Who is the Lone Ranger? It is one of the coolest names to go by, if you can pull it off. But this particular Lone Ranger that we are referring to, is an iconic character in American culture. A masked ex-Texas Ranger. First came in a radio show in 1933. After that became a hit, the Lone Ranger had books written on his stories, a TV series and a few films. The films on this particular character though have failed to create much enthusiasm in the past. The last one being a TV movie released back in 2003 with the hope of bringing back the TV series, though the project was then shelved. So there was a good enough reason to bring back the cowboy like outlaw-cum-hero to a newer generation, for these are after all the days of heroes and superheroes in Hollywood. And there was a good enough reason to not attempt this reboot, for if you did not recreate the magic well, the audience wouldn’t really care enough to even give a courtesy visit. But what should have been definitely kept off the cards was trying to make this attempt with a production budget that exceeded $200 million! The budget had in fact ballooned so much that for the project to continue, the lead actors, Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp along with the director and the producer had to take a 20% cut. And even then Disney ended up with a highly priced movie, hoping that with the involvement of Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, both having been involved in Pirates of the Caribbean success, could recreate that magic again. Alas, it does not even come close in comparison!
The Lone Ranger begins with a young lad encountering an old mannequin of a Native American that turns out to be Tonto (Johnny Depp). Tonto then goes on to narrate the tale of the Lone Ranger to the kid. Move back about six decades, a young lawyer Dan Reid (Armie Hammer) is returning to his hometown in Texas to meet his older brother, who is a Ranger, and his family. The train in which Reid is travelling also holds an outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner) and Tonto, with the former set to be hung for his crimes. Needless to say, things happen, Butch escapes, and more things happen that make Dan Reid wear the mask to fight for justice alongside Tonto. Talking more about the plot would not really be a spoiler for there aren’t too many twists in this one, but it is still a good tale worth unravelling in front of your own eyes. But a good story needs a good screenplay to take shape into an engrossing movie on the big screen. The screenplay written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio and then reworked on by Justin Haythe has an erratic touch to it, which might be because the story is being narrated by Tonto, an unnecessary angle, but it does not lend the movie a solid ground to walk on. The movie moves as a combination of long scenes pasted together, resulting in an almost 150-minute long runtime, which makes it a tad too long.
Gore Verbinski has done a fine job in the past on the Pirates of the Caribbean series (director for the first three movies) but he could not bring about the same feeling of adventure and larger-than-life style in The Lone Ranger. The movie has its action scenes that are entertaining and especially the long battle scene towards the end of the film, with stuff such as the horse galloping atop a moving train, and bullets flying across trains, makes up for what is otherwise a rather mediocre attempt to bring back the Lone Ranger on the big screen. The production design isn’t the greatest, and there is nothing fascinating about the background to provide a rich 19th century Western movie feel. Makes you wonder what the $200 million been used for! Hans Zimmer does provide a good background score though, which does its best to plug the holes in some drab scenes.
Johnny Depp as Tonto does the bizarre parts of his character quite well, as you would expect Depp to do. But the screenplay doesn’t seem to have done much justice to the character. While a background story is provided, to make you understand Tonto better, he is not really defined well-enough to make the audience connect with the character. Depp has his funny moments, but they are few and far between, and we are provided only glimpses of what Depp could have played with a stronger plotline around him. It is a rather mediocre Depp role, something akin to a rather poor Will Smith role in After Earth. Armie Hammer, who many would know from his portrayal of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, dons the mask of the Lone Ranger in the biggest role of his career so far. And he performs his job well, under the limitations of the script given to him. Hammer is tall, can act, has a strong voice, and is well shaped up, to become a rather bigger star in Hollywood. He brings forth the change in the law abiding lawyer to the outlaw seeking justice quite sincerely. He commands good screen presence and hopefully for him, he would find even bigger roles than this one. Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole, a railroad tycoon, displays a strong personality and as always provides a solid performance. The big disappointment is the lack of screen time given to Helena Bonham Carter, whose acting talent is hardly at work here. She fits in predominantly for two scenes and you are just left wondering why to even have brought her onboard. William Fitchner plays the devilish Cavendish with a typical ruffian style of the old Westerners, with a silver tooth on prominent display. Some of the best moments of the movie in fact fall to Silver, the white horse that the Ranger rides, saving the day one too many times, and probably even having the best acting performance in this movie.
It is a mediocre attempt overall, with some good action sequences likely to keep you entertained but not bundled well enough in the larger picture. There are certain scenes infact that would simply tire you. Like the bad guys getting hold of the guns, pointing it towards the good guys, and then going into a monologue as if waiting for the hero to be rescued. It happens once too often, and if only they had listened to the words of Tuco the Ugly (of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” the movie could have painlessly ended earlier. A while back we had looked at Depp’s performances on the box office (read here), and while The Lone Ranger’s failure should not fall on his shoulders, one can hope his future projects have more in terms of entertainment and style, for he is too good an actor to be mixing in the mediocre.
And just for those who love the old, here’s a poster of the first The Lone Ranger movie of 1956, starring Clayton Moore as the masked man, and Jay Silverheels as the brave and resourceful Tonto.