Review: Verbinski's 'Lone Ranger' is an Obvious, Pointless Blockbuster
by Jeremy Kirk
July 3, 2013
Hi-ho, silliness! Away! With all the bravado and fanfare that would come from a Gore Verbinski/Johnny Depp/Jerry Bruckheimer reunion, The Lone Ranger is the kind of summer blockbuster that should have moviegoers frothing with anticipation. Even when the team behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise seemed to have run out of ideas, the sheer magnitude of those films carried with it a sense of built-in enjoyment. Not so with their latest endeavor. Instead of galloping across the screen, The Lone Ranger stumbles with every step, mixing goofy comedy with oddly horrific violence, none of which works. But, hey, if you like trains, you're in luck.
It doesn't start out all bad. The opening scene is quite a change of pace for anyone even remotely familiar with The Lone Ranger mythology, planting us first in a 1930s carnival where a young boy, fully decked out in his favorite Lone Ranger gear, comes across an Old West museum that piques his interests. What piques them even more is the elderly Native American man he finds there, a man who clearly has a few screws loose upstairs but who claims to be the infamous Tonto (Johnny Depp). As the boy listens on intently, Tonto recalls the events surrounding the Lone Ranger's origin and their first, epic adventure together.
Right off the bat, all is well with The Lone Ranger. Not even Depp's lunacy behind mounds of old man makeup can deter the screenplay and Verbinski's direction from getting the energy up. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long. We're soon introduced to John Reid (Armie Hammer), a Texas lawyer who'd rather fight his battles with the law than a gun full of silver bullets. The players, good and bad, fall into place, Reid's transformation to the masked man comes about like clockwork, and blockbuster, Western action flies in from the left and the right. Pretty typical stuff that rarely dares to step outside the lines.
However, nothing about The Lone Ranger ever seems to be on sure footing. Depp's typical craziness is all the film strives for in terms of real comedy. The action escalates to bigger and more explosive set pieces, but that hot air pouring from the raging locomotives in those action pieces is more than a little symbolic. What energy the film sets up in the opening is quickly lost in the start/stop/start pacing the film has to trample through. Every time the film seems to be picking up a little bit of steam - pun definitely intended - it all gets cut short by another bout of wackiness from its lead or an ill-timed jump back to the 1930s bookend.
It isn't just that Depp's oddity wears thin, either, although that is certainly true. It's about the eighth or ninth time he tries feeding that dead bird sitting on his head that that particular joke hits a breaking point. What's more aggravating, though, is how tonally disjointed the entire film is. Even the Pirates movies had their fair share of darkness mixed with broad humor, but The Lone Ranger seems to be heading in either direction at twice the speed and with three times the tenacity. It's difficult to go from seeing Silver, the Lone Ranger's magical spirit animal who essentially chose him to wear the mask, sitting on a branch of a tree to watching the film's villain eat another character's heart. Sure Verbinski/Depp/Bruckheimer was the first team to convince Disney a PG-13 worked, but The Lone Ranger is working on an awkward level of ugliness.
The Pirates movies, though set in some strange, historical place, almost seemed like fantasies. Those worlds were familiar to us, but just outside the grasp of reality, enough that the back-and-forth between slapstick and sorrow almost seemed natural. With The Lone Ranger, the time and place are very evident, very much our United States only about 150 years in the past. Also, it might help the balance if either the humor or the seriousness were believable. It's hard for anything to be believable when Johnny Depp is wearing white makeup, though.
The action becomes a deciding factor, especially when the director's history of blockbuster action is tried and true. Sadly, no matter how big The Lone Ranger gets, its ankles seem to be shackled to only one kind of excitement, that being trains. And lots of them. If Depp's idea of wackiness doesn't wear thin by the end of the film, the sight of seeing all-out action entertainment in/on/around a train very well could. It's as if the screenwriters couldn't think of anything else to write into the film. At one point in the film's development, werewolves played a part. While it sounds idiotic on paper, at least it would have been something off the beaten-to-death path. Or track, as the case here may be. At least the werewolf angle would have given the film that fantastical edge it needed.
Not even the pairing of Depp and Hammer can save the film from going off the rails - pun again. Armie Hammer, handsome and heroic an appearance as he may give off, works best in his lighter moments. He gets lost behind the mask, though, once the action kicks in, a pretty sad occurrence since it's a tiny sliver of black cloth over his eyes. There's no camaraderie between Reid and Tonto, even when their differences turn into full blown partnership. They look good together on the poster, but that's about it. By the film's end - no spoiler alert necessary - we're left to believe these two rode together for decades to come, taking on all form of villainy in the sweeping West. It just as well could have ended right there with a friendly handshake and a ride into the sunset.
And that's how the whole Lone Ranger undertaking comes off, like a quick, uneventful trek across the plains that ends just as you would expect and no frills along the way to keep your journey interesting. It's big, even loud at times, but there's nothing interesting going on either below the dusty surface or right on top of it. At least at 150 minutes, you know you're going to get your fill of the masked rider and his Indian friend. You also get your fill of the dead bird, the weird horse, and trains trains trains. Maybe in some of those future adventures, the Lone Ranger and Tonto actually step off the obvious track. That sure isn't the case here.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 10