same thing to Tonto and whoever else might foil their plans. The machine gun’s blazing, Tonto’s taken cover, and all seems lost. And then it happens. You hear the tell-tale horse whinny, and the William Tell Overture starts with a bang. The Lone Ranger appears, lashes his whip around the machine gun, and turns it on the bad guys, instead.

That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t a modern movie. This was a throwback to the old Lone Ranger from way back when. It wasn’t trying to put a new spin on anything–it was a straight up adventure movie, the kind of flick the inner-ten year old in me just loves. From that point on, the movie was a complete blast. The entire climax is eye-popping action, excellent enough that as soon as the movie was over, I went back and watched it from that horse whinny on again. I’d like to watch the whole movie again soon with that in mind. I think I’d enjoy it even more.

7/10 for now, though it might go up a bit after I rewatch it. It’s a really fun movie and deserves to be seen. (Side note: While the inner ten-year old loved it, the current Bryce couldn’t help but notice the movie isn’t particularly friendly toward the Comanches in the film. Tonto is crazy, and the rest of them are powerless, unable to do together what a single white man with mask can do all on his lonesome. The women in the movie are also powerless. This could well sink the whole film for some of you. For me, as soon as I started noticing it, that inner ten-year-old yelled at me to shut up and enjoy the movie, which I was clearly able to do. But it’s still worth noting that some tropes that were just fine back in the old adventure movies don’t quite work with today’s sensibilities.)

So what’s the difference between these two films? I think a lot of it has to do with the critics. They were willing to give Blompkamp more of a pass than Verbinski. And so they artificially raised Blomkamp’s score because of pleasant memories of District 9, and they artificially lowered Verbinksi’s because of problems in the film’s production and the feeling that “we’ve been here with Depp and Verbinski before.”

But maybe I’m off. Maybe watching it sick and on a plane skewed my feelings of the films. Any of you out there seen them? Care to chime in? I’d love to hear some other opinions.

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