With The Lone Ranger existing in film, television, comic book and radio form since the 1930s, it’s not surprising that the property was targeted to become a big-budget summer blockbuster by the folks at Disney. It’s clear that producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the executives at Disney wanted another Pirates of the Caribbean, recruiting director Gore Verbinski, superstar Johnny Depp, and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio in the hope of turning The Lone Ranger into a new franchise. What a shame that the resultant picture is one big mess; a noisy, agonisingly long and painfully leaden endeavour that’s only intermittently entertaining. Some movie-goers might be reminded of The Mask of Zorro in terms of tone and story (especially since it was also written by Elliott and Rossio), but Verbinski’s endeavour lacks the earlier picture’s sense of pacing and panache, placing it firmly in the doldrums.
John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a district attorney who’s dedicated to the proper channels of justice. While transporting vicious outlaw and cannibal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to the Texas town of Colby where he’ll be turned over John’s brother, Sheriff Dan (James Badge Dale), the train is hijacked by Cavendish’s gang, who set the murderous criminal free. Although John refuses to pick up a firearm, Dan is compelled to deputise his brother as a group of rangers set out to find Cavendish. Unfortunately, the troupe are ambushed and attacked, with John emerging as the only survivor of the slaughter. Brought back to health by Comanche outcast Tonto (Johnny Depp), John sets out on a spiritual mission of justice. Learning that Dan’s wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and her son were kidnapped by Cavendish, John and Tonto look to bring the outlaw to justice, only to stumble upon a scheme involving the railroad and a silver mine fortune.
Rather than recreating the exhilarating magic of 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Verbinski channels the dead-on-arrival 2007 sequel At World’s End with its bloated runtime, convoluted narrative, and lethally glacial pace. Worse, The Lone Ranger actually opens in 1933, introducing elderly Tonto (with Depp covered in phoney make-up) who tells stories about his adventures with John to a young boy in a Lone Ranger outfit. The device fails to fulfil any essential purpose, instead serving as a disruptive entry point that halts the pacing. Speaking of unnecessary subplots, Helena Bonham Carter shows up as a brothel owner with an ivory leg that can shoot bullets, because writers Elliott, Rossio and Justin Haythe were apparently determined to cram in countless asides that detract from plot urgency. There’s no reason for The Lone Ranger to run for almost two-and-a-half hours, aside from indulgence. As a result, the picture’s midsection is a complete drag; boring and flat. Worse, the picture alternates between taking itself too seriously and not taking itself seriously enough; it’s brutally violent one minute, and a jokey farce the next. Most egregious is a scene involving cannibalism, which feels out of place in a Lone Ranger flick and even more out of place in a Disney movie.
The Lone Ranger does not look like a $250 million production, period. Films like Man of Steel and The Avengers were produced for less cash, yet both featured several large-scale action scenes and tremendously impressive production values. Even Quentin Tarantino made Django Unchained for a smaller sum, and his efforts are more impressive than anything glimpsed here. For what’s supposed to be a fleet-footed adventure, The Lone Ranger is packed with too many scenes of drab character interaction venturing into superfluous narrative tangents. Nevertheless, the flick gets points for its lavish construction, with attractive cinematography making superb use of the magnificent locates, and with intricate sets and costumes. Moreover, some of the action sequences are admittedly spectacular. The best set-piece here is the finale, set to the William Tell Overture, which at long last delivers the type of fast-paced, old-fashioned cinematic excitement that we wanted all along. It’s a genuinely rousing and spectacular climax, full of top-notch stunt work and seamless digital effects, and the tone is spot-on. Honestly, however, it feels like too little, too late – by the time the good stuff kicked in, I was numb from the past two hours of excessive bloat. It’s a damn shame. And while The Lone Ranger is predominantly grounded, a few action beats are ridiculously over-the-top, killing credibility and clashing with Verbinski’s dark tone.
Even though the titular Lone Ranger is played by Hammer, Depp is very much the star of the show as Tonto; he’s the one telling the story, and Depp is consistently foregrounded. He seems to just be playing another variation on Captain Jack Sparrow, serving as flimsy comic relief as opposed to anything sincere. A few attempts are made to give levity and depth to Tonto, but they’re ineffective because Depp plays the character too broadly. Hammer, meanwhile, does what he can, but the material is working against him. Instead of a memorable hero, John Reid is completely bland, and he does a number of things which paint him as an unredeemable scumbag (he’s willing to leave Tonto buried in the sand to die, whilst he rides off on a horse…). Fichtner fares a bit better as the villain, and Tom Wilkinson espouses some welcome gravitas as a railroad magnate, but Ruth Wilson has nothing to work with as Dan’s widow – she’s just a damsel in distress, and Wilson was incapable of giving the role any pizzazz.
The Lone Ranger is entertaining at times, and it’s marginally better than this reviewer expected it to be, but it remains an inconsistent, disappointing revival of the age-old brand name. In spite of its impressive production values, it predominantly lacks an all-important sense of spirit and fun. And although it was made for $250 million, it’s hard to recall many especially note-worthy or amusing moments. Hell, I can barely remember any of the action sequences either. Nobody really asked for a big-budget Lone Ranger flick, and calls for a sequel will be even less enthusiastic.