You must either be in or seriously pushing retirement age to remember the original Lone Ranger episodes, the radio serials. Subsequent generations are not very familiar with the gentleman, his sidekick Tonto, or his horse Silver; they only know the names and the tagline, “Hi-ho Silver, Away!” Oh, kemo sabe remains in the vernacular and will probably illuminate a few folks as to where that phrase comes from.
This version of The Lone Ranger is actually a ranger in training most of the time. Fresh out of Harvard Law School and coming home to help tame the lawless Wild West, John Reid (Armie Hammer) believes in books and words far more than any vulgar pistol. John Locke is his weapon of choice. Brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is the local hotshot Ranger who really knows how Texas justice works and it involves a posse and length of rope, not a fancy education. Dan also found time to marry John’s girl, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), while he was away.
Director Gore Verbinski, responsible for three out of four Pirates of the Caribbean films, incorporates a similar version of that franchise’s level of humor here, but it does not come close to matching the levity of those movies. The Lone Ranger is way too violent, too long, and too all encompassing to be in any way as enjoyable as The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) was. Johnny Depp is also back, this time as an overly painted Tonto, a local Comanche Indian on a vendetta against the same man John Reid must now track down.
Tonto is a distant cousin of Captain Jack Sparrow. They both dress in odd fashions, Tonto wears a dead crow on his head, they both crack jokes in situations where nobody else is laughing, and they are both not quite right in the head. In any other circumstances, Tonto would start to wear on your nerves; however, Armie Hammer’s character is so relentlessly annoying and poorly written, he leaves no room for the audience to notice the faults everywhere else – and there are plenty of them to go around. I recognize this is the Lone Ranger’s origin story and he is not yet a swashbuckling hero, but must he whine and complain in every scene? That gets old after the first minute or two. Unfortunately, there are about 148 more minutes to endure this guy.
The Lone Ranger is a tediously long film. I have nothing against a good, long movie if there is something to watch, but Verbinski squeezed in every recognizable theme from the Old West. There are railroad barons, ruthless outlaws, Indian villages, an Indian massacre, the old U.S. Army as beholden to cunning industrialists instead of protecting the common good, a love story, some other world magic, and an odd situation where Tom Wilkinson’s character tries to insert himself as a new father in a family not looking for one.
What this boils down to is that there is way too much going on here; less would have been a lot more. The Lone Ranger must be the most violent Disney film every made. Villain Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) cuts out a guy’s heart for crying out loud. Oh, and that Indian massacre? It happens and then never comes up again – it is an afterthought that does not need to be included here. If you are going to show the Army Gatling gun down an entire tribe, perhaps you would want to discuss its consequences and aftershocks, but then the movie would probably be three hours long.
The urge to include multiple western themes is not the problem here; it is the awful execution. Verbinski included so many subplots and asides that every one of them suffers because of it. Also, parents be warned before taking your kids to see this masked outlaw seeking true Texas justice, it is uncomfortably violent for the little ones. The final 15-20 minutes is what the entire film should have been, homage to the daring-do of the Lone Ranger and his plucky sidekick. The final action scene is fantastic with the soaring William Tell overture to carry us along with it. Yet even one of the best action finales in recent memory in no way makes up for the drudging slog it took to get us there.
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helen Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Elston Cook, Saginaw Grant