IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 149 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
At a sideshow in a San Francisco fair in 1933, young Will, who idolises a legend known as the Lone Ranger, encounters Tonto, an elderly Comanche Native American, who proceeds to recount his experiences with the Ranger, who actually existed. In Colby, Texas on March 18, 1869, he was a lawyer named John Reid. His train is derailed by outlaws rescuing a prisoner called Butch Cavendish who had been captured by John’s Texas Ranger brother Dan. He joins Dan and six others in going after the outlaws, but Cavendish’s men ambush and kill their pursuers in a canyon. Tonto, who has just escaped prison, comes across the dead men and buries them. However, a white spirit horse awakens John as a “spirit walker”….
So once again we have a would-be blockbuster that is a Western, and once again it has bombed. Does this mean that most filmgoers hate Westerns, the younger kind in particular considering the genre old-fashioned and boring? It’s difficult to say. Several years ago you could have said about the pirate movie, and then along came Pirates Of The Caribbean. True Grit and Django Unchained have been commercial successes, though they were aimed primarily at a somewhat different kind of audience. Who knows, and I’m sure in a few years time they’ll try again. In the meantime, we have The Lone Ranger, and I would love to say that it is rip-roaring fun that in no way deserves neither the bad reviews nor the low box office numbers it is getting. Sadly, I can’t. It has good moments, albeit mostly copied from other films, but is overall a shambling mess that can’t seem to decide what it’s trying to be. Pirates Of The Caribbean in the West sounds like a good thing, but not if the result is closest to the often dreary third film in that franchise. Like that film, The Lone Ranger stumbles along like a shambling drunk, wasting time on random sequences and subplots, then remembering towards the end to give you some action and excitement, and only occasionally providing the giddy lift that you should get from a film like this.
The Lone Ranger first appeared in 1933 in a very long-running radio show, then later on in a TV series, which led to two movie spin-offs. 1981 and 2003 saw two more unsuccessful attempts to bring the character to the cinema and TV respectively, and I guess that the clean-cut hero is a difficult one to make relevant in today’s climate. I think it’s rather sad that most heroes have to be ‘flawed’ and have ‘depth’ nowadays. It’s now got so bad that we even have Superman, who is supposed to represent the best that we can become, breaking a guy’s neck. However, this is the way it is, and that’s presumably why that the makers of The Lone Ranger have tried to make a film that at least half of the time seems like it’s trying to be something else. Most notably, they’ve made the Lone Ranger’s Native American companion Tonto into his equal, and that’s a decision that works, but little else does. Once again, we have a film that is ridiculously long. You could cut a third out of it and it would be far better.
We open with old Tonto in a museum, soon to be followed by a shot of Monument Valley which should get any lover of Westerns excited. This framing device of Tonto, probably inspired by Little Big Man, is tolerable at the beginning and the end of the film, but gets very annoying when we keep cutting back to Tonto, often in the middle of scenes, elsewhere. The film gets off to a good start with some great action aboard a train, and I must say that straight-away it has a real Western feel, while technically the film is usually first class. Even the CGI is mostly excellent, while there are some great swooping shots courtesy of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, though it’s hard to entirely see where all the money went. However the film starts to grind to a halt once John Reid has died and then come back from the grave. The Lone Ranger and Tonto bicker and bicker, and some of it is quite funny, Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer having considerable chemistry. However, the movie is just content to meander aimlessly as the two go all over the place. At one point, they find themselves in a sleazy town full of freaks and prostitutes, and it feels like Tim Burton [there’s even Helena Bonham Carter looking the way she usually does these days] has just met Federico Fellini, but what the hell is it doing in this movie? There’s so much wondering around in the desert that even I started to feel really thirsty, and while, for instance, Sergio Leone can take his time with such stuff and let what plot there is gradually reveal itself, Gore Verbinski is no Leone, even if he is quite good at action, and thankfully doesn’t indulge in the shakycam, hyper-fast editing crap that plagues modern cinema.
Unfortunately, there barely is any action till the last twenty minutes, when Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a piece of music which has been associated with the Lone Ranger since he first came on the radio, begins to play and we are treated to all sorts of crazy action involving two trains. It’s over the top in the best way and gloriously entertaining, and it’s a shame that the rest of the film is not like this. Occasionally it tries to be a comical adventure with a fantastical edge, but things such as a wonder horse which, we are led to believe, flies, seem out of place amidst what is the usual attempt at realism and grittiness that is so common these days. Even if much of the nasty stuff, like a heart ripping [which is partially and cleverly shown through glasses Hitchcock-style], is not explicit, there is a somewhat nasty edge to much of the film which is just not necessary. The Lone Ranger doesn’t seem to be trying to deliver glorious escapism, but then I don’t know what it’s trying to do half the time, except to irritate fans of the character, who probably won’t recognise their hero here at all; he is even first seen robbing a bank, and later on smashes someone’s face in with the butt of his gun. Though I’m not a fan, one of the most pleasing things about the Lone Ranger is that, like Superman [at least until Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan got their hands on him]], he is totally moral and admirable; in short, a terrific role model for kids, and I was looking forward to seeing such a hero, a rarity these days, on the screen. Of course, it wasn’t to be.
Sometimes The Lone Ranger seems like it’s trying to be one of those pro-Native American ‘revisionist’ Westerns of the 70’s, and that’s commendable because, much like Johnny Depp has said, I also used to be on the side of the ‘Reds’ rather than the ‘Whites’ whilst watching old Westerns as a kid and got annoyed because they always lost and were usually negatively portrayed. But a film called The Lone Ranger which promises lots of adventure and derring-do is not really the film to show audiences how the west was really won. Shanghai Noon had positive portrayal of Native Americans and a few jokes containing a bit of social commentary involving them, and that’s all that was needed. Speaking of the Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson starrer, scenes and situations are copied quite often for The Lone Ranger, which despite being so all over the place doesn’t show much in the way of originality. At least lots of references to old Westerns [they even feature the favourite hymn of the great Western director John Ford that sometimes showed up in his films] please because they’re noticeable to fans but don’t stick out and take one out of the film.
Hammer, who sounds just like Brendan Fraser, is a little bland in the title role, but he’s adequate. Depp has been accused of doing Jack Sparrow all over again, but his restrained performance is actually very different. His dead-pan delivery sometimes makes potentially unfunny lines funny. Hans Zimmer’s score is an improvement on his last few efforts, but makes little attempt at a Western flavour, and is generally astoundingly mediocre throughout except when he’s ripping off [yet again] Ennio Morricone. I wanted to love The Lone Ranger and tell all those critics they were wrong, but I can’t. It’s fitfully entertaining, but overall it’s yet another bloated, messy blockbuster from a Hollywood which seems to be finding it increasingly difficult to deliver decent entertainment of this kind. If you want to see Verbinski and Depp doing a Western, you’d be better off checking out Rango.