Leading up to its premiere, “The Lone Ranger” was already haunted by its tale of multiple production woes that included a skyrocketing budget, accidents, and a shoot that lasted around five months. From this, people began to wonder whether it would ever get finished, and if it did, would the final product have been worth all the trouble. Taking into account all of the difficulties the project had, I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that it turned out as well as it did, but unfortunately, it appears that no one told the filmmakers when too much was simply too much.
Based on the radio and television show, the film begins with John Reid (Armie Hammer) going to visit his brother, lawman Dan Reid (James Badge Dale). However, his train is hijacked by a gang of outlaws looking to free their leader, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Despite John and Dan’s attempt to stop his escape, Butch gets away. Shortly after, Dan deputizes his brother, allowing him to join in the hunt to bring him back to justice, but tragedy strikes as their group is ambushed and left for dead. Another prisoner involved in the earlier incident, an Indian by the name of Tonto (Johnny Depp), comes by the scene and discovers that John is still alive.
John swears to take revenge on Butch for the murder of his brother and decides to team up with Tonto, who is trying to take his own revenge for another tragic event from several years ago. Their adventure will put them up against not only the violent gang of outlaws, but also against a scheming railroad man, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who is attempting to amass a great fortune with his plan.
“The Lone Ranger” is a film that suffers from a simple excess. For starters, it runs nearly two and a half hours long, which becomes a problem when you begin to realize that there’s too much in the way of plot, yet not enough in regards to what matters. Throughout the film’s excessive runtime, there are countless scenes that have you wishing that the story would move on, but all it ends up doing is moving on to another subplot or character that doesn’t need to be there.
It wouldn’t be out of line to call the film a jumble. The screenplay by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio tries to cram so much into the story (John’s revenge plot, Tonto’s revenge plot, Cole’s railroad plot, Dan’s wife and son, and more) that much of it becomes lost in the mix. Focusing on the revenge plots would have been more than enough instead of trying to mix in the odd-fitting railroad plot as well. For that matter, Dan’s wife and son, as well as Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter), the woman who runs the local “House of Sin,” could have been dropped altogether.
While Haythe isn’t used to working on big-budget action flicks like this, Elliott and Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) certainly are, so you would think they would know when they’re packing in more than the film can support. Perhaps they were just being precautious in case the main storyline didn’t work, or perhaps it’s simply a case of the material not transferring very well to a big-budget spectacle.
The sad part is that the film starts off rather well. The train escape is fast-paced, engaging, and gets the audience caught up in what will happen next. After that, it becomes more of a slump as you slowly trudge through the bloated runtime, only to come round full circle for another big action scene on a train. At this point, we should be fully invested in the characters on some level, but due to a lack of character development, the audience can only stare at the big, acrobatic spectacle/gunfight with complete indifference. It’s not long before the tediousness begins to wear you down, and that pertains not only to the climax, but almost the entire film.
As far as the performances go, the big shocker here is Depp, who gives one of the most one-note performances he’s ever given. He’s not one that’s normally known for taking on bland characters. In fact, the only role he’s ever done that I’ve not enjoyed prior to this was his interpretation of Willy Wonka, mainly because that performance was also very one-note and just a little too bizarre. For the role of Tonto, they could have gotten anyone to play such a bland part, so why bother going to the trouble of getting someone as talented as Johnny Depp?
Hammer does a decent job with the lead role, but with the lack of character development, there just isn’t very much to work with. Looking at the supporting cast, we find some great names like William Fichtner, nearly unrecognizable in the part of Butch, Tom Wilkinson, who can play nasty with the best of them, and Helena Bonham Carter, who’s given about two whole scenes in the film. Normally these are all wonderful actors, but Fichtner is covered in so much makeup and prosthetic that his performance gets hindered, while Carter gets so little screentime that you once again have to question why they went to the trouble of getting such great talent only to have it squandered.
The film comes from director Gore Verbinski, who gave us the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. The man knows something about epic spectacles, but this time he went a little overboard. He wanted to make this story into something grand, but that’s not really a template that this kind of story fits into. If he had toned it down a little bit, and done some considerable editing, it could have worked pretty well. There’s a solid story in here somewhere, but sadly it’s suffocated under layers and layers of overindulgence. 2/4 stars.
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