It’s not a great weekend to be Armie Hammer. His new film, The Lone Ranger, was DOA at the box office. Worse even, he’s likely to be scapegoated for the failure.
After all, director Gore Verbinski and co-lead Johnny Depp have been bringing in the big bucks for years. It’s not as if their partnership could be going the way of Depp’s partnership with director Tim Burton — no, you can put safe money that Hammer is going to be taking the fall for this one. While that’s disappointing, it was also totally foreseeable.
The problems with The Lone Ranger have been noted sufficiently already — suffice it to say Depp playing a Native American character in a mostly dead property was clearly never going to be a winner. But as scandalous as the Depp cast may have been, it was the choice of Hammer as the titular Ranger that puzzled me most.
Hammer has been in two films of real note: The Social Network, in a supporting role (that he was good in), and Mirror Mirror, which was all sorts of terrible (and he did nothing to save). Giving him his own franchise should have given all the Hollywood executives involved pause. He was an admittedly good-looking guy who has made nothing more than a minor splash at best in his previous work. What did execs see in him?
To be blunt: they saw a man’s man. And Hollywood is convinced it’s short on those.
Simply put, execs are obviously tired of the boyish male stars that dominated the late Aughts. Most big action tentpoles are being given to the same older stars who made their careers on such films, Jason Statham and The Rock being archetypal examples. Even Vin Diesel is bleeding the Fast & Furious franchise dry. Older actors previously unassociated with the action game are even getting into it — coming to theaters near you soon enough, Liam Neeson in Taken 14.
But Hollywood needs younger hypermasculine stars to fill these roles as the current crop gets older. Think about it: Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth are tied up in being Avengers (Hemsworth also wrapped up in the female-skewing Snow White and the Huntsman frachise) and likely will be for years. Jeremy Renner is too, and he’s also failed at the franchise game already (his Bourne film didn’t exactly hold up to the titular Legacy). And while Chris Pine might do fine work in his own franchise, he’s never managed to truly break out.
So Hammer was chosen to fill that “four-quadrant man” role: the type of action star who can headline a big franchise and be a romantic lead, too. On that, look no further than his sex-obsessed interview with Playboy, where he couldn’t stop talking about all his inventive lovemaking with his wife. That was such a bizarre move — off-putting for its bluntness and his unattainablity alike — that I’m convinced it was a miscalculation on his publicist’s part in an attempt to make him a sex symbol.
Hammer’s quick falter is likely tremendously disappointing for execs, especially considering their wunderkind, Channing Tatum, was proven mortal last weekend when his White House Down opened to considerably less than expected. (It opened behind the female-driven The Heat, but of course, absolutely no one in Hollywood will pay attention to that lesson.)
None of this is fresh analysis — I’m just restating what has clearly been an issue for a while. But here’s a newer question: Why are execs so obsessed with recapturing the past?
There is nothing wrong with the boyish male star-dominated Hollywood. Arguably, that system works more effectively than the antiquated “four-quadrant man” strategy. Look at successes like this summer’s Now You See Me — a surprise hit by anyone’s definition. Sure, it may not have been marketed solely on the strength of star Jesse Eisenberg, but he’s prominent in ads, and it’s working. Or look at smaller movies like Juno (starring Michael Cera) or The Social Network (with Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield), which made big grosses on the back of great talent. The latter even got Garfield a superhero franchise — though how good he is as The Amazing Spider-Man is a different conversation entirely.
Visit any collegiate theatre arts program today, and you’ll notice that they’re not stacked with the next Tatums. Far from it — these are the next Garfields, the next Eisenbergs, the next Tellers. Hell, the next Neil Patrick Harris is out there, and his lack of success on the big screen isn’t due to a lack of charm or fanbase.
On Harris in particular: there’s another component worth its own blog post, and that’s Hollywood’s continued discomfort with gay leading men. Consider the strange recloseting of Luke Evans when he was promoting The Three Musketeers. Or the brazen rewriting of Tom Hardy’s history of having sex with men. As stated, this is all worth its own post, but it’s just food for thought as to how it relates to the greater theme that Hollywood thinks men must be traditionally masculine to be a star.
Regardless of all this, Hammer and, to a lesser extent, Tatum, may not be filling their potential up to Hollywood’s ridiculously high standard, but don’t expect them to stop getting cast. Execs have clearly made an investment, and they’re sticking with their new golden men — no matter how tarnished that gold may be, or how ineffective the strategy is.
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinpokeeffe.