I think I can safely say to anyone that has ever been a fan of the legendary character of the Lone Ranger that you might want to avoid seeing the latest film version of the masked vigilante, as it bears little to no resemblance at all to the iconic character you may have come to love. This overstuffed, overcooked, and overblown mess of a film is clearly Disney's latest attempt to create a franchise and grab as much cash as they can, but their efforts are misguided, at best, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if this endeavour absolutely tanks at the box office. It would serve them right too.
Director Gore Verbinski reunites with his Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp, who now gets an expanded role as the sidekick Tonto, and it seems pretty evident right from the start that they aren't going to stay true to the nature of these characters. This film has so many tonal shifts that it never really seems to know what it wants to be. Farcical comedy? Serious western adventure? It's literally all over the map, and with some serious pacing issues in the middle portion and a convoluted plot to boot, The Lone Ranger becomes somewhat of a slog to get through for much of its ridiculously long 2 1/2 hr. running time.
The tale begins in 1933 at a county fair in San Francisco, where a young boy attends a Wild West exhibit and encounters an elderly Native man named Tonto (Johnny Depp in some seriously creepy looking old man makeup). Tonto proceeds to recount his past experiences with the legendary masked man known as the Lone Ranger. We flashback to 1869 now, where we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawyer returning home to visit his Texas Ranger brother, Dan (James Badge Dale). When John is tasked with joining his brother and fellow Texas Rangers in order to hunt down and capture the dastardly fiendish outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), he witnesses the ambush and slaughter of his brother and his men, and he narrowly escapes with his life. He's rescued by a Comanche spirit warrior named Tonto, who convinces him that he must now don a mask in order to hide his true identity so that he can track down Cavendish and seek justice for his brother's death.
Ok, so far so good right? Now we are going to get an adventure featuring the heroic Lone Ranger and his noble sidekick Tonto righting wrongs and saving the day right? Wrong! Instead we are subjected to numerous subplots involving an unrequited love interest that just happens to be John's brother's wife, a corrupt railroad tycoon with a nefarious plot in mind, played by Tom Wilkinson, an ill-conceived backstory for Tonto in order to give him some form of motivation in all of this, and the pointless inclusion of a brothel madam character played by Helena Bonham Carter that amounts to nothing more than an extended cameo. Much of this extraneous material could have easily been excised from the film in order to tighten it up and trim it down to a less arduous length.
Pacing issues aside, however, the biggest crime that this film commits is its downright embarrassing treatment of the two lead characters. Armie Hammer's Lone Ranger is reduced to nothing more than a bumbling buffoon for much of the film, and it isn't until the movie's climactic action sequence where we finally get a hint of the hero we all know and love (although in fairness, you'd likely have to be over the age of 40 to even be familiar with the character). The filmmakers obviously wanted to showcase Johnny Depp's Tonto as more of an equal partner to the Lone Ranger and that's fine, I have no issue with that, but what I take serious umbrage with is the awful choices Depp makes in portraying him like a clown who is there for comic relief. He's basically doing the same schtick he did as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, albeit in a more stoic and monotone fashion, and with far more face paint. There's hardly a trace of the noble Comanche warrior that Tonto should be. This is a joke and an insult to longtime fans and I'd venture a guess that Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore would be rolling over in their graves if they saw this (look it up kids).
Alright, I'll stop piling on and point out a few positive aspects of the film. First and foremost is the stunningly fabulous cinematography throughout the picture. Verbinski shot the film on location in several states, including Utah, New Mexico and the easily recognizable Monument Valley in Arizona where many of the most famous westerns were filmed. The film looks great and made me wish that they had actually made a serious minded western because it could have been amazing. There are some thrilling action sequences scattered throughout the film, but none more so than the incredibly rousing final act involving two runaway trains that is set to the iconic William Tell Overture, which of course happens to have been used as the theme music for the original show. This was the only time during the film where I actually perked up and became invested in what I was seeing. Call it nostalgia if you will, but this portion was a lot of fun and made me wish the rest of the film could have captured that tone. Also, if you happen to be a film geek like me, you will notice the obvious homage that Johnny Depp pays to the legendary Buster Keaton and his silent masterpiece, The General (which is one of my all-time faves), during this final sequence. I enjoyed that aspect.
Well there you have it. Does this sound like something you are really dying to see? I'm really disappointed that Disney would decide to essentially ruin the legacy of a great character and turn this into a bloated and dumb buddy comedy adventure. It saddens me that they felt the need to go this route because they have no faith in audiences anymore to support a well done western, and instead feel that in order to secure as much cash as they can they need to make it goofy and dumb-it-down for easier audience accessibility.
Enjoy the $250 million flop Disney. You earned it!
I give The Lone Ranger a 4 out of 10 (bonus point awarded for extended playing of the William Tell Overture).