So the story goes that lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) vows to avenge the death of his Texas Ranger brother (James Badge Dale) at the hands of the depraved criminal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Along with an outcast Comanche, Tonto (Johnny Depp), he dons a mask and sets out across the Wild West to put an end to his evil ways.
I enjoyed all the Pirates of the Caribbean films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and released by Disney. However, you can clearly tell that everyone that was involved with the making of that series and was transplanted here to kick off a potential new franchise, from director Gore Verbinski to writers Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, were completely on autopilot. There is nothing new here; you could have easily swapped out Depp’s Tonto for Jack Sparrow and the western setting for the ocean and you would have had a new Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. I might have seen it for free, but I was pissed that I wasted the time it took to watch it because it’s the worst film I’ve seen so far this summer.
What went wrong? I’ll tell you…
The writers try way too hard to inject unnecessary and insultingly unfunny humor into the story. Rossio and Elliott, along with some help from Justin Haythe, beat the audience over the head with lame jokes and out of place slapstick routines. The Tonto character is built to be the comic relief most of the time and none of the material thrown his way works at all. There’s a moment that kills any badassery that The Lone Ranger might have had going for him when he is shot in the shoulder with an arrow, screams like Chris Tucker and promptly passes out. Or the scene that screeches to a halt to allow Silver (the Lone Ranger’s horse) to take a massive shit so he can drag a person’s head through it a moment later.
Director Gore Verbinski cannot decide if he wants to make a family friendly flick or a seriously gritty western action movie. The schizophrenic script goes through such jarring tonal changes that it gave me a headache. One moment you have someone being eviscerated with a bowie knife and their heart eaten to Tonto wearing a birdcage over his head because he’s afraid of cats.
I had read that Johnny Depp, when approached to play Tonto, demanded that the Native American character be written respectfully and not a pile of stereotypes. Unfortunately that is not the case. Tonto is made out to be a mentally deficient moron whose only purpose to the story is to generate laughs. He talks in horrible broken English and is the recipient of every racist cliché you can think of. If I were of Native American decent I would be furious. And what’s worse is that there are other Native American characters that seem to be okay with the fact that the white man is kicking them off their land and killing their people. One chief calls it “progress” and that Tonto isn’t interested in being a part of “the future”. WTF?!
The focus of the story is on Tonto because of the fact that Johnny Depp is a bigger star than Armie Hammer. If memory serves Tonto was always a sidekick to The Lone Ranger, not the other way around. We never really get any decent backstory on John Reid, but by the end of the movie we know all about Tonto and his deal (granted, it’s tragic and pulled off successfully). What really bugged me is just how much Tonto is patterned after Jack Sparrow. The mannerisms, the snarkiness, the clumsy heroics and even the headdress is the same. Seriously, just remove the dead bird and the costume choice boils down to a bandanna with a bunch of useless chachkies hanging off of it.
The advertising lies to the audience by making it look like Helena Bonham Carter is a major player in the story, going as far as to give her character of Red Harrington the madam her own poster. Her role is basically a glorified cameo because she’s in the film for a grand total of five minutes. Her casting is a transparent ploy to make fans of Tim Burton’s films where Depp and Carter are paired give up their money to see them together again. Sorry, but that doesn’t happen.
It’s completely obvious who the real villain is from the get-go because a visual clue fills the screen and gives it away. Sure the old cliché of having a great named actor playing a bit part also ruins the surprise, but I’ve never seen it so blatantly thrown out there so quickly. Some build-up or suspense to the big reveal would have been nice.
The wraparound story is lame and doesn’t work. Having the meat of the story being told in flashback by an elderly Tonto to a young boy seems to exist only to give Johnny Depp additional screentime. It’s bad enough that his character is an annoying joke for most of the movie, but having him shoehorned into this storytelling gimmick made me dislike him even more. It doesn’t help that the old age make-up Depp wears in these scenes looks like complete ass.
Every western cliché is used here. Some were even ripped from movies that you wouldn’t expect like Back to the Future III. The steam engine finale is extremely reminiscent of what went down in that film, especially when Ruth Wilson’s Rebecca Reid nearly falls off the train. The friend I was with at the screening said he could almost hear her scream “Emmett!” because the scene is shot in the exact same way including each and every action beat.
Silver is made out to be some sort of a magical flying unicorn. I don’t know what the reasoning behind going this route was, but it’s silly beyond words. Not only is he portrayed as a medium, but he can jump across giant chasms, onto speeding trains, up to the roof of a burning barn and climb trees. He can also eat scorpions without any of the painful death side effects.
There is absolutely no chemistry between any of the characters because the acting is so off key. Tonto and John don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company, Rebecca and John show zero attraction toward each other and every character seems like they are in a different movie. Depp coasts through his role, Hammer is horribly miscast, Wilson is boring and taciturn, and Tom Wilkinson is non-threatening and somewhat laughable.
Barry Pepper out of fucking nowhere!
I will admit that there are some positives. William Fichtner plays a great villain as Butch Cavendish, there are a few scenes that are directed and edited in such an effectively serious and dark tone that they took me by surprise (the assault on Rebecca’s home especially) and the train finale was choreographed and planned out so meticulously that it reminded me of that superawesomeamazeballs freeway scene from The Matrix Reloaded. The cinematography is decent and the costumes are accurate for the time period (not counting Tonto’s outfit). Where the Lone Ranger's signature mask comes from is also disturbingly rad.
Outside of those pluses I cannot say that I enjoyed this movie at all. It was a chore to sit through, is painfully unfunny and has a racist streak running through it that made me feel dirty. Shit, even Hans Zimmer’s score was crap, and coming off his superb work on the recent Man of Steel I find that unacceptable. It really says something when the main character’s signature theme, “The William Tell Overture”, is used in a supremely hokey way. This is a misfire of epic proportions (I read it cost $250m to produce) and I predict it will be a bomb of equal measure. I like Johnny Depp as an actor, but I feel even his box office clout will not be able to save this dud from failure.
The Lone Ranger is joyless, hokey and worst of all zero fun. Skip it in the theater and just wait to see it on Netflix.
1 out of 5