“The Lone Ranger” is Disney’s reconciliation to the end of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. That series was—and still is—undoubtedly the studio’s most popular and lucrative live-action film series ever, the first couple films even winning accolades from the majority of critics. Rather than repeating the formula that made those movies work to a new, original concept, Disney tried instead to apply it to an existing franchise: the old western television series, “The Lone Ranger”. But as we all know, lightning never strikes the same place twice.
The film is directed by “Pirates” director Gore Verbinski and stars “Pirates” star Johnny Depp as the Comanche Indian Tonto (noticing a pattern here yet?). While imprisoned on a train, Tonto crosses paths with attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer), a rather dainty fellow who believes in the kind of justice where everyone gets a trial by jury; not the kind that’s prevalent where he’s headed in 1869 Texas, where violence is the only answer to any conflict. When Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a criminal on his way to be hanged, escapes the train, John reluctantly rides out with his brave brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and his fellow Texas Rangers, leaving behind Dan’s wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), who John happens to be in love with, and their young son Danny.
But they don’t count on there being a traitor in their midst, and an ambush in the middle of the desert leaves seven men—including Dan—dead, with John barely hanging on for life. Tonto saves him, saying that the Spirit Horse chose to bring him back from the dead for a reason. Both of them have their reasons for wanting Cavendish dead—or in John’s case, behind bars—so John reluctantly teams up with the quirky Native American to track down Cavendish and his gang. There’s something else though. The bullets that went through Dan’s vest left two holes side by side, turning the strip of fabric into a mask. Tonto tells John to wear it and never take it off, since Cavendish and his men believe he is dead and they can use that to their advantage.
This film does have a decent supporting cast that includes Tom Wilkinson as the sketchy railroad tycoon Cole and Helena Bonham Carter as Red, a madam who has a gun in her prosthetic leg. Unfortunately, Hammer never comes off as heroic, and while Depp’s performance isn’t necessarily bad, it obviously has issues. First there’s the fact that he isn’t Native American, which makes every time he opens his mouth and says a Native American saying that much more painful. But I really don’t think the makers of this movie were considering racism when they cast him. Depp’s performance as Tonto is extremely similar to his as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates” movies. Everything is there, from the weird costume to the quirky sayings and bizarre mannerisms. The attempt at recreating a character that will resonate with audiences rather than staying true to the source material is apparent, and pathetic.
The story is also weak. The frequent slapstick bits are funny, but don’t mesh with the movie as a whole. The film jumps between the goofy Lone Ranger/Tonto duo to the very serious bad guys, and the tone shifts just don’t work. There’s also a framing device featuring an elderly Tonto (with Johnny Depp in some fantastic old-age makeup) telling the story of the Lone Ranger to a young boy at a fair. This pops up throughout the movie every once in a while, providing commentary for the sometimes non-linear story, and is completely unnecessary. One thing can be said in favor of the film though, and that’s that the non-CGI effects, particularly those involving the trains in the climax, are spectacular, and the stunts are great fun to watch.
“The Lone Ranger” has it’s good bits, and it never feels slow, despite its two-and-a-half hour runtime. Still, poor character development, a distracting Depp, and a meandering story hurt it intensely. Hopefully, Verbinski, Depp, and Disney have learned from this that, unlike the Lone Ranger, some things just can’t be brought back from the dead.
Runtime: 149 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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