Director Gore Verbinski borrows heavily from his animated Western ‘Rango’ and some other choice films for his latest mega-budget action adventure, ‘The Lone Ranger’. In what seems to be a project greenlit only because Johnny Depp was willing to get into costume and makeup again, this remake is deeply flawed and way too long. Running two-and-a-half hours, the adventure flick could have been loads better with a full hour knocked off its running time.
In addition to its length, ‘The Lone Ranger’ never realizes what type of movie it wants to be. It goes from over-the-top silly comedy to brutal violence all too often. The film stumbles all over the place tonally and never keeps an even pace. I know Verbinski, Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer want another ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ type of franchise that will gross billions of dollars in film after film, but despite moments of thrilling entertainment, this movie may not make enough money to justify sequels.
We’ve all seen or heard in some form about the Lone Ranger, his Indian partner Tonto and his majestic horse Silver. Almost 3,000 radio shows depicted the masked vigilante, plus an eight-year-long TV series and a couple of other movies that came before this $200 million project that’s been scripted by the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ writing team.
The film starts out in 1933 San Francisco, where a young boy dressed as a cowboy (complete with eye mask) enters a carnival overlooking the in-progress construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. He immediately goes to the Wild West tent and looks at the stuffed buffalos and giant bears that once ruled the plains. He ends up at a diorama titled “Noble Savage” that depicts a very old Comanche Indian with a dead black bird on his head. Take a closer look, and we see that it’s a very heavily made-up Depp, who for some reason comes alive to talk with the boy about his past. This sets the scene for our story, as we flash back to 1869 where a younger Tonto first meets John Reid.
I’m not sure why Verbinski and his writers decided to tell the story this way, but no reason is ever mentioned or hinted as to why the geriatric Tonto would suddenly come alive and spill his guts to a complete stranger, much less a kid. That aside, we first meet the District Attorney prosecutor John Reid (Armie Hammer) in a train full of churchgoers. In a separate car is the evil outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who Reid is taking into town for justice. Sitting next to Cavendish is Tonto. When Cavendish’s band of outlaws shows up and destroys the train to free their gang boss, Reid and Tonto finally meet.
Now in Colby, Texas, John is reunited with his Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and his wife Rebeccca (Ruth Wilson). The railroad owner Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) has taken a liking to the Reid family. Cole insists that Dan and his team of deputies head out to track down Cavendish and his outlaws and bring them back to town for hanging. Only after an hour into the film, after Cavendish guns down Dan and his men, does John put on the black mask and white hat, meets his horse, and teams up with Tonto to start their adventure.
The next hour is chock full of scenarios seen in the TV series or heard on the radio show, including Tonto’s origin story about being kicked out of his tribe, an evil scheme by Cavendish to steal Silver and build more railways, and a battle between the evil white men and the Indians (which mimics a climactic scene in one of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies). This all leads up to the last half hour, which is by far the best part and has the best action sequence in the movie (and is where we finally hear the famous “William Tell Overture”). Unfortunately, by then, we’re worn out and ready to go home.
One thing I liked is that Verbinski spent a big chunk of the budget on building over six miles of actual train track and two actual trains to use while filming, instead of going the CGI route. The results look amazing. We haven’t had a decent train adventure movie in a long time, and ‘Lone Ranger’ remedies that for train enthusiasts.
Depp is great in the role as Tonto, but when isn’t he ever great in anything he does? His performance is at times very dramatic as well as subtly comedic, and we never know what angle he’s coming from. Armie Hammer isn’t quite what I wanted the Lone Ranger to be. I usually love Hammer’s work, but here, while he pulls of the straight-laced professional guy, he doesn’t quite command the hero role so well, and the character gets lost in the other elements of the film. Fichtner pulls off the evil villain very well and is quite disgusting to look at throughout the entire movie. Wilkinson turns in a solid performance, and we get a brilliant cameo by Stephen Root. Of course, this having Johnny Depp in the film, Helena Bonham Carter has to show up playing a prostitute with a shotgun peg leg.
‘The Lone Ranger’ suffers from not knowing what type of movie it ultimately wants to be. You can’t have a brutal battle where thousands of Indians get slaughtered, then cut to a joke about a horse and killer rabbits. It doesn’t work, and it throws the audience out of the dramatic moment. If you love Depp and don’t mind sitting through a two-and-a-half hour movie that jumps around all over the place, go ahead and see this. If not, you might want to wait for video.
On an end note, the kill-count in this Disney film might be larger than all of the Rambo movies combined.