The story begins in San Francisco in 1933, where a young boy named Will (Mason Cook) who idolizes The Lone Ranger, comes across Tonto (Johnny Depp) and Tonto recalls his first adventure with The Lone Ranger. Flash back to 1869 in Colby, Texas, a lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns home on the incomplete Transcontinental Railroad, which is managed by railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson).
It’s put together competently, just as a big-studio flick should be. It does a good job sticking to its period – clothing- and setting-wise, and the stunt work is decent. Helena Bonham Carter, because she just has to be in any movie with Depp, has a cool leg-gun. But some scenes where characters should have some kind of battle damage, they don’t. Usually Tonto. Maybe they’re trying to say the leads are both spirit animals or something silly that we’re never explained. When some battle damage is shown, however, it looks reasonably decent. Bruises and scars look real enough to pass. It was clearly filmed by a competent studio, so it’s getting a 6 out of 10 because it does not do anything too visually stunning, but it is not bad either. Music is nice, too, although it sticks to a certain tune that gets irritating after a while.
Let’s just call this The Jack Sparrow Adventures: When I Pretended to be a Tribesman because Johnny Depp is pulling in a lot of his Jack Sparrow shtick, and it is really bothersome. He makes Tonto speak Tontonese, but pauses often and chooses his words carefully, as in the later adaptations. Johnny Depp brought nothing new to the character, or to his acting. Where Jay Silverheels, a very successful Tonto, gently mocked the way his character’s speech is written, Depp seemingly had no reflection. He is really just playing Jack Sparrow, and that will bring in viewers because Johnny Depp sells the movie. No one is tired of Jack Sparrow, right? Some viewers certainly tired of Jack Sparrow, some of the audience surely find his drunken flamboyance annoying by now, some are definitely done listening to him scream like Pee-Wee Herman. Especially when he’s running around in redface. Jack Sparrow may be an asshole, but he’s not that big of an asshole. The villains, especially Tom Wilkinson, have practically nothing. Wilkinson might as well be a cardboard cutout. All the side characters play their dull roles, and Helena Bonham Carter plays the most interesting woman in the film and she actually is putting in some effort. Cavendish is decent, but then the other villain becomes the major bad guy, so that”s all wasted.
Armie Hammer is portraying the titular character, the Lone Ranger. Yet he does nothing to convince the viewer that he is The Lone Ranger. He’s just a guy who can’t decide whether or not to fire a gun for two hours. Armie Hammer made Jaden Smith’s After Earth performance look really good by comparison, especially when both movies try to lionize the characters are now living their heroic destinies. You don’t buy it for either character, Jaden Smith because he is just whining, crying, and never doing what his dad tells him to do, so his not dying is actually just a stroke of luck. Armie Hammer, you are not the Lone Ranger, no matter how many times the theme follows your steps. With the two leads’ acting ranging from “phoning it in” to “not actually caring,” the acting gets a very, very generous 2 out of 10 for Helena Bonham Carter and some of the other minor characters actually doing their jobs.
The tone changes a lot, which may be because the writers want to play with you and remind you that Tonto is telling this story to a child in a time where The Lone Ranger is considered an urban legend, not an actual person. If they wanted to make that obvious, they could have had old man Tonto bicker with the kid throughout the story as a cute narrative sidepiece. There’s a scene where Cavendish eats a man’s heart, then later you have horse sitting in a tree and wearing a top hat. If Tonto and the kid were bickering, that would fit this lack of direction. Especially when “Ranger” ends up suggesting that maybe all the events happened the way they did because Tonto gave the child at the fair a bullet.
In short, the film fails on almost every level – it’s trying too hard to be too many things. It doesn’t follow through. Its promises of novelty rings loud but hollow.
Tonto being the brains of the operation is not uncommon in The Lone Ranger stories, but The Lone Ranger himself was not incompetent. Here, John Reid is a buffoon, and has no sign of the moral code he originally had. That can be accepted because this is his first adventure and maybe in the end this Lone Ranger is going to be different, but at the end, the writing and acting fused together into what should have been called “Tonto and That Other Guy”. The pitiful Ranger can’t even get the tone right. Everything this movie tries to do is a failure, unless maybe it was trying to fail. It wants to be Pirates of the Caribbean so badly, but does not understand that Jack Sparrow can only take a movie so far by himself, that he also doesn’t fit every application. The script must have been rewritten several times, because so many scenes seem to come from nowhere and go nowhere after. It’s never really explained how Tonto survives his calamities, since he is apparently not a cross between Superman and Cowboy Goofy, like John Reid. The whole movie ends up as a bunch of set-pieces as opposed to having actual scenes.
The few times The Lone Ranger is enjoyable are when it essentially mimics Rango. Sad world.
The writers should have watched old martial arts films and learned to lionize a character in steps – even if it’s shown with a training montage. A supposed hero, who never grows up from the prissy coward who would run indoors if the wind is blowing too hard, is unforgivable. If you cannot convince the viewer that your innocent milksop of a lead grows in some way, then you should alter the title and name the flick after any character that moves the plot forward. Especially when Tonto performs and survives stunts about as inexplicable as the Indiana Jones refrigerator scene. Even if they are trying to introduce a new audience to these characters, maybe relying on some of the old material would be a smart idea. The way Tonto and the Lone Ranger are introduced is terrible for a modern audience, because not only does it fail to convey how awesome they were, the story has nothing else to give, save for the controversy of Johnny Depp being Tonto.
The story is getting a 1 out of 10 for the revolutionary concept of deus est equus – God as Horse. Other than that, the writing is a mess. The plot – a convoluted maelstrom of atrocity.
The writers may not have even heard of The Lone Ranger, let alone watched it, and had to write the script simply out of contract contract obligations. They assumed that no one alive, or at least no one outside a senior living community, loves the Lone Ranger. What a way to introduce a modern audience to this character, then. Although maybe it was not entirely their fault, maybe Johnny Depp kept nagging them to reference Buster Keaton with train scenes because of how much Johnny loves Buster Keaton. Maybe Disney told them to just write it like Pirates of the Caribbean, but they did not get any of the charm that series had. The film doesn’t even show the hero as a hero – at the end of “Ranger’s” 2 hours and 29 minutes, most viewers will think Tonto is the hero. The one feat Bruckheimer performs with excellence is making The Legend of The Lone Ranger look good. Good job there, but don’t make a sequel. Walt Disney should not have even made this adaptation and let it die while it still could. Unless this sad attempt was intended as a prequel to The Green Hornet – at least then, you could make the joke that the Reid family is incompetent and thus has to outsource superhero duties to racial minorities. Like great uncle, like great nephew. Except that, by contrast, The Green Hornet had some kind of direction and did a decent job acquainting a modern audience to its vintage characters. The best this “Ranger” may accomplish getting some kid to question an older relative’s affinity for the Lone Ranger. The film gets a very, very, very generous 2 out of 10 – mostly because the film looks about as historically accurate as a John Wayne movie. It’s nothing you should want to watch.
If you want to be introduced to the Lone Ranger, the movie poster will do a better job.
What a horrible, horrible mess.