It’s rare thing that a film so completely divides critics in the USA from the rest of the world. Star Armie Hammer claimed that “If you go back and read the negative reviews, most of them aren’t about the content of the movie, but more what’s behind it…While we were making it we knew people were gunning for it”. Now, clearly it’s wrong for any critic to make decide to dislike a film before release as it’s impossible for them to make a fully informed judgement without viewing the film in question from start to finish. However, you can often see evidence of troubled production processes in the final product, and THE LONE RANGER’s production was nothing if not troubled – Disney even shut the film down at one point!
In a reinterpretation of the classic tale, we listen to an ancient Comanche named Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounting his early adventures with the legendary individual known as the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer). Tonto was an unstable outcast from his tribe seeking revenge for an atrocity committed long ago, and reluctantly allied with a lawyer-turned-Texas Ranger depute John Reid who was murdered along with his squad by brutal outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Tonto supernaturally revives John and convinces him to don a mask to better deal out anonymous justice, and the pair plunge into a world of crime, corruption and the birth of the American railroad.
The film certainly isn’t a disaster. The money Disney spent is certainly up on screen, there are some big ideas and there are a few decent gags. It’s diverting as a whole, but not particularly memorable.
I do have issues with the film. Firstly, the villains make me uncomfortable. Not in the sense that they’re creepy and stick in your mind, but because Butch’s gang is made up of the deformed, ethnic minorities and a transvestite. Surely we should be past using these traits as a short-hand for evil? Disney especially are guilty of perpetuating this screenwriting laziness in their back-catalogue, and it doesn’t look like this is going to change any time soon.
Johnny Depp does all that Johnny Depp ever does these days – his performance is quirky and physically flamboyant, but he really shouldn’t have been cast as any version of Tonto (he might be descended from the right ethnic group, but he’s white enough to be vaguely offensive). Armie Hammer is much better as the titular Ranger, and proves he has the charisma and self-deprecating good humour to be a solid Hollywood leading man, and it’s just a shame he can’t be focus with screen-hog Depp standing next to him. William Fichtner and Tom Wilkinson look like they’re having a lot of fun in their respective roles, as does Helena Bonham Carter (complete with an ivory version of the leg gun from PLANET TERROR) it’s just a shame she isn’t given more to do.
It’s a pretty film, but it should be at such monumental expense, and you’d have to be a moron not to derive something beautiful out of those imposing, iconic American landscapes. I’m not entirely convinced Gore Verbinski can handle large-scale action yet, like with the third PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, it tends to get a bit muddled and disorientating when he throws a massive amount of money at a sequence.
One of the main problems I had with the film as a whole is something I actually admire Verbinksi for. He produces some fine homage scenes to great Westerns and Hollywood movies of the 70s, but in the process he reminds you how far short his film falls from the likes of LITTLE BIG MAN and CHINATOWN, which the Lone Ranger shares its thematic, narrative and aesthetic DNA. It’s another tall tale taking a sideways look at the Western genre, and involves an elaborate resource-based conspiracy, but it lacks the wit and sense of rebellion of New Hollywood, instead relying on goofiness and spectacle.
The tone of the film is also all over the place. If you want to be a silly Old West romp, fine. But why is there so much blood, disregard for human life and even a bit of cannibalism? Why in a Disney film? There’s an awful scene transition that goes immediately from Native Americans being slaughtered to Tonto and the Ranger having a chuckle about his weird horse – that’s just plain tasteless!
The final set piece is admittedly, unavoidably, fantastic. It’s a joyous, unapologetically silly train/horse chase/shootout that masterfully appropriates Rossini’s WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE. I’ll probably never watch the film in its entirety again, but I might just skip to this elaborate and hugely enjoyable finale.
The Lone Ranger probably doesn’t deserve the critical derision it received at the hands of American critics. It’s not a good film though, it’s just too backwards-looking, inconsistent and half-baked to be anything remarkable, and Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski are approaching parodying themselves post-Pirates. It’s by no means devoid of entertainment value, and Armie Hammer should, by all rights, have hit the big-time by now, but maybe one day soon… SSP