Weird, strange, wacky, no wonder the marketing for Disney’s The Lone Ranger was so awful. How do explain what Director Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer had in store for us? I very rarely walk into a movie with any pre-conceived perceptions, I actively avoid watching trailers or reading about a movie before I see it, but in this case it was in my face for a full year and everything that I saw said they completely butchered one of my all time favorite characters.
I walked in really expecting to hate this. But as I always argue, a critic is allowed to have their predetermined likes and dislikes. There is no such thing as 100% pure “objectivity.” If a movie is good, it will be good regardless. Where do you start in describing what can only be called “surreal” and that’s a word I never thought I’d use for a $200 million summer tent pole project. It is not a safe movie at all and you have to wonder who it is aimed at. You have to admire the way all involved fully committed to this different take on an old fashioned, classic character.
Many, in the past, have accused me of not liking change or modernization of characters, it is just the opposite; I’m up for good reinterpretations where it makes sense. I argued in my Man of Steel review that it was grim, joyless and dark just for the sake of it: that just isn’t who Superman is or what he represents. The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) presents a similar problem. He is a character created in the 40’s during a time when people accepted wholesome heroes who believed in law and order and most things were clearly black and white. This is despite the fact that he was actually a “vigilante” and “outlaw.”
It was a bold decision to not let Reid have a training montage where he becomes The Lone Ranger; it does a great job of letting the audience follow him on his journey as he learns by trial and error. It seems more natural watching him sort of “bumble” through situations and getting his bearing. The movie is tonally all over the place. One minute it is very violent, we see Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) take out someone’s heart and the slaughter of John’s brother’s posse was really graphic – for a PG movie. Every time Fichtner was on screen it looked like he was in the wrong movie it was if his character was a reject from the Pirates franchise it added to the wonderful kookiness of this endeavor.
Armie Hammer does a great job of keeping John Reid – The Lone Ranger’s naiveté and earnestness intact, Reid never becomes a vengeance prone maniac out for justice at all costs, he still believed in law and order and the innate goodness in people. Despite constantly being proved otherwise or betrayed at every turn everything around him is dark, but he kept the moral high ground as much (or long) as possible. Even saving Cavendish’s life on several occasions, much to Tonto’s annoyance.
The next minute it is a comedy with Johnny Depp’s scene chewing Tonto playing everything for deadpan laughs. I hated Depp’s interpretation of Tonto, but somehow it strangely works here and there are so many other good things about the movie, that I can somehow overlook his hamminess. I realize I’m the only one in the world who hated Jack Sparrow, every since the Pirates movies, it seems the only character Depp wants to play are weird, out there, variations of him. Since Depp is one of the Producers and the main “attraction” he seems to over power everything and takes up more screen time than The Lone Ranger. He even ruins the classic “Hi-Ho Silver Away!” moment.
The entire film is told primarily from Tonto’s point of view and they use a much older Tonto telling a child the story as a framing technique – similar to how it was done in The Princess Bride (almost exactly really). It was completely unnecessary and easily could have been cut. The kid was no Fred Savage and Tonto was no Peter Falk.
Ruth Wilson (who plays the crazy serial killer on BBC’s Luther) was a bold and unique casting choice to play Rebecca Reid. She didn’t have much chemistry with Hammer but she’s not a traditional Hollywood beauty and that was a refreshing change. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is mostly forgetful but they get mad props for keeping the classic tv show theme. It sounded glorious in a big movie speaker system. I couldn’t help but smile for the rest of the movie. The final action sequence was over the top brilliant and hit all the classic beats from the television series including the use of music, how every shot was framed and there wasn’t a wasted moment – ok maybe a strange one with Depp on a ladder.
Based on everything I saw leading up to this, I expected a mess of epic proportions, in many ways it is (almost any scene with Depp in it), but it is bold, visionary, and truly a unique piece of blockbuster filmmaking. This is the type of film that should be experienced at least once, however I think Depp’s performance would become more pronounced/irritating with repeat viewings.
Final Grade A-