“Hi-Ho, Silver! Away!”…meh. When Hans Zimmer’s rehashed Sherlock Holmes score kicks into “William Tell Overture” mode, Disney’s new re-imagining of The Lone Ranger is at its best. Unfortunately, this only happens twice. What could have been (and should have been) a fun adventure ends up being an odd concoction of conflicting tones and a bloated story. This “messiness” worked well in director Gore Verbinski’s last effort, Rango, but that film was about an eccentric chameleon in the midst of an identity crisis who ends up tangled in a Chinatown-esque conflict in a wild west animal town. So, it was obviously poised to extend the limits of the bizarre. The Lone Ranger, on the other hand, is about fun adventures. Bad guys vs. good guys. The film is 150 minutes long and easily could’ve been 90 minutes. The few action set pieces are fun and well choreographed, but they lose their effect when they are bookended by a plodding story involving genocide, power struggles, and weird spiritual visions.
Despite the controversy surrounding Johnny Depp being cast in the role of the Native American sidekick, Tonto (though he isn’t the first non-Native American to play the part), Depp fills the iconic character’s boots well. Channeling his best Buster Keaton impersonation, Depp’s Tonto casually and stiffly finds his way through complex choreographed action scenarios unscathed. His broken English (teetering on offensive, but not really) is scripted well and gets a fair number of laughs. Armie Hammer is a welcome presence in the title role. It’s a shame he doesn’t get to grace the screen as the fully-fledged hero for very long, since he demonstrates here that he is capable of carrying the weight of an action hero. As the legendary character goes, Hammer is able to display the depth of a man who values good will toward others but gradually gets pushed to the edge, but never so far as to lose himself. Hammer and Depp are a solid duo. Perhaps, if the box office receipts prove successful, The Lone Ranger will get a sequel and we can watch the two gallop together again, hopefully in a movie that’s more fun.
The supporting roles are carried out in solid fashion. Complete with a mangled lip, wild stare, and a propensity for unthinkable savagery, William Fichter swallows up the villainous role of “Butch” Cavendish, a mainstay in many Lone Ranger origin stories of decades past. Coming back to the ‘unthinkable savagery’, I was shocked at how violent The Lone Ranger is. During the screening, a lady behind me questioned outloud, “And this is meant for kids?” For a Disney film, The Lone Ranger is as dark as they come and is in no way appropriate for kids, say, under the age of twelve. I’ll go ahead and say it – The Lone Ranger should have been rated ‘R’. This is unfortunate, because I think the producers should have aimed for a ‘PG’ rating.
To continue recounting the overload of supporting actors, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Barry Pepper are all in fine form here, but their characters suffer due to the long running time that can only afford so many minutes toward fleshing out their characters. A few crucial characters disappear from the story for a substantial portion while others are introduced half way through.
When The Lone Ranger theme song plays, taken from the “William Tell Overture” but made famous by its association with The Lone Ranger, it’s a welcome relief. It signals the start of a crazy fun action sequence, and this film delivers upon that promise. Only on a few occasions, like when the CG effects were so blatant it made me cringe, did the action lose its firm grip on my attention. But the action is only a small portion of the film. Verbinski and veteran Pirates of the Caribbean writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have lost their unfiltered sense of fun, as they did in Pirates 2 & 3 (and 4), getting too bogged down in politics, existential motifs and too many damn characters! Can’t we just get a fun, simple, adventure? Remember how fun The Curse of the Black Pearl was? That’s because it featured a silly story and lots of fun. The writers are just trying way too hard. Here, we get a wrinkly old Tonto (I call him “Raisin Tonto”) recounting the legendary tale of the Lone Ranger to a kid at a traveling circus. Hey! Writers! How about you just tell us the story. There, 20 minutes…gone. You’re welcome.
The Lone Ranger opens in Bay Area theaters today, July 3, 2013.