The Lone Ranger

Cast:
Johnny Depp as Tonto
Armie Hammer as John Reid / The Lone Ranger
Helena Bonham Carter as Red Harrington
Barry Pepper as Captain Jay Fuller
William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish
James Badge Dale as Dan Reid
Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid
W. Earl Brown as Stache
Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole
Mason Cook as Will
Harry Treadaway as Frank
Timothy V. Murphy as Fritz
Bryant Prince as Danny Reid

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Summary:
“The Lone Ranger” has some good action and some fun elements thanks to Johnny Depp, but portraying John Reid as a bumbling dandy and a feuding relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto prevents the film from living up to its full potential.

Story:
When John Reid returns to Texas after attending law school, he finds his former hometown changed. The railroad is breaking through Comanche territory to connect the East Coast to the West Coast and his brother, Dan Reid, is now a tough, no-nonsense Texas Ranger.

Dan is hot on the heels of a recently-escaped outlaw by the name of Butch Cavendish. Feeling partly responsible for Butch’s escape, John joins the posse as a deputized Texas Ranger. Little do they realize that they are walking into a trap. Soon enough the entire group of Rangers is ambushed and killed…or are they?

An eccentric Comanche outcast by the name of Tonto, who has long been hunting Cavendish, finds John still alive. Convinced he’s a ‘spirit walker’ who cannot be killed, Tonto joins the lone surviving Ranger on a mission to hunt the outlaw down and bring him to justice. But the duo will soon find that the task is easier said than done.

“The Lone Ranger” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.

What Worked:
On paper, “The Lone Ranger” has all the elements you could want for a fun film. It reteams the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast and crew. It features a longtime pulp hero prime for a comeback. And, of course, it features Johnny Depp who is always a pleasure to watch. Yet, for a variety of reasons, it simply didn’t work for me. But let’s first focus on what did work.

The movie starts out rather unexpectedly in 1933 San Francisco. That’s not exactly where you would expect to see a Western begin, so it immediately pulls the audience in. At a carnival, we meet an elderly Tonto who proceeds to tell a young boy about his adventures long ago. It’s a fun way to frame the narrative and it’s interesting to see the contrast with Tonto in his prime. The way they created the elderly Tonto is also quite impressive. I don’t know if it was prosthetic effects or computer animation, but it was very effective. I’ll be interested to hear more about how they accomplished it later.

The action in “The Lone Ranger” is the main reason to watch this film. There are some impressive sequences early in the movie involving John Reid and Tonto chained together on a runaway train. You’ve probably seen it in the trailers. In fact, you’ve probably seen almost all of the action sequences in the trailers. They spoil many of the highlights of the film. Still, they’re worth seeing in their entirety on the big screen.

What Didn’t Work:
The biggest problem with “The Lone Ranger” is how they portrayed John Reid. He is whiny, wimpy, bumbling, and generally unlikable. You keep expecting to see him evolve into the hero he eventually becomes, but there’s almost no transition whatsoever. He fumbles around, acts scared, and even refuses to shoot a gun, then he abruptly becomes a supremely competent hero in the big final action scene. It doesn’t work. Now, I like Armie Hammer and I think he’s a good choice as John Reid, but the script and director Gore Verbinski lead him in the completely wrong direction for his character. They needed some shred of likability in him and there is none.

The other problem is the relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto. It is more akin to Bert and Ernie than, say, Batman and Robin. The two constantly feud and never have a moment where you could see them actually bonding and becoming the team we know and love. Like Bert, John Reid is tightly wound, prone to panic attacks, and is constantly chiding his partner. Like Ernie, Tonto is laid back, eccentric, has an obsession with a bird, and puts up with John’s freak-outs in a good-natured way. But unlike Bert and Ernie, this pairing doesn’t work.

This film also goes out of its way to be politically correct with respect to guns. That’s easy to understand in light of the fact that this is a Disney movie and it comes in the wake of various shooting tragedies, but it doesn’t seem true to the character of the Lone Ranger. For example, John Reid is about to ride into a canyon as part of a posse and they are aware they could be ambushed by outlaws….and he refuses to take a gun to defend himself. It’s pretty stupid. And while they’re tap dancing around the gun issue, we see one character rip out a man’s heart and eat it, another man get scalped, and other horrific acts. “The Lone Ranger” can’t seem to make up its mind with respect to violence. But returning to the Lone Ranger himself, the film seems to opt to trash everything that makes the character unique. He refuses to use a gun throughout the film and when he eventually does accept it, he does so reluctantly. That’s like taking away Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber or Batman’s batarang. I think it could have been handled better. In fact, the movie feels like it goes out of its way to strip from the Lone Ranger everything that sets him apart. He doesn’t use guns, he’s a wimp, everyone makes fun of him for wearing the mask, and he is even ridiculed for saying “Hi-Ho, Silver!” What’s left for Lone Ranger fans?

As for Johnny Depp’s Tonto, for 80% of the film his performance works perfectly. Tonto brings a lot of comic relief to the movie and much needed life. (As the movie points out, “tonto” in Spanish means foolish, silly, or dumb.) But there are times when it feels like he’s trying a little too hard to be silly. There’s a running gag of him trying to feed the dead bird on his head which is run into the ground. Then he does a few other things that start making him feel more like Captain Jack Sparrow in Native American attire than an entirely new character. It just overall feels like he never fell into the final groove with Tonto.

The tone of “The Lone Ranger” is all over the place, too. For example, the Lone Ranger’s horse Silver is initially portrayed as some supernatural symbol of the spirit world. Yet later we see the horse in a tree wearing a hat. (No, I’m not kidding.) There are other times in the film where it seems like they are going to throw some supernatural elements into the story since Tonto keeps talking about nature being out of balance. We even see hissing, seemingly possessed rabbits attack scorpions and each other in a cannibalistic fashion. Yet by the end of the film, there is no supernatural element whatsoever. It’s like the story runs down one path, changes its mind, then runs down another path.

But besides that, the overall story just doesn’t work. It’s a very clichéd plot with the evil railroad baron, the damsel in distress, and the hero saving the day on a runaway train. Using clichéd stories can be perfectly OK, but you have to bring some unique twist to it all. Johnny Depp alone is not enough to bring that needed twist.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, I was pretty disappointed by “The Lone Ranger.” It didn’t live up to its potential. However, it’s still worth checking out at some point as a rental or on TV.

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