The Lone Ranger (2013)
Much like John Carter before it, the main story about The Lone Ranger is how much money it lost for Disney. It’s a certifiable flop. I wanted to see the film anyway, but the news of it stinking up the box office made me want to see it all the more. Perhaps I have some vulture in me on my mother’s side. I finally got to check it out this evening and I was left with a head full of questions. Not exactly the reaction you want from a popcorn summer movie.
“It was a ranger, riding a white horse. Got some lunatic Indian with him. They’re coming for you.“
The Lone Ranger starts off in 1933, where a young boy in Ranger costume visits a fun fair and a Wild West sideshow. In the exhibit, he finds a geriatric Tonto (Johnny Depp) who regales the kid with a story about the famed Lone Ranger and his adventures with him. We flash back to the 1800s where we see an idealistic lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer) return to the small town of Colby. After an ambush that leaves Reid, his brother and his posse dead, John somehow wakes up, leading Tonto to believe he is a “spirit walker”, someone who can’t be killed in battle. The duo team up to take down the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) ,a man with a penchant for eating people’s hearts, and soon discover evil and corruption run a lot deeper than a simple insane cannibal. It’s a fairly decent story, but it needlessly complicated for something that you’d expect to be a classic goodies vs. baddies affair. Johnny Depp plays Tonto like another one of his wacky characters and he’s likeable in the role, although it does teeter on the edge of racial insensitivity. Armie Hammer is also decent as John Reid/The Ranger, but is just another classically good-looking lead with not much going on. I think he’s got some real comic timing, but the script doesn’t really give him enough to work with. The duo of Hammer and Depp works well though and makes up for a lot of the plodding pace. William Fichtner is having all sorts of fun as Butch Cavendish and Helena Bonham Carter shows up because if she’s ever more than a few feet from Johnny Depp at any one time, she’ll explode with the force of a Megaton bomb. Probably.
Cynicism is something that hangs over all aspects of The Lone Ranger. Firstly, it has to be said that nobody has given a fuck about The Lone Ranger for decades. However, aspects of the show are still ingrained in pop culture and as such there is some name recognition and goodwill associated with the property, so they felt it was ripe for a big screen adaptation. It’s scraping the bottom of the barrel. That’s not to say they can’t take it and do something fun with it, it just strikes me as the result of a desperate 3 A.M. “bloodshot eyes and overfull ashtray” type meeting at the House of Mouse. This cynicism bleeds in to the actual product too. Apparently, it’s no longer the done thing to have a simple good vs. bad story. It has to be buried by things like revenge, greed, double-crossing, politics and all that fun stuff that kids definitely understand and seek out. I’d have thought that with something like The Lone Ranger, that would have been a given, but what do I know? Something struck me on the way home. I realised that only a select few of this generation of blockbusters will be remembered for years to come like the big event films from previous decades are. It’s almost as if they’re purposely designed to neatly slide off your brain without leaving any real impression. Maybe that’s why modern parody films suck so much. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing fresh or iconic to latch onto and start having fun with. Just a thought.
Unfortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean hacks Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were brought on for this film and they show no sign of returning to their golden age of Shrek, The Road to El Dorado and Curse of the Black Pearl. You can tell Lone Ranger was written by the same gormless wankers that wrote shit like At World’s End. Lone Ranger actually has a clearer story than any of the Pirates sequels, but it’s weighed down by pointless scenes, crappy jokes and a lack of spark to the dialogue. It’s a bloated mess at times and certainly runs for too long. Helena Bonham Carter’s appearance is completely superfluous and pertains to a whole brothel sequence that didn’t need to be there at all. The main problem though is tone. I keep banging on about tone like people care and many don’t understand what the hell I’m talking about. Thing is, I can point to The Lone Ranger as a handy example from now on. One would assume that the target audience for the film would be families with slightly older kids, the same as the Pirates movies. However, this film keeps flitting between fun, knockabout action to some surprisingly dark shit. You’ve got Cavendish eating people’s hearts and a big war between the Comanches and the army that results in many violent, brutal deaths. It’s really odd. I’ve heard people say it’s too dark for kids, but I remember watching Temple of Doom at a young age and that has all sorts of dark business going on. The difference is that Temple of Doom had a consistent tone. Lone Ranger doesn’t know what the fuck its doing and alternates between the two modes scene to scene, resulting in you feeling disconnected from all the colour and noise happening on screen.
It’s not all bad. There is some fun to be had. As I said, the Depp/Hammer team works and the action can be fun. It’s well directed by Verbinski and has some gorgeous classic Old West vistas to appreciate. Perhaps the film’s saving grace is the climactic train sequence which is scored by Hans Zimmer’s brilliant reorchestrated William Tell Overture. Yeah, it’s manipulative but it elevates things by a huge margin. Even without the score, the scene is bucketloads of fun and features some amazing stunts and classic bits of derring-do. This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted from a Lone Ranger film. I found myself thinking why the whole fucking film couldn’t have been like the finale and it made me a bit sad. I was actually thrilled by the sequence, but it took so goddamn long to get there, it didn’t really feel worth it.
“Never take off the mask.”
So, The Lone Ranger. I enjoyed it in places, but it’s just another convoluted, turgid mess of a film posing as dumb entertainment. I love blockbusters with a passion that sometimes borders on the erotic, but I’m finding myself annoyed and disappointed by the big budget stable more often than not. I want to have fun whilst watching a film like this, but apparently that’s too much to ask. I was left feeling rather hollow by the whole experience and if I wanted to feel that, I’d stare at my phone for two and a half hours, wondering why the girls aren’t calling. At least that way I’d have saved myself the best part of a tenner.