The Lone Ranger first hit TV in 1949, (he had been the star of a weekly radio program starting in January in 1933) and brought the fun of a serialized Western to weekly TV. The series ran from 1949 through 1957. Cowboy stories were very popular at the time, and he struck a chord with many youngsters across the nation. On TV, he was portrayed by Clayton Moore, while Jay Silverheels portrayed the noble sidekick, Tonto. The Lone Ranger would save the day – and ride off on his white horse, Silver, saying, “Hi-ho Silver! Away!” over the William Tell overature. After which, one of the townspeople would state, “Who was that masked man, anyway?”
Fran Striker, and George Trendle created a creed for the Lone Ranger and Tonto that Moore and Silverheels tried to embody at all times, knowing that they were role models for all the children who watched their show. It began with “I believe”…then includes the following: That to have a friend, a man must be one; that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world; that God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself; in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for what is right; that all things change, but truth lives on forever.
Striker and Trendle also created ‘rules’ for how the character would behave: he would never been seen without his mask; the Lone Ranger always uses perfect grammar and precise speech, avoiding slang; The Lone Ranger never shoots to kill, but rather to disarm; The Lone Ranger never drinks or smokes; criminals are never shown in enviable positions of wealth or power, and they are never glamorous. The Lone Ranger made the decision to only use silver bullets to remind himself that life is precious, and is not to be wasted. This is a great iconic American hero, and he is deserving of a fantastic movie. However, this new one is not it.
Johnny Depp has never liked ‘normal’ and has built his career around bucking it. Rumor has it he was so fed up with being thought of as the ‘heartthrob’ from 21 Jump Street that he did whatever he could to get out of his contract on that show, including showing up with marbles in his mouth. Since then, he has done whatever he could to create unique, quirky characters one after another. That’s all well and good – but after a while, they start to all feel a little similar. Beginning with the sad and beautiful Edward Scissorhands; and going all the way through Jack Sparrow, new Willy Wonka, Dark Shadows, Sweeny Todd, and Alice in Wonderland.
When news broke that Johnny was going to star as Tonto in the Lone Ranger movie, a collective groan went up from fans. You can debate how much of him is or is not actual Native American (he says a great amount) but you cannot debate that he would turn it into a strange quirky character. Then the first picture of him the in makeup he had chosen for the character turned up. The groans doubled in volume. Then came the word of how he and his Pirates director Gore Verbinski were perhaps going over budget with this overblown story. There was a lot of bad word of mouth before the first trailers came out.
After the trailer came out, the movie looked better, and started to look interesting. Unfortunately, it’s not. The problem is that the movie is way too long, and becomes self-indulgent on the part of Depp and Verbinski.
The movie begins in a Little Big Man or Young Guns 2 or Posse style of having a really old guy tell the story through flashbacks. A small child wanders through a wild west exhibit in 1933 San Francisco, and encounters a very old Native American “in his natural environment”. Turns out he’s alive, and Tonto, and begins to tell the child the story. Tonto was captured on a train with criminal Butch Cavendish who was on his way to be picked up by rangers to transport him to his hanging. A lawyer, John Reid, is also on the train going to meet his brother, Dan – who is leading the rangers. Well, Cavendish’s gang busts him out, he chains Tonto to the lawyer, and this leads to a preposterous escape sequence.
There’s also a really long and boring sequence that establishes Tom Wilkinson as the head of the railroad company building the train, and cooperating with the Comanche, and flirting with the ranger’s wife Rebecca – the lawyer’s sister-in-law-who used to be with the lawyer, but is now with the ranger (there is what feels like a half hour sequence in which she picks out a scarf that everyone tells her matches her eyes). In any case, Cavendish gets loose, the ranger collects a posse and goes after him, taking his brother the lawyer. The posse rides directly into an ambush – after what felt like 20 minutes of guys-riding-through-landscapes shots. Everyone is presumed dead. Tonto happens across the bodies, and a spirit horse (yes, a spirit horse) whom he asks to bring back the ranger, the horse appears to want to bring back the lawyer instead. He wakes up , realizes everyone is dead – Cavendish ate his brother’s heart while he was still alive – let me repeat that, Cavendish ate the guy’s heart as a way to kill him. Tonto makes him a mask out of his brother’s vest and says it’s best to use the fact that the bad guys think they’re dead.
They share a meal of rabbit cooked over an open fire, and dealing with carnivorous rabbits in the desert (what? Oh, because nature is out of balance? You’re kidding, right?) They ride into town to get information, leading to a 20 minute sequence in a brothel, and the introduction of Helena Bonham-Carter’s ridiculous ivory-scrimshawed legged madam, Red. They get the information – it’s all about silver – and there’s a sequence in which Tonto states he’s afraid of cats, and puts a cage on his head (what the hell is going on?) just before escaping an angry mob. Then the middle of the movie proceeds to drag and drag as the plot involving Cavendish, a silver mine, the railroad, young Tonto, and fake Comanche raids unwinds as slowly as possible. The woman and her son get captured, she gives him a gun (she gives a kid a gun in a Disney movie!!!) then climbs through the window of a train to escape, only to get captured again, then try to wrestle the gun away from the kid (you just game him that you idiot!!!)
Then, finally, there is the last half hour of the movie – which is a fantastic action sequence aboard two trains over the William Tell Overature – as it should be. Honestly, the last half-hour was great! But the two hours before that? I wish I could have fast-forwarded.
Verbinski does a good job, but where the Pirates movies (okay, just the first one) felt fresh, lively and colorful, this movie feels dusty, dirty and monochromatic.
- Armie Hammer is capable as John Reid (the Lone Ranger). I don’t know that he was good – and it’s not really his fault. Hammer could become a leading man one day, but maybe in rom-coms, which is a shame, because he has the size and frame for an action hero – but I’m just not sure that ever developed in this movie. Maybe in the sequel? Oh no, I really hope not.
- Hammer is overshadowed by Depp, which would be fine, if Depp’s performance was something new and amazing. However, I’ll be honest, it felt like Native American Jack Sparrow. From all accounts, this was a huge passion project for him and he really wanted it to be great. It’s not.
- Ruth Wilson plays Rebecca Reid, the brother’s wife, who apparently used to have a thing with John Reid. That’s confusing and not presented well, but she also has nothing else to do for the rest of the movie. Even when she does get some moments – she has to defend her homestead, and escape custody on the train – the movie quickly un-allows that by immediately having her lose the homestead and get re-captured. It’s almost as if she was trying to break out of the 2 dimensional character box they put her in, and kept failing.
- Helena Bonham Carter plays Red, and has two scenes. I think it’s just the two. And yet, all the trailers featured her heavily, and she’s third billed on some of the posters. I don’t understand that, and I didn’t really understand her character - but on the up-side, it’s tailor made for her. She even gets to work in her own sad backstory about having been a dancer, but then Cavendish took her leg, resulting in an ivory-scrimshaw artificial leg.
- Tom Wilkinson plays the head of the railroad and is always a little creepy, so – Spoiler Alert!!! – his Shaymalan style reveal as the top villain doesn’t really come as a huge surprise. In fact, if you’re paying attention to the watch-flip, then you have that figured out in the first 15 minutes of the film.
- Barry Pepper bizarrely shows up as Fuller, a member of the cavalry, whose allegiance switches so quickly I couldn’t keep up.
- If there is a bright spot in this movie, it’s William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish. He’s slimy, evil, disgusting, and seems to be the only person in the movie having a good time. He chews the hell out of every piece of scenery around him, and that dude’s heart. He’s so good all the time, he deserved a better movie than this.
- James Badge Dale plays the brother Dan Reid, and was on a bit of a roll this year with Iron Man 3 and World War Z. He’s good in this, and to his credit, is not in it long, so maybe his hot streak is still intact.
- Stephen Root shows up with some ridiculous old west sideburns to try to pump some enthusiasm into the politics of the plot near the end, but to no avail.
The movie ends with super-old Tonto walking away very very very slowly through the desert over the end credits, which is pretty much how the whole movie felt. It could have been so good, honestly, if it had just been edited tighter, and cut to maybe an hour and a half – it would have played better. But as it – it’s way over the top, overblown, and pretentious. So disappointing. And even more disappointing because of the complete over-hyped marketing campaign. The Lone Ranger is such a great character, and really deserves a great movie. I'm sorry that this is not it.
3 out of 10. Lost points for the cannibalistic, carnivorous bunnies – they had two scenes! Lost points for everyone wanting to touch Red’s ivory leg, what? Lost points for being way too long and way too boring. Lost points for Cavendish eating a heart. Lost points for giving a kid a gun – absolutely unacceptable in any circumstance in my opinion, and could have been edited out with no issue. Lost points for Hammer’s character not being enough of a hero, and taking way too long to get to his hero moment. Gained points for the scene in which Tonto says “Crazy White Man” to a bunch of Chinese rail workers, who all nod knowingly. Gained points for the spirit horse in the tree wearing a hat (yep, that happened). Lost points for being the biggest disappointment of the year to date…but don’t worry, the Hobbit 2: the Desolation of Cumberbatch comes out later this year, so I’m sure there will be competition for that title.
Bonus Video 1: Private Resort: Johnny Depp wants you to forget he made this 80s comedy.
Bonus Video 2: Silverado - a Western you've probably never seen - but it's one of my favorites.
Bonus Video 3: Posse - another Western you've probably never seen but you should. Come on, it has Tone Loc and Big Daddy Kane in it. And Billy Zane chewing all the scenery as the villain. And yes, that is Tiny Lister punching a horse in the trailer.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews: