The Lone Ranger
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Barry Pepper
As Hollywood studios continue to dig deep to find new properties with franchise potential, they are sometimes tempted to go against their better judgment and revive characters from a bygone era. It’s a gamble that can pay off by appealing to a wide range of age groups, but it can also go horribly wrong. After being recently stung by the failure of John Carter, Disney knows this all too well, and yet still they chose to trust in the team that made The Pirates of the Caribbean to reboot one of the most iconic heroes in American culture.
Disney’s The Lone Ranger has been a hard sell from day one despite the fact that Johnny Depp was attached to star as Tonto. Westerns generally do not make for great summer blockbuster material and tend to clash with the effects-heavy filmmaking that is currently dominating multiplexes. Still, with the right amount of charm and wit, this could have been a nice change of pace amidst another summer of sci-fi and superheroes. The key phrase is “could have.” Sadly, this version of The Lone Ranger is not that movie, and ultimately it ends up being just another CG slog.
The story opens with a goofy framing device that features an elderly Tonto playing a “Noble Savage” at a carnival exhibit. He starts to recount to a wide-eyed kid the tale of how he met The Lone Ranger, finding him unconscious after the rest of his posse was ambushed and killed by outlaw Butch Cavendish. Tonto believes that the former Texas Ranger is a spirit walker (according to his horse, anyway) with a destiny to fulfill. Together they set out to track down Cavendish and avenge his brother’s death.
To be fair to the higher-ups at Disney, there were multiple times during development where they had second thoughts about this movie. In response, Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski slashed the budget (it still ended up costing over $200 million). In the end it feels as though they excised almost all of the action scenes in the middle of the movie, which makes for an agonizingly long ride.
Both the opening and closing action sequences take place on trains, and indeed, they have some inspired moments including the creative use of a ladder (not to mention a kid shooting a grape into Tonto’s mouth with a slingshot). Still, they can’t help pushing things too far by having a horse gallop across the top of a train or inside the cars. In case it wasn’t obvious, the movie definitely requires you to check your brain at the door, which would have been fine if only there was a little more visceral excitement to make up for it.
The look of the movie is drab and desaturated and it is tonally bipolar, at times playing out like a gritty, traditional Western, and other times veering into pure camp. It has poop jokes, burp jokes, horses drinking beer and vampire bunnies, just to name a few of the oddities. The movie tries to appeal to kids, teens and adults but ends up appealing to no one.
Most of the humour in this movie falls flat, and that includes Johnny Depp’s goofball take on Tonto. He is most definitely the star of the show, but his mugging lacks the roguish charm of Jack Sparrow and is sort of undercut by the fact that he may actually be insane. Not to mention the fact that there is still an uncomfortable racism inherent to the character and Depp’s claim to Native American ancestry doesn’t change that.
On the other hand, Armie Hammer has the unenviable task of playing the lead character in a movie where he is completely overshadowed by his sidekick. He has been on the verge of becoming a breakout star in Hollywood for years now, and while he may have talent, his performance in The Lone Ranger is not going to make him a household name. He is likable but bland, which is pretty typical of the new breed of Hollywood stars. The script doesn’t do him any favours by turning The Lone Ranger into yet another reluctant hero shrugging off his destiny.
As for the rest of the cast, William Fichtner is somewhat enjoyable as the despicable Butch Cavendish, but unfortunately, other less interesting villains end up usurping his screen time towards the end of the film. Can’t a movie just have a straightforward bad guy anymore? Helena Bonham Carter plays a prostitute with a prosthetic leg that doubles as a gun (Robert Rodriguez should be talking to his lawyer), seemingly invented for the sake of a strong female character. This is probably because the main love interest, Ruth Wilson, ends up being helplessly dragged from scene to scene, seemingly a permanent prisoner, only to get absolutely no resolution at the end of the film.
Overall, The Lone Ranger is not quite a Wild Wild West-style abomination, but it’s not that far off either. Some of its blunders are so out there that they are almost reason enough to recommend it, but with a run time of over two and a half hours, this movie is simply not worth the investment of time. It ventures into the same territory as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, only without the momentum and goodwill of any previous films to carry it along. By the time the movie finally gallops off into the sunset, you’ll feel as apathetic and unresponsive as the dead bird on Johnny Depp’s head. — Sean