You'd think a superhero western about two dudes, one horse, a bunch of bad guys and Rossini's William Tell Overture would be pretty easy to get right.
Then again, Hollywood couldn't get its head around Wild Wild West...
That over $250M was spent on a western based on a old show from the 50's is frankly nuts, especially since there was no way a franchise could have ever been spawned from it! The Lone Ranger, on that basis, was a flop from the get-go. With that in mind, let's look at the film on its own merits.
It sadly doesn't really work.
Now, don't get me wrong: I do like many parts of this movie and I do think that there was a kickass Lone Ranger flick in there somewhere. Unfortunately, the film is too long and too convoluted to really make sense. Honestly, director Gore Verbinski seems to have missed the point of making a Lone Ranger movie in the first place. What this should have been is a superhero movie as a western with a serial feel. What I mean by a "serial feel" is that the action should have started right away, in the middle of an adventure already in progress with our hero already being the titular Lone Ranger. The film should have been nice and short (an hour and a half MAXIMUM) and should have ended on a cliffhanger. Alas, this film is far too busy making Johnny Depp's Tonto appear as cute, cool and goofy as possible and making Armie Hammer's Ranger appear as dumb and clumsy as possible to focus on what matters. There is a simplicity to the old Lone Ranger show that's charming, it's essentially heroism at its purest: damsels in distress, moustache-twirling bad guys, masked hero in a big hat running in to save the day. Think Zorro with a corny all-American hero quality to him. Add in a little bit of self-aware humour if you must in your new adaptation but that's it. Don't go overboard to try and make The Lone Ranger feel nothing like the Lone Ranger!
With half an hour left until the end of the movie, I was sitting there thinking they were going to wrap up the entire thing quickly and flatly when, to my utter dismay, the William Tell Overture kicks in as Armie Hammer in full Lone Ranger gear swings onto the top of a moving train on a white horse while Tonto does cool shit in the background.
To my shock and awe, the film had finally become...
The Lone Ranger.
There I was, smiling like a kid, happy to see all the ingredients that make up a fab modern Lone Ranger movie together at last and working like a charm when I started thinking... what the hell were we doing this whole time?! Two whole hours had passed before the film decided to finally deliver us a genuine badass Lone Ranger moment and why? Because we had to spend forever developing everything leading up to John Reid becoming the Lone Ranger, developing Tonto's entire backstory and character arc, not to mention the villains' unnecessarily elaborate railroad-themed plot AND occasionally cut into a thoroughly irritating and useless framing device involving an old Tonto and a nameless little boy. What kind of movie did they think they were doing exactly? Hans Zimmer's not-so-subtle score suggests that Once Upon a Time In The West was an inspiration but... that's like setting out to make a Yogi Bear movie and using Grizzly Man as a template! Just sayin': FOCUS on the movie at hand, don't get distracted and get tempted to go all out when the project really doesn't require that much padding. As it stands, there's a really good half hour in that entire movie that resembles a cool Lone Ranger flick, the rest could have easily been tossed aside. This should honestly have occurred when the script was still being developed. So much unnecessary spending could have been avoided!
Armie Hammer is a decent actor and tries hard to make his character work in this movie but he is given nothing to work with. Every time you think his character wises up and gets serious, they make him do something stupid and turn him into a bumbling fool. This should be our hero and yet we spend 90% of the movie seeing him run away from confrontations, stand by helplessly while the Comanche are ruthlessly butchered, getting captured or being dragged head-first through horse manure. Not even kidding: that last part actually happens. This is how much this movie hates that character. Depp's Tonto, however, is given every joke, every quirky line, everything. Too much, in fact. To the point where Depp's character becomes completely intrusive and drags the entire film to a halt every time he's on screen. In a film where William Fichtner's villain rips out someone's heart and eats it, it's pretty odd to see Depp try so freakishly hard to make the movie as kid friendly as possible. You can't have a scene where Native Americans are being massacred and follow it up with a white dude pretending to be a Native American joking around about a horse wearing a hat! That's... all kinds of wrong. All in all, Hammer comes off as a kind of Brendan Fraser wannabe in this movie and Depp as Disney's resident babysitter, waving his keys in front of the young audience to keep them entertained.
The supporting characters are also about as stock as they get. Tom Wilkinson is in it and, since he's Tom Wilkinson (SPOILERS), you know he'll be one of the villains by the end. Fichtner makes a decent ghoulish villain but he's basically every western bandit you've ever seen. Ruth Wilson's love interest is about as charismatic and useful as that crow on top of Tonto's head and it's hard to care about anyone's story and anything that's going on since no-one appears to be taking the Lone Ranger seriously. Oh, Helena Bonham-Carter also pops up as a one-legged prostitute. I don't know why. If only the whole movie had been like that last half hour: fun, heroic, in keeping with what the old show was actually about. Luckily, Gore Verbinski knows how to make a movie look good and how to creatively cartoon an action sequence, though why those evil CGI cannibal rabbits were at all necessary is beyond me. I do think the dark humour that the director loves really clashes with the whole Lone Ranger thing. Are dead horses really all that funny? Why would the Lone Ranger abandon Tonto to get killed by scorpions? Why should we care about a dude who spends more time helping a dead crow than he does trying to help his own people?! It doesn't help that the plot starts off as simple enough then gets so convoluted and uninteresting.
In the end, what you're left with is another Rango: a bloated, overlong, kinda dull stock western with a kid-friendly tone and a really dark edge. It has its short bursts of brilliance where the film actually resembles an awesome Lone Ranger movie but they are sadly way too few and far between to hold this heart-breakingly misguided project together completely.
A missed opportunity.
I'd "Hi Ho Silver, Away!" at this point but Disney Tonto told me not to do that again.
Oh, and Disney: I don't need a little kid to point out plot holes during the movie itself.
I can do that myself.