Watching the trailers for this film, I was completely uninterested. While I enjoyed Armie Hammer in the 2010 film The Social Network, I had no desire to see more of Johnny Depp strutting around playing a quirky character again. I have no previous experience with these characters (aside from being familiar with “Hi-ho, Silver, away!” and Rossini’s William Tell Overture), so there was no sense of nostalgia to spark my interest, so I very nearly didn’t see this film. However, I did, and, although The Lone Ranger wasn’t spectacular, it was better than I had anticipated.
“Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice-taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.”
They make it sound a heck of a lot simpler than it is actually presented in the film. The film uses a framing device to set up the story as a flashback; we first meet Tonto in 1933 when a young boy named Will (Mason Cook) meets the ancient warrior at a fair in San Francisco before taking us back with his story, which takes place in Texas in 1869. The framing device does nothing for the film aside from give Depp the opportunity to play the elderly Tonto for the amusement of the audience (which, I’ll admit, did make me chuckle once or twice) and to say “never take off the mask” a couple more times than necessary. Aside from the framing device, the plot is overly convoluted and filled with plenty of “unnecessaries”: a weird love triangle between John Reid, his brother Dan (James Badge Dale), and Dan’s wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), a backstory for Tonto that never really pays off, and Helena Bonham Carter’s useless role, Red Harrington, who, as a brothel madam outfitted with a gun disguised as a prosthetic leg, is appropriately eccentric for the actress.
I did like the film, though, and was particularly surprised by how much I enjoyed Depp’s Tonto. Though the strangeness of the character is familiar and typical of Depp, it doesn’t feel like a copy of anything he’s done before, so I enjoyed the freshness of what I brought to the role. Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger was lots of fun, with the naivety of his character and his interactions with Tonto bringing plenty of laughs. William Fichtner as the main villain, Butch Cavendish, is appropriately menacing, with his face alone making you grimace. The overall color of the film was what could best be described as “muted,” giving it a western feel reminiscent of older, more traditional westerns.
The action of the film was particularly well-done for the most part, with the ending train sequence standing out as the absolute best part of the film; I LOVED the train chase/fight/shenanigans. It was fast-paced, it resolved the conflict with the villain quite well, and, most importantly, it was lots of fun, especially with the original theme song for the character, the finale to Rossini’s William Tell Overture, interjected into composer Hans Zimmer’s score. Speaking of Zimmer, he’s done it again with his score to this film. It’s not as fantastic as his recent score to Man of Steel (my review), but it’s still pretty great, despite a couple of moments that sound like bits of his scores to Sherlock Holmes or Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (my review).
There is one moment at the end of the film, after the story is done and over with, when the Lone Ranger (finally) says the character’s long-time catchphrase, “Hi-ho, Silver, away!,” in homage to the original serials and radio programs that made him famous. However, Tonto immediately responds with an incredulous look, saying, “Never do that again!,” which was done perfectly. I agree that films like this need to acknowledge previous iterations of the character, but this film did it in a way that was non-intrusive to the film as a whole and in a way that says, “okay, we did it, there you go, now let’s make this our own.” Very well-done and quite amusing, too.
Maybe I didn’t enjoy this film as much because of my lack of familiarity with the character, but, even if that’s part of it, the film’s confusing plot problems, unnecessary elements, and lack of a compelling story are difficult to forgive. Yes, it’s certainly more enjoyable than Disney’s awful trailers made it look, and Hammer and Depp both bring admirable performances to the table, but The Lone Ranger is still an overall forgettable summer blockbuster.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material