Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Barry Pepper | Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio | Directed by Gore Verbinski
Name recognition goes a long way in today’s movie world. Anything with any resemblance of a fandom attached has the potential of being made into a feature film. Even if that fanfare is long past its prime, which helps explain why The Lone Ranger is getting the quintessential reboot treatment.
If anyone could reimagine this classic hero for the modern world it would be the same producer and directing team that made a Disneyworld attraction about pirates into one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski bring a similar assortment of style and grace from that franchise to their vision of The Lone Ranger – along with many of the same problems. The plot is overloaded with an excess of storylines that move aimlessly and go absolutely nowhere. Humor is forced into every nook and cranny and falls flat almost all the time. Set pieces follow the grand scale approach as they become bigger and bigger until their internal combustion implodes in rage of confusion and lack of interest. It is overstuffed, overbearing, and overstays its welcome for far too long. Perhaps The Lone Ranger is a time capsule best left in the past, because this film does little to prove he can work in today’s world.
That is not to say Armie Hammer, the man wearing the infamous mask, does not do his due diligence to make this character work. He has a unique mixture of modern charm and old school sensibilities. Watching him attempt to box an evil outlaw on top a moving train harkens back to the classic Disney films many of us grew up on as children. If the movie around him was at least adequate this could have been a star making vehicle. Instead he is either being overshadowed by his strange sidekick or the overly special effects laden action sequences. When he is given the chance to play action hero there is so much going on he is unable to make those moments his own. All the focus is placed on creating a spectacle, not on creating a hero.
Hammer plays Joe Reid a District Attorney who is moving out west to bring some lawful justice to an unlawful world. He plans on bringing this justice not through High Noon duels, rather through the teachings of John Locke and the United States court system. Things change when he accompanies his more apt brother and his group of Rangers as they attempt to capture the notorious criminal Butch Cavendish (Fichtner). Due to a betrayal the mission fails and every Ranger is killed in an ambush. Seemingly dead Joe Reid is brought back to life by a nearby Tonto–a Cherokee warrior who has also been hunting Cavendish for most his life. Tonto believes Reid is the Spirit Walker that can help him defeat Cavendish and restore nature to its proper balance.
Johnny Depp plays the role of Tonto and gives a performance that at the very least feels familiar. Comparing his role in this to the character of Jack Sparrow is bluntly obvious. Depp at this point has stopped playing people and has reverted to playing random collections of odd quirks. Tonto certainty has his full. If his is not feeding a dead bird on his head he is haphazardly trying to talk to animals. By this time this type of stick is getting old and annoying. Not helping matters is his racially insensitive speech pattern. While the Broken-English aspect of Tonto is part of his lore, one wonders if you are changing so much already why leave that in? Some may question why they cast Depp as a Native America in the first place, though he does claim some Native American heritage. That fact does little to change matters. This failure makes the way Marvel treated a similar character in the Mandarin make a lot more sense. Some things are just better left unsaid.
The Long Ranger maybe the titular character, but this story is not really his. That honor goes to Tonto – who is also responsible for the film’s framing device. The film opens at early 20th century carnival where a Noble Savage exhibit apparently comes to life. An elderly Tonto retells the origin of The Lone Ranger to a plucky youngster who has donned the familiar Lone Ranger getup. These scenes encapsulate everything that does not work with this movie. They repeatedly come out of nowhere with no real purpose, every attempt at humor is eye rolling bad, and worst of all they are utterly unnecessary.
Unnecessary is a perfect descriptor for the disjointed way this story is told. One wonders if the filmmakers reached into a bag of random plot threads, haphazardly threw them into the script, wiped their hands clean, then called it a day. One moment we are knee-deep into a screw ball comedy the next it is trying to act a like a serious Western. When human cannibalism is followed closely by a man being dragged through horse manure your tonal shifts aren’t quite seamless. Tonal issues are the least of films concerns. There is no connective tissue to this story – just subplots that lead to other subplots. It is as if someone is hitting the ‘skip chapter’ button on the remote as we fast-forward to the next key scene. In the midst of the Lone Ranger’s origin we skip a genocidal take down of the Cherokee Indians, then to a Railroad baron take over, then to origin of Tonto’s wackiness, and then to whatever was left out of the last Pirates movie just for good measure.
It goes so far off the fails that score suffers from an identity crisis. I give points for evoking Ennio Morricone infamous Once Upon a Time in the West score, but it never fits where it is placed. Same goes for the use of Lone Ranger’s classic theme that is infused into the final climatic action sequence. Listening to that theme on top of CGI heavy action set piece can unsettle a stomach. It is an attempt to add earnestness in a moment otherwise void of levity. The action set pieces are admirable in other ways. They are like watching a massive amount of dominoes topple over one another. A final climax involving interlocking trains, bridge explosions, and a hodgepodge of character trying to kill each other was at times impressive. Most of the time however, it was hard to make heads or tails of what was going on.
Verbinski as of late has a hard time realizing sometimes less is more. Considering the convoluted nature of The Lone Ranger it is odd how much of it drags. The entire second act goes on seemingly forever. Within all this mess is a good deal of boredom. Much has been made of the trouble production history of this film, and you can’t help but wonder if that was a big factor in its failure. Worst of all Verbinski never brought the fun. It’s a popcorn film if you like your popcorn burnt to a crisp and sprinkled with sadness. The Lone Ranger is less of a movie and more of a chain of events without a chain.