Before I start this review, I’d love to point out how deliciously ironic it is that so much of the marketing for this film featured a literal Train Wreck.
Over the past five years or so, Disney has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into a string of efforts to establish a new big-budget live-action franchise to fill the void that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies left in its release slate. The Lone Ranger is now the latest entry on that list, joining the likes of Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and John Carter (the three of which made a combined $226 million at the domestic box office compared to a combined production budget of $600 million). On paper, The Lone Ranger seemed like it just might buck this trend; after all, the one-two-three punch of director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Johnny Depp struck gold before with Pirates, so why wouldn’t it work again when combined with one of the most iconic american heroes of all time? Well, turns out there are a lot of reasons, and with the beating the film has taken from critics and audiences alike perhaps Disney is finally resigning itself to the likelihood that the Pirates franchise was the exception, not the rule. The Lone Ranger’s bloated 150 minute run time is filled with impressive action set pieces and homages to its source material, but poor writing and a wildly inconsistent tone makes it completely understandable why the film is destined to become the biggest Box Office Bomb of 2013.
The Plot: 5/10
Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
There really wasn’t any issue with the plot that was enough to ruin the movie for me. It’s incredibly predictable but that’s befitting the source material, which, despite its vigilante justice themes, never really strayed from the black-and-white morality of the time. What really bothered me about the plot is an issue that has been making me feel like a broken record lately; it’s just way too damn long. I recognize that in movies like this, where you have to include an origin story with the main plot, it’s really hard to establish the main character effectively while establishing a main story line (i.e. Man of Steel). The problem here is that the movie frames that origin story with a flat-out weird plot device in which an aged Tonto tells the Lone Ranger’s story to an annoying little kid about seventy years afterwards. This device has been used before to far better results in movies like The Princess Bride, but I just found it incredibly annoying and gimmicky here.
The Writing: 2/10
I’ve noted before that I’m a bit of a stickler for writing, and as a result it’s hard for me to overlook a weak script even if every other aspect of the movie is up to par. Again, I understand that the character cliches here are in line with the source material, but if you’re going to use character frames like that then you’d better at least give them some quirks or other defining features to make them at least a little interesting. The odd thing is, for a movie that is trying so blatantly to cash in on Pirates of the Caribbean goodwill, The Lone Ranger has none of that film’s interesting peripheral characters (i.e. MacKenzie Cook, Kevin McNally).
Supporting cast aside, let’s not fool ourselves; Pirates of the Caribbean was Jack Sparrow’s game, considering the character dynamics in this film are so similar (Johnny Depp helps a naïve, rule-abiding protagonist fight to save his sweetheart from an evil villain), a huge amount of the burden for the movie’s success depended on Tonto being just as effective a foil to John Reid as Jack Sparrow was to Will Turner. Unfortunately, with Tonto the writers took Jack Sparrow’s trademark swagger and swapped it out for a comically overblown take on Native American stereotypes. In hindsight, Tonto was such a borderline politically incorrect character in the first place that it would have been hard to avoid playing to this stereotype even without a white actor playing him.
The Acting: 3/10
While I’m on the topic of racial miscasting, I might as well start this category by talking a bit about Mr. Depp. Depp doesn’t feel so much like he’s playing Tonto here as he feels like he’s playing Jack Sparrow doing his best impression of a Native American, and it’s not too difficult to imagine how that fact will prove incredibly offensive to that group. I understand the business rationale behind casting Mr. Depp in this role, but the unavoidable associations the audience will make with Tonto’s character and Jack Sparrow (especially given the latter’s face-paint scenes in Dead Man’s Chest) make it an unnecessary and off-putting distraction.
Armie Hammer tries his hardest to pull off a character that truly belongs to a bygone era of American entertainment, and he almost succeeds. Sadly, while Hammer does a good job of communicating his character’s internal struggle between the priciples he believes in and the unfulfilled rage he feels after the death of this brother, he doesn’t handle the comic elements written for his character quite as well. On the villain side, William Fichter serves as an effective if not entirely original villain, which Tom Wilkinson seems to be on a completely understandable autopilot setting as the corrupt Railroad Baron, Mr. Cole. My biggest disappointment, however, was just how incredibly underused Ruth Wilson was as John’s damsel in distress, Rebecca. Having seen how amazing Wilson can be in the right role (if you haven’t already, watch Season One of Luther right now), I can’t begin to describe how painful it was to see her given such a meek and impotent role as she is here.
The Action: 7/10
Considering the content of the trailers and the film’s enormous budget, it’s not surprising that the film’s action is by far its strongest point. If this is the only reason you came to see this movie, you’ll probably be pretty happy with it in the end. There are several major set pieces involving trains which are very creatively executed, and once these scenes get going it’s much easier to enjoy the film. If I were to have any issue with the film’s action though, it’s that it often makes an abrupt switch into the intentionally cheesy, almost cartoonist action of the original series complete with William Tell Overture background music. If the entire movie were geared more towards that sort of nostalgic tone, I’d completely understand. However, when you’re having those scenes take place after you’ve seen a main character get his heart cut out and possibly eaten, it’s a whole different story. The Lone Ranger rapidly switches from scenes that are clearly made for children (I counted at least four eye-rolling uses of scatological humor), those scenes are followed up by situations or images that I wouldn’t want any child of mine to see.
As a final note, it blows my mind how a movie with budget issues like this still managed to fit in several completely needless and unexplained scenes involving vampiric rabbits.
The Verdict: 4.0/10 – Not Worth It
+ The action is pretty spectacular at times, making full use of the enormous budget
+ Armie Hammer makes a pretty good Lone Ranger, all things considered
– Tonto is a weird combination of Jack Sparrow and Native American clichés
– The “story telling” plot device is incredibly annoying and unnecessary
Rotten Tomatoes: 24 %
Rath’s Reviews: 7/10
The Code is Zeek: 2.5/5
Keith and the Movies: 2/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 3.5/10
The Average: 5.1/10 – Mediocre