Film review: Disney’s ‘The Lone Ranger’ Misses the Mark

THE LONE RANGERFinally bored of pirates, the Walt Disney Pictures/Johnny Depp machine has relocated to the old west for its next series of high-end action adventure flicks.

The Lone Ranger stars Depp as Tonto, and there are some other people in it, too: Armie Hammer is the Lone Ranger; Helena Bonham Carter plays Red Harrington (ha!), a hooker with a heart of gold and a leg of ivory; Ruth Wilson is the complicated love interest; Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner are the bad guys.

Let me distill it for you: if you love Depp, you’ll love this movie. It’s directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, duh), produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (you can guess, right?) and written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (Haythe, at least, is not responsible for a Pirates flick). The whole jolly crew is here, and it feels like it. Hell, Tonto even has a broken pocket watch, which is only technically not a broken compass.

THE LONE RANGERThe story opens with a young boy in western costume visiting an exhibition tent at a local fair. Within is a display of a Native American “in his natural surroundings”; the old Indian is no wax statue, though – he’s Tonto, who shares the tale of his alliance with the Lone Ranger. This is the frame for the story, which flashes back and forth through time to tell the tale of how the West was won, or at least how a particularly mean rail baron and his outlaw ally died horribly.

Sadly, that frame narrative is the best thing about The Lone Ranger. It sets Tonto as a Sancho Panza, the only role Depp seems qualified for these days, and at least ties the Indian respect for storytelling into the whole mess. And that’s not the only quixotic element of this flick; in fact, it ties in pretty well. Unfortunately, it’s a Disney flick, so all that really means is a slick surface treatment.

Silver, a supposed spirit horse, leads Tonto to rescue the Ranger at his lowest moment, and the three ride off to try and avert a war with the Comanche. There’s a revealed back-story about the baddies and their secret stash of silver, a treasure they’ll pay any price to recover.

THE LONE RANGERThe action is hot and heavy, of course: There’s a lot of train robbing, train crashing, train shooting and running out of track. There are shooting tricks, horse tricks, and prop tricks.  It’s all a bunch of silly fun, which is good, but it doesn’t leave much room for anything else. The comedy is low-brow and the battles are truly violent, leading to a well-deserved PG-13 rating.

As for acting, it’s all solid action-movie fare that offers little chance for any real range. Depp’s manic pixie dream guy thing works as well as ever, though. As for Hammer’s Lone Ranger? Well, he sure is tall. He does get a bit of a through-line, leading him from “back East” wiener to scion of the American Frontier, thus opening the popular sequel option. Here we go again.

Old-school Lone Ranger fans are unlikely to be impressed, especially considering that the title character’s really just along for the ride, clinging to Tonto’s coattails in a fashion that truly honors Orlando Bloom.

THE LONE RANGERWe’ve come a long way since the Ranger first hit the silver screen in 1938 after starting on radio (and of course later featuring in the Golden Age of TV with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels), but Disney doesn’t seem to have joined us. The flick offers only the barest nod to American Indians, basically saying they all die pointlessly but with noble expressions. The same is true of the Chinese, who in the world of this film build railroads and nothing else.

And the women? Well, I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately. We’ve got Red Harrington and love interest Rebecca, along with her son, Will (Mason Clark). These three characters exist for the obvious purpose of interesting women and children. Sure, the mother and son form a McGuffin for the Ranger, and every West Texas rail town town had a cat house.

The characters themselves can be excused. Their parts in the feature’s Act III, on the other hand, are tacked-on gratuities: their story-driving actions are entirely unnecessary. You can’t make a hooker shoot some stuff and call her a strong female character. She can be a strong female character if written that way, but shooting stuff isn’t enough, even in the Wild West. Rebecca is the opposite, naturally–a weak and frail lady who tries to stand up against her oppressors but fails every time. These tendencies are likewise apparent in the Pirates movies, and it’s all a bit much. This comes mere weeks after an uproar over the redesign of Merida from Brave. It’s a shame, really, that Hollywood can’t get past the love of a slick veneer, and that audiences don’t demand some respect.

THE LONE RANGERThe Lone Ranger is a visual feast with a galloping pace and plenty of riotous action, but falls short in every other area. It’s a shame, really, to see an American classic reworked with so little attention to important details. One supposes it must be easier to slap Depp in some makeup and a silly hat.

The Lone Ranger could have been a good flick, but instead, it’s average at best. Congratulations, Disney, you’re still winning the game of mediocrity.

The Lone Ranger (http://disney.go.com/the-lone-ranger/) opens nationally in wide release today (July 3). For locations and show times in the Nashville area check the websites of Regal Cinemas (www.regmovies.com), Carmike Cinemas (www.carmike.com) and Malco Theatres (www.malco.com). Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material, 149 min. Directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter, Ruth Wilson, Barry Pepper and Saginaw Grant.

 

*Photos by Peter Mountain courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

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About Logan L. Masterson

Logan L. Masterson was a longtime Nashville resident and arts lover. He covered the Nashville theater scene for The Examiner, and reviewed films, fiction, and other media for Fantasy Magazine, Themestream, and his own website. He was a design contributor to the annual Killer Nashville writers’ conference, and also served as Literary Editor for Digital Fabber Magazine. Logan was a published poet and novelist as well.