Release: Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Don’t be fooled by the label. Although titled The Lone Ranger, this movie is far more interesting because of Tonto than it is because of what Armie Hammer tries to contribute to his John Reid/Lone Ranger. While even the white horse is more memorable than Hammer’s character (and a better actor, too), this is most definitely the Johnny Depp show again. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing had it not been the biggest compliment one might be able to pay this loud, messy project from those who brought you Pirates of the Caribbean.
It’s release is perfectly patriotic, as it comes storming into theaters right before the Fourth of July. There’s a nice rendition of The Star Spangled Banner hidden somewhere in the story. The Lone Ranger and his whacked-out sidekick are all about maintaining freedoms and seeking justice — all of this perhaps hinting to Disney’s inability to judge the quality of the product before judging the quality of its timely release. Somewhere out there in the wild and dusty desert of movie reviews I read that this film “is a rough cut of a slimmed down, better version.” I thought this description nailed it, since what we get isn’t really a bad film as much as it has just far too much going on. There’s too many detours throughout that loosen the wheels on this old locomotive and threaten to derail the entire thing before it’s two-and-a-half-hour run time is up.
The Lone Ranger begins with a boom. A train full of passengers suddenly becomes a weapon as the dreaded Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) manages to escape capture from the empty car he’s being held in and attracts a group of criminals to help him get away. Meanwhile, the tracks that the train is currently riding are still being constructed a couple of miles down the way, and with the conductor now incapacitated, wannabe-sheriff John Reid is unable to stop the train from careening off the end. During this first clash, Reid has been inadvertently handcuffed to a Native American spirit warrior who insists he is innocent to everything that has just happened. Reid insists he be arrested anyway. These opening twenty-ish minutes are exciting and foreshadow a healthy amount of action still to come — even if these action sequences come after extended periods of sleep-inducing exposition and unwanted narrative drift.
Verbinski then saddles us up with the local law enforcement as they ride horseback into some potentially dangerous territory where they hope to find and reprehend the deadly outlaw Cavendish. Having not seen a Westerner in awhile, even I don’t think it’s fair exactly to expect a Tombstone-quality picture from Disney; nor should we have hopes that John Wayne might pop out from behind a rock and completely steal the show. I guess we have Depp doing a lot of that, but this is more in the style of those fun-havin’ pirates in the Caribbean. . .only now we are on land seeking justice instead of buried treasure and all that. The following scenes are important as well and help explain the nature of the relationship between Tonto and John Reid, and what lights a fire under his ass, compelling him to seek vengeance on Cavendish himself — and of course, what is compelling him to don the famous black mask. These scenes are also rich in spoiler material so I’ll avoid detailing them.
Up to this point, we still have a rather interesting movie on our hands. But around the corner, in terms of developing anything worth remembering, all we get are tumbleweeds and dust bowls. Oh, and evil little bunnies.
It’s when we (eventually) start getting into the character development/trust-building phase that the movie starts crumbling. Hammer’s awkward, campy lines and terrible reaction shots are slight causes for alarm. I really wanted to start calling him Armie Hammy since most of what he’s been given in this film are lines that would fit more into children’s books than in an action movie that has more violence within the story than most young Disney fans might be accustomed to seeing. The cheese-factor is through the roof with him, but at least it’s not with Tonto. Instead, all Depp wants to do is call his newfound partner ‘Kemosabe’ and feed grains to his dead bird, which functions also as a headpiece. (Apparently, this is some kind of comfort to the deeply disturbed Indian.) Even with all of the little crowd-pleasing Depp-isms on display, his character feels awfully limited.
Of course, we get kicked off onto several side stories, and this pattern really contributes to The Lone Ranger‘s profusely long run time. One such story fills us in on Tonto’s background and how he has come to liking having dead bird on head. But we no want so much as we want much good big story. Justice is what I seek, Kemosabe.
Even despite the leads being not as strong as they need to be for a film that will center around them, we get satisfactory evil with Butch Cavendish. That dirty grin worn on his screwed-up-looking mouth is just sinister enough to overlook the fact that he is stupid as all hell. (How many times can you afford to let the duo escape death, when you have them right at gun point? The whole business of getting your word in before pulling the trigger is a trick that should be retired in movies, although I know it never will.)
Helena Bonham Carter is in this movie, though she doesn’t have much to play with other than one peculiar physical deformity. Tom Wilkinson is flat and lifeless as the businessman overseeing the development of the Transcontinental Railroad project. I typically enjoy the man’s presence; here, he is a complete waste. Whatever remains of the main cast that I haven’t mentioned are not really worthy of mention and fade into the background with ease.
To the film’s credit, the ending is rather stylish, and is perhaps the only moment in the entire thing that really evoked classic Lone Ranger appeal. It may too be a case of an extended sequence of action and adrenaline, but at least it’s quite a good bit of fun. As well, the scenery is beautiful and I really enjoyed the various physical places we go to, rather than the unnecessary lengths to which the director goes to try and flesh out his story. There’s some gorgeous panoramas of the giant mesas, some unique looks at famous arches, as well as some really great camerawork around the moving trains. In a nutshell, if Verbinski could have whittled this down to under two hours the story surely would have been more compelling and a bit more dramatic. Or at least, it would have had more of an appearance of being that way. With it meandering around from point to point, it seems the director is intent on pointing out everything that makes The Lone Ranger what it is, without much of a thought to creatively fuse it all together. A good draft of a film, but this should not be the final product.
Recommendation: Diehard Pirates of the Caribbean fans probably will take to this quite well. I am not a diehard fan, but I did find some similarities in the tone and style of The Lone Ranger. However, for whatever elements the two seem to have in common, Pirates of the Caribbean was the superior film. Depp is pretty decent as Tonto, but seems a little worn out and tired. Maybe that was just the incredibly lame script.
Running Time: 149 mins.
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