The Lone Ranger

by Alex Stroup, staff writer
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It is very much appropriate that the first big action set piece in The Lone Ranger is an extended train wreck—loud, long, violent. Admittedly, the spectacle is at times impressive, but eventually, the civilized part of your brain has to admit that all-in-all, it would have been best if the train wreck had never happened.

That certainly describes the movie as a whole. The Lone Ranger is an attempt to catch lightning for a second time. A decade ago, most were looking askance at Disney foisting yet another ride-based movie on audiences—the great surprise was that a lot of fun resulted.

Apparently after four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the major players were looking to do something new. So why not take Disney, director Gore Verbinski, screenwriter Ted Elliott, and wacky star Johnny Depp and do a big-screen adaptation of an old TV show that the vast majority of the audience will have never actually seen?

We get reasonably good performances from Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger. We also get several action sequences that, taken in isolation, are pretty good. There's even the occasional bit of good dialogue. But taken in its entirety, the movie is an assault.

It is an assault on your bladder and your attention. Roger Ebert famously said that no good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough. Well, at 149 minutes, The Lone Ranger is way too long. At its core, this is a movie about a couple of men seeking revenge for having been done wrong—it is not Doctor Zhivago, with an epic sweep that just can't be contained in less than two hours.

It is an assult on the PG-13 rating. Parents might be forgiven for assuming that a Disney summer blockbuster would go for goreless cartoon violence. Instead, you'll be treated to bullets exploding through chests. There'll be people getting run over by horses, by trains, by wagons. One completely extraneous on-screen death involves a guy installing telegraph wire, getting wrapped up in the wire, and being pulled down to his death.

These are not the anonymous mass deaths of comic book movies (if you think about what you see in The Avengers, while thousands of people must have died, almost none of them did so on screen), but individually presented deaths.

I have no problem with graphic depictions of violence, but I do have a problem with it apparently not meaning anything if it is followed comedically by Tonto trying to feed his dead crow. Oh, did I forget to mention the moment of cannibalism that is so explicitly presented that afterward, you're only mostly sure that you never actually saw the heart get eaten?

It is an assault on coherent storytelling. The movie has a strange framing device. While The Lone Ranger takes place in 1869 Texas, it starts with a young Lone Ranger fan visiting a small carnival in 1933 San Francisco. In an Old West exhibit, that young boy runs into an aged Tonto (fun fact: If 1869 Tonto was the same age as Johnny Depp, in 1933 Tonto would have been 114 years old), who begins telling the story that is the main part of the movie. In addition to these interruptions adding an extra 15 minutes, they appear to serve absolutely no purpose other than to introduce an unreliable narrator. So freed, the writers and director can do whatever they want. Want a tree-climbing horse? Oh that wacky Tonto and his tall tales. Any narrative gap can be waved away.

It is an assault on kindness. I'll admit that I went into the movie prepared to be mildly offended by a prominent Native American role being given to Johnny Depp instead of an actual Native American. My radar was poised to go off at cartoonishly exagerrated Old West "injun" stereotypes. That didn't really happen. Tonto's quirks are presented as his own and not his tribe's. Instead, the mild offense came from an unexpected direction: The bad guys are led by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), and he is a mustache- (if he had one) twirling bad guy. All of his men are deviant. And how do we know that one of them, Frank (Harry Treadaway) is truly messed up in the head? He wears women's clothing. Have we really not moved on from travestitism being a handy metaphor for being screwed up? Apparently not.

It is a shame. Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp have decent chemistry and in scenes where the character has priority over spectacle, one can see the bones of something as fun as the Pirates movies. Just a little discipline, a trim here, more consistency of tone, accepting that it wants to be spiritual argle-bargle (thank you Justice Scalia) and not creating the crutch of an unreliable narrator. Any one or two of the flaws could be forgiven in the name of stupid entertainment, but the sins pile too high, and each becomes interolable in its own right.

Instead, while there are quite a few enjoyable moments sprinkled throughout, we're stuck with multiple train wrecks—and the civilized part of my brain must admit that it would have been for the best had it never happened.


  • The Lone Ranger is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
  • Wide theatrical release on Wednesday, July 3, 2013
  • Directed by Gore Verbinski
  • Starring: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, William Fichtner
  • Running time: 149 minutes
  • Rated PG-13
  • Alex's rating: 3 out of 10

Comments

  1. By dban3

    The absolutely horrible reviews for the Lone Ranger are piling up and must be terribly depressing for Disney. For the rest of us..... Thank You Minions

  2. By Jimbo996

    $250 Million buys a lot of train wrecks!!!

  3. By carolinakid

    This bomb is this year's John Carter.

  4. By houseofmouse

    I think reviewers are taking the movie too seriously. We just saw it today and enjoyed it. At 2 1/2 hours it is long but at least it explains the story well enough and you don't scratch your head at missing plot points. Although the after credits scene is interesting. I love that it was filmed in my home state for parts of it and beautiful Utah and New Mexico for others.
    It was meant to funny and it helped to lighten the darker scenes. Take it for what it is and not what you wanted it to be and you can enjoy the movie. We loved the stunt work and the action scenes and how can you not fall in love with Silver?
    The one thing I would have liked was a bit more back story on why the bad guy was a cannibal.
    I give it almost 2 thumbs up.

  5. By jrsharp21

    Saw this last night with the family. I didn't think it was that bad of a movie. A little long, but entertaining. Was it just me and my son seeing things, but was Tonto wearing an upside down hidden mickey? I won't say where as to not spoil the surprise.

    I did think some scenes dragged on and there was some lacking in back story. I had to believe the backstory was being saved for a sequel, but it looks like there may not be one now.

    Again, loved Depp's character's humor in the movie. I read an article that said it was just Captain Jack in face paint. I didn't see that at all. I thought he did a good job seperating any Jack from the Tonto character.

  6. By cstephens

    I would say I liked the film generally, but there are probably too many things I didn't like about the film for me to recommend it. I hadn't looked at the run time on the film, which I usually do, but I'm glad I didn't. Even then, I was feeling that the film was too long while I was sitting through it, and the plot was definitely too convoluted. I also really disliked the storytelling device of using the kid in the circus exhibit with old Tonto. Every time they went back to that, it rips you out of the story, and to me, it's also lazy storytelling. I generally dislike that sort of thing, with "The Princess Bride" being a rare exception. Tell me the story in the story itself, not through some third-party outsider.

    I thought William Fichtner was terrific in the film, and I had totally forgotten he was in this. I didn't recognize him at all in the makeup. I thought Johnny Depp was quite good in this, and I thought Armie Hammer was fine, with what he had to work with, which unfortunately wasn't much. Like many other films, I think this one suffers from the star of the movie not being the presumed lead character in the film, so the focus of the storytelling is divided and therefore splintered. The movie is called "The Lone Ranger", and yet, you don't learn that much about him (John). What were the circumstances that led him to come back to where his brother Dan was? We get a hint of the backstory with Rebecca, but to me, not enough about why John left and how Dan married Rebecca knowing she was in love with John. I liked the running joke about "kemosabe" but it's true that the more interesting brother dies before the story is half over, and that's a storytelling problem. And more interesting than either of the brothers is Tonto himself. Sure, we learn a lot about his backstory, and the defining event that now motivates his life, which intersects conveniently with the whole railroad/silver story. But Tonto isn't supposed to be the lead character. It would have been nice to have gotten that depth of character about the Lone Ranger himself.

    The violence bothered me some but not as much as it appears others are bothered. The humor seemed oddly worked in at times, which is not to say comic relief isn't a necessary part of this kind of film. I don't know if the awkwardness of some of the humor was in the script itself or in the editing choices.

  7. By Malcon10t

    Quote Originally Posted by cstephens View Post
    I also really disliked the storytelling device of using the kid in the circus exhibit with old Tonto. Every time they went back to that, it rips you out of the story, and to me, it's also lazy storytelling.
    This was something I *did* like. (But I am odd...)

    I liked the running joke about "kemosabe" but it's true that the more interesting brother dies before the story is half over, and that's a storytelling problem.
    LOVE THAT LINE!

    And more interesting than either of the brothers is Tonto himself. Sure, we learn a lot about his backstory, and the defining event that now motivates his life, which intersects conveniently with the whole railroad/silver story. But Tonto isn't supposed to be the lead character. It would have been nice to have gotten that depth of character about the Lone Ranger himself.

    I love the backstory of Tonto, but would have liked more on Lone Ranger too.

    I really enjoyed the movie, and was sad to see so many negative reviews. But I also know if the critics like a movie, I probably won't, and vice versa. I want to go see it again.

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