“Never take off the mask”
Directed by Gore Verbinski Starring Johny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner
Idealistic prosecutor John Reid (Hammer) joins his brother Dan’s Texas Rangers to hunt down an escaped fugitive and bring him to justice. When the Rangers are ambushed and slaughtered, only John survives, and with the aid of Comanche ‘wendigo hunter’ Tonto (Depp), dons a mask and sets out to right the wrongs committed against his people and the Comanche.
This story is told, with a few false starts, by the elderly Tonto – now apparently a bit player in a sideshow, although a scene playing under the credits shows him setting off alone across the desert – to a young admirer of the Lone Ranger’s legend in 1933.
What’s wrong with it?
The Lone Ranger is a whole lot of movie. Since the knockout success of Pirates of the Carribean, Disney seems reluctant to tell Verbinski to trim the fat, and the fat on this film needs trimming. After a good opening, the film sags in the middle, lessening the advantage of a solid closing act.
A part of the problem seems to be the film’s attempt to play the identity of the big bad as a surprise, but it really isn’t. It’s Tom Wilkinson doing an American accent, this never bodes well.
There is also something of an uneven tone to the film, which juxtaposes a brutal massacre climaxing with Dan Reid’s heart being eaten by Butch Cavendish (Fichtner) with Johnny Depp talking to a horse and then dragging the unconscious John Reid through a pile of dung.
Helena Bonham Carter’s turn as a feisty brothel madame with a gun concealed in an ivory leg is sufficiently out-of-nowhere that I spent much of the movie just assuming it was a very restrained Tim Burton offering.
What’s right with it?
When the film manages to get up to speed, it’s mostly roaring good fun, with a couple of affecting moments, most notably the description of the back story that left Tonto the baffled mess of animist convictions that he is, and the massacre of a Comanche tribe to satisfy a mixture of greed and pride. Verbinski also directs a damned fine tribute to the grand spaghetti westerns, and specifically Once Upon a Time in the West, with the music in the railroad scenes in particular being a direct homage from Hans Zimmer to the work of Enio Morricone.
The bookending action scenes, meanwhile, utilise an arrangement of the William Tell overture, cementing the film’s affectionate referencing of the old black and white serial version.
The scenery, costumes and trains are amazing, and the action set pieces stunningly composed. Remember the wheel fight that was basically the only really good bit of Dead Man’s Chest? Yeah, that good.
The film works to earn Reid’s transition from a man of law to a man of justice, and it does well not to fly completely in the face of earlier incarnations’ refusal to kill. The Lone Ranger never takes a life in this movie either, although he lets both villains die and accidentally kills at least two of their minions.
Johnny Depp’s Tonto is a weird beast, rolling out a lot of stereotypes, although much of this is explained in his back story (TLDR he’s batshit crazy) and the other Comanche are clearly not like that. In fact, the Comanche are basically tragic in this film.
How bad is it really?
It’s not bad at all; in fact, it only gets on the BMM on the basis that with a little tightening up, it feels as if it could have been much, much better.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Perhaps the darkest scene of the movie is the Comanche attack on the rail camp. Initially taking a toll of the cavalry with arrows, they then charge into a firing line and two Gatling guns, and are wiped out to a man. The scene is played in cold, blue-grey tones, without glamour.
What’s up with…?
- The horse poo joke?
- The slow, slow pacing of the middle section of the movie?
- Helena Bonham-Carter? Seriously, she’s in three scenes, but it looks as if she might originally have been in more. Don’t get me wrong, the only other female character is only a notch or two above full-on distressed damsel, so it’s nice to have a woman in the mix who kicks some ass with an ivory gun-leg, it’s just an oddly under-developed role.
Production values – Oh, but this is a pretty film. It might wear if you really didn’t care for sweeping desert vistas, but it’s hard to deny the artistry. The only let down is one or two shots where the white horse leaps off things or through flames and the CGI shows at the edges. 5 Dialogue and performances – The leads make a likable pairing, with just the right amount of bickering and mutual abuse (“What does Kemo’Sabe mean?” “It means, ‘the wrong brother.'”) Other characters mostly get just expository dialogue, alas. 9
Plot and execution – The film definitely sags in the middle (I was checking the time remaining between the 80 and 100 minute marks, but the rest picked up the pace admirably), making the otherwise elegant and mostly simple plot drag (in part by pretending that it is tricksier than it is). 8
Randomness – Ivory gun-leg and the strange tonal shifts make for a slightly uneven ride, or a particularly experimental band. 7
Waste of potential – The film picks up marks for the stodgy middle eight, but get a bit of a pass because it could have been a lot worse. 8