Like a lot of the movies this summer, I left The Lone Ranger with a sense of “meh.” I didn’t hate it, but I’m certainly not over the moon about how much I like it. In fact, the only reason I don’t hate this movie is due to certain sequences that showed how much potential this movie had, only to squander it as the movie progressed. I think that’s actually more infuriating: The Lone Ranger is a movie created out of hubris and is full of wasted potential. Not only did Walt Disney Studios try to recapture the “magic” of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (at least the first movie), but the film repeatedly mocks its own source material, turning what could have been a great retelling of the Lone Ranger story into a jumbled, unnecessarily complicated, overly long origin that puts more of its focus on Johnny Depp’s Tonto than its titular hero. The Lone Ranger is reduced to nothing more than a bumbling dandy who flip-flops between naive incompetence and otherworldly proficiency.
I want to get this out of the way as well: Johnny Depp should not have played Tonto. I’m not saying he isn’t entertaining in the film (there are a few moments where the humor of Tonto and the Lone Ranger works really well), but there are a number of Native American actors who could have played Tonto, arguably one of the most well-known roles for Native Americans, and actually brought authenticity to the character. Say what you will about the racially insensitive dialogue of the radio serials and 1950s television show, but at least Jay Silverheels, the man who brought Tonto to life on the small screen, and later the big screen, was an actual Mohawk Indian. I know Depp has claimed Native American roots, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that there were other actors who could have filled the role. Ever heard of Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, Law and Order: SVU, Windtalkers)? Yeah, turns out he was also up for the role.
I’m just going to let you guys think about what could have been while I get on with this review. Again, I’m not saying Depp wasn’t good in the film, but it was a blatant ploy to cash in on the Pirates fan base, which ultimately does a disservice to The Lone Ranger as a film.
I suppose I should tell you the plot: While searching for murderous cannibal (not even kidding), Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a posse of Texas Rangers, led by Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), are gunned down in a canyon. Among the posse is Dan’s younger brother, John Reid (Armie Hammer), recently returned from the East to be the territory’s new District Attorney. John is the only survivor and is “resurrected” by Tonto (Johnny Depp) so he can fulfill his own revenge plot against Cavendish and wealthy railroad baron Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) who massacred Tonto’s tribe over a vein of silver about twenty years ago. The two eventually work together and uncover a plot to bring war to the Comanches that’s heavily tied into the progression of the railroad, the curse of silver, and the murder of John’s brother so Cole could have his widow and son as a surrogate family.
Did I lose you at all? Because there’s way more that I could add to that summary. Clocking in at two and a half hours, most of that is padding for a story that could have easily been told in an hour and a half. The Lone Ranger, as a concept, is very simplistic, which makes sense since it was a radio serial for children that eventually spawned a television show and a slew of movies. The Lone Ranger is a man on a quest for justice in the Old West who lives by a strict moral code and never kills anyone, relying on his own ingenuity and the help of his friend Tonto to get out of scrapes. The film does away with most of that in favor of a ridiculously complicated story that makes you feel like there are two different movies happening. One is a somewhat gritty Western and the second is a faithful, almost cartoonish adaptation. There’s also a smattering of the supernatural in there that is established early on in the film, but like Jake Sully’s mission in Avatar, is completely forgotten by the end. Had writers Ted Elliot, Justin Haythe, and Terry Rossio, as well as director Gore Verbinski stuck to either version, the movie would have been easier to watch. Then again, these are the same guys that made the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so they seem to think that drawn out plots involving betrayal after betrayal, villains with no clear motivation, and Johnny Depp are all you need to make a successful movie. Sorry, guys, not this time.
What saves the movie, in my opinion, is the cast and the third act’s final action sequence. For all the griping about Depp in red-face, he does a fine job with making Tonto likeable enough, though he does get dangerously close to Jack Sparrow territory. Armie Hammer makes for a charming, if underutilized, Lone Ranger. He’s good at playing a stick-in-the-mud, Dudley Do-Right character, but when the script finally calls for him to be a hero, he shows that he’d have been up the task if they’d given him more to do. Fichtner and Wilkinson are suitably evil enough and Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid turns in a pretty good performance as a hardened, capable woman who captured the heart of both Reid brothers. There are also over-the-top performances by Helena Bonham Carter and Barry Pepper that are entertaining but serve nothing more than to pad the movie with more people and plot than is necessary.
It’s really the final action sequence that makes the movie. If I were to just isolate that sequence and show it to you, you’d think The Lone Ranger was going to be the best popcorn movie of the summer. It has everything you’d expect or want from a movie like this. There’s amazing stunt work, the humor is on point, and it’s genuinely exciting and joyful with the William Tell Overture (The Lone Ranger’s theme) playing over the entire sequence. That’s the movie I wanted. Even if the film’s intention was to tell a gritty reboot, that third act sequence could have at least been the beginning of the movie and used as a transition piece. Like I said, a lot of this movie is filled with wasted potential.
Final Thoughts: The movie’s already getting pummeled by Despicable Me 2 in the domestic box office, so no amount of encouragement on my part will get you to go and boost its sales. That being said, I think it’s worth a look, but you might want to wait until it’s On Demand or out on DVD/Blu-Ray.
- Danny Reid, The Lone Ranger’s nephew, is the father of Britt Reid, a.k.a. The Green Hornet, in the 1930s serials. So, technically, Armie Hammer is playing Seth Rogen’s great-uncle.
- Oddly enough, Tom Wilkinson plays Britt’s father, James Reid, in The Green Hornet featuring Seth Rogen, so obviously they needed to add a couple generations for this to work out.