By Jeff Walls, Seattle Movie Critic
Disney has been advertising The Lone Ranger as from the makers of Pirates of the Caribbean. Ten years ago, that might have been enough to excite audiences, but after three decreasingly entertaining Pirates sequels, that selling point has lost some of its luster. Still, the idea of a big budget western about one of the greatest heroes in pop culture should be enough to intrigue any moviegoer. Add to that the fact that the movie features legitimate movie star Johnny Depp as Tonto and potential movie star Armie Hammer as the title character and you have got a movie that could heroically ride through the summer blockbuster season. Unfortunately, all we get is one big-budget mess.
The movie opens in 1930s San Francisco where a young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger gets more than he bargained for after walking into a Wild West exhibit at the carnival. What he finds is the real Tonto, who tells him the story of how a lawyer named John Reid became the hero the kid has grown up hearing stories of. The movie then flashes back about sixty years to the frontier town of Colby, Texas, where a railroad tycoon named Latham Cole is preaching about progress. As a gesture to the town, he offers a public hanging of the wicked outlaw Butch Cavendish. Cavendish manages to escape, however, and leads his gang into the desert. Determined to bring him back, Dan Reid and the rest of the Texas Rangers head off in pursuit. Among them is Dan’s younger brother John, whom he has just deputized.
In a canyon, the Rangers are betrayed and ambushed, leaving John Reid as the only survivor. Rescued and nursed back to health by Tonto, Reid vows to bring his brothers killers to justice. He plans to do so within the confines of the law, but Tonto convinces him that it would be better to remain a mysterious figure. Thus begins the legend of the masked man: the Lone Ranger.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t portray the hero as a legend; not even a flawed one. Instead, he’s portrayed as a fool who does not have much clue as to what he is doing. If this were an animated Disney movie, John Reid would probably be played by Goofy.
You might think that this was an intentional choice in order to make Johnny Depp’s Tonto more the hero, but Tonto isn’t very “legendary” either. The movie even reminds us that Tonto means “fool” in Spanish and the elders of his former tribe refer to him as a lost figure. This would be fine if Depp could work the same offbeat magic with Tonto as he did with Captain Jack Sparrow, but unfortunately that inventiveness is nowhere to be found here.
The plot lacks any creativity and is full of holes (How did Tonto get out of jail?) and it is obvious while watching this movie that it was being constantly rewritten throughout production. With the exception of a terrific establishing shot in San Francisco, the flashback device is absolutely pointless and adds nothing to the story. If anything, it’s a distraction that takes us out of the story rather than involving us in it. It adds nothing but running time to the movie. Meanwhile, the action is so bland and unmemorable, that it makes that 149 minute running time seem even longer.
I was thrilled that the movie brought back the classic William Tell Overture score, but it takes it much too far. It worked well in an early bank robbery scene and was brilliantly used in one of the film’s final moments, but when it is forced over the movie’s climactic action sequence it just adds an additional layer of campiness to a movie that has already had more than its fair share. It’s a wasted opportunity, too, because what we do hear of the new score by Hans Zimmer is intriguing and had the potential to become a classic new score on its own.
Of the blockbusters to be released so far in the summer of 2013, The Lone Ranger stands out as the biggest disappointment. The filmmakers try too hard to make it into a comic adventure and miss an opportunity to create a legitimate Western franchise.
The Lone Ranger is rated PG-13 for “sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.” The action is PG for the most part, but there are a couple of more grotesque scenes that push the rating up to PG-13.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Lone Ranger.