The Lone Ranger (2013)
By: Stuart Giesel on July 13, 2013 | Comments
The Last Stand Poster
Credits
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring:: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson
Screnplay: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Country: USA
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The Lone Ranger is a production that technically has all the hallmarks of an actual movie, y'know, with characters and plot and stuff, yet it proves to be so fundamentally hollow that it derails as quickly as one of the umpteen runaway trains in the film. I liken Ranger to a beauty queen who's nice to look at, but who quickly ruins the illusion by having an endless parade of unmitigated horseshit spill out of her mouth as she tries to explain the finer points of U.S. foreign policy. The apparently immense budget is up there on the screen in all its glory, and from a technical standpoint The Lone Ranger is hugely accomplished - beautiful, crisp cinematography, expansive vistas, detailed production and costume design - but the script is muddled, the pacing is flat and the film never finds a confident or consistent tone. Underneath Johnny Depp's try-hard performance and all the visual chaos there is an oddball film wanting to break free, what with all the references to the supernatural and a vengeful nature, but The Lone Ranger feels like it's been workshopped to death by a faceless committee. And it doesn't help that co-lead Armie Hammer has the screen presence of a chain-link fence.

The film is framed with a useless 1930's narrative in which Johnny Depp's Tonto, a Comanche who we come to learn is tribeless (and really weird), explains the story of the Lone Ranger to a kid in a museum. The story proper sees Tonto cross paths with do-gooder lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer), as they both witness the escape of notorious criminal and cannibal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Reid, his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and a posse set off to capture Cavendish, but Cavendish's men slaughter the group, leaving only John alive. Tonto saves John, the two form an unlikely alliance and they set out to bring Cavendish to justice. John becomes a masked lone ranger at Tonto's insistence because...well, just because. Meanwhile, railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) is trying to get his great transcontinental railroad off the ground whilst the Comanche tribe threaten peace, and he also has the hots for Dan's wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). Oh, and Rebecca's always had a thing for John, despite being married to his brother. And there's her son, too, who doesn't do much except look angsty.

Disney obviously hoped to reproduce the lightning-in-a-bottle success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie with the re-teaming of director Gore Verbinski, star Depp, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Unfortunately The Lone Ranger is less Black Pearl and more At World's End, bloated when it should be streamlined, and strangled with unnecessary characters and subplots. The film is cripplingly overlong. Fellow modern western Django Unchained was almost twenty minutes longer than The Lone Ranger, yet felt five times shorter than Ranger's bum-abusing 149 minutes. Were The Lone Ranger a compact 100 minutes, it might have proven to be an entertaining if eccentric time-waster. The film never finds a comfortable footing, so it oscillates from extravagant action set-pieces to a sobering commentary on the treatment of Native Americans by white settlers, before morphing into a buddy action comedy complete with eye-rolling "humour", interspersed with what I assume is some of Verbinski's oddball ideas that felt better suited to the far superior Rango. Everything feels...off. It's hard to give any specific examples, but it's the same feeling you get when you listen to a comedian who can't time his jokes properly. Nothing clicks as it should and you're left wondering whether the problem is with the material or with you because you're just not getting it.

It's easy to lay the blame on Verbinski, but in truth the script is probably the biggest liability - once again, writers Elliott and Rossio overload their script with unnecessary scenes that don't pay off. It suffers from the "Spiderman 3 Too Many Villains" syndrome. Since when does a western adventure need to be so convoluted? And there are no surprises to be had. There's a reveal in the last third which I think was supposed to be some sort of revelation, but you could see it coming a full hour ago. The film's framing device doesn't provide any illumination to the characters, it doesn't expand on the story, and only serves to cause annoyance, intermittently popping-up to spoil the action. Helena Bonham Carter turns up as a brothel owner with a fake leg, and because she is a potentially interesting character she's quickly dispensed with apart from a brief appearance towards the end. James Badge Dale's character is a likeable enough guy with more charisma in his left boot than the whole of Hammer's Lone Ranger, but he's out of the picture before you can shout "kemosabe". And unfortunately all we're left with is a group of unlikeable characters. The villains, yeah, we're supposed to hate them, but we're not meant to feel indifferent about the heroes. You don't care whether the Lone Ranger succeeds or not. I get that he's supposed to be a goody-two-shoes, and I assume his character traits are based on the original series, but it doesn't really work in a modern would-be-blockbuster film. Depp's Tonto isn't Jack Sparrow-lite as much as you'd think, but nor is he a particularly engaging character - he's a grab-bag of gimmicks rather than a flesh and blood person. I have no doubt that Depp had a difficult job - be respectful to the original character of Tonto without making him too much of a caricature, whilst at the same time try to limit comparisons to Jack Sparrow. He might have succeeded as much as was expected of him, but that doesn't mean the character we end up with is one we especially care for. That leaves Rebecca and her son, and without wanting to get too specific or rude it's hard to see what either John or Dan see in her. Anyway, this love interest and her son are only peripherally involved in the action before being sidelined.

Looking back on it now, I would say a very large part of the blame is producer Bruckheimer and the Disney execs who thought that the Lone Ranger is a character that needed to have a story told in 2013. Even though the film takes pains to (sort of) update the character and poke fun at him now and then (particularly in Tonto's response to the Ranger's first and only "hi-ho Silver" we get in the film) you have to wonder why this was a story worth telling in the first place, and whether the Lone Ranger and Tonto were the characters to base this story around. Remove the brand recognition and Verbinski and crew might have had the opportunity to tell a more creative, fun and engaging story about a set of fresh and interesting characters we might have actually given a shit about. The whole subplot about the creation of the railroad might have belonged better in a moody, cynical companion piece to There Will Be Blood. But, no, it's all about creating a franchise.

And it's a shame, because I wanted to like The Lone Ranger. Verbinski can create action set-pieces as good as anyone, and Ranger's last thirty minutes are testament to that. Unfortunately it's too little, too late. We've had to slog through two hours of dull and uninspired shenanigans, and not even Depp's weird-shtick can save it. Executives may blame poor box office and indifferent, if not downright hostile, criticism on factors as various as the popularity of competing films, the general failure of the western genre to set the box office alight in the past few decades, or people wanting to see Verbinski, Depp and crew's efforts tank (aka the "tall poppy syndrome"), but I think the answer is much simpler. Audiences simply aren't interested in the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and those viewers who are certainly don't need a two-and-a-half hour, mega-budgeted Hollywood movie to rekindle their fond memories. Or maybe it's because the film just isn't very good.

I don't want to say it's a terrible film - it's too professionally put-together for that - but it's certainly an endurance test and can only be considered a massive disappointment, which is probably worse than being merely incompetent. If The Lone Ranger were a horse, it would be the most bloated, stubborn and deranged horse you ever did see, and should have been shot and turned into glue long ago.
Movie Score
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