Plenty of time then for someone to try a fresh new attempt at the character. Enter Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, intent on doing just that. Sort of.
It would be easy, on the outset, to look at all the returning “Pirates of the Caribbean” creatives and assume from the outset that Verbinski’s “Ranger” will be something like the Adventures of Captain Jack Tonto and the Pirates of the Old West. It would also be not entirely off the mark, but also not entirely a bad thing.
The basic fundamentals, for anyone who is a fan of the old shows, are the same. When John Reid (Armie Hammer) and his brother Captain Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) follow the Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner) gang into a box canyon it’s the end of one story and the beginning of another as the Reid brothers are gunned down, but only one dies. Left for dead, John Reid is found by nomadic warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) who has also been searching for Cavendish. Despite their opposing methods and personalities, the pair decides to put their differences aside and team up to stop Cavendish and his band.
Verbinski and his writers have decided to approach “The Lone Ranger” as if it were a modern day superhero film, with an extended introduction to the future masked man and his family and a semi-grounded explanation on why he must use his classic accoutrements (mask, silver bullets or in this case, bullet) with just enough irony to keep a modern audience going along with it.
For the most part it works, though that is down to the chemistry between Hammer and Depp more than the plot itself which bobs and weaves into territory it doesn’t always need to head down and has more characters than is really useful. After a while, Verbinski certainly seems aware of it, with many of the side plots determined only to provide more things for Hammer and Depp to do together, sending other supporting actors off to the wings for an extended period of time.
Make that an extremely extended period of time. “The Lone Ranger” is quite bloated with elements that add nothing but running time and extra characters who struggle to find a reason to be there (for instance the Calvary officer who exists mainly to show the violence the Army often inflicted on Native Americans without cause), including a wraparound of elder Tonto telling the story of the Lone Ranger at a carnival some years in the future.
And then there’s the elephant in the room Depp as Tonto, who has frequently been held up as the icon of white America’s racial attitudes towards Native Americans (take a read through Sherman Alexie’s ‘Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven’ one day). Yes, it’s a white man playing the quintessential white man’s version of an Indianalthough cloaked entirely in story-rationaled face paint and craziness which is to hide some of his true nature, and are held up as such versus actual Comanches who are much more realistic people. It’s up to everyone individually if they can get past that, though the choice of the halting delivery used in the old TV show doesn’t make it easy. Depp’s movie star charisma helps with that some as well as the choice to make Tonto the brains of the group and frequently the only person who knows everything that’s going on at any given time.
There’s also a lot of explosions and acrobatics, also again from Depp as he flies from train to horse to explosion, though Hammer gets plenty of his own.
It wouldn’t work as well as it does if Hammer and Depp didn’t play off one another as well as they do. But work it does, in a sort of shambling, Frankenstein manner that seems like it should fall apart at any moment but doesn’t. It’s not great entertainment but it passes the time easily enough and as summer entertainment goes, that’s something.