The Lone Ranger has some issues, the main one being he hasn’t been relevant or in the public consciousness since before color TV being invented. He’s also a weirdly regressive character, one who leans on aggressive stereotypes and broad slapstick comedy for laughs and a sidekick who is too ridiculous to be offensive. So with all this going for the infamous masked man it makes total sense that Disney would sink $200 million plus into rebooting a property literally no one was asking for. Can A-list talent, direction and mullah really fool the American public into forking over $15? Not so much.
Remarkably, TLR has all the ingredients of a successful blockbuster. The star power (Johnny Depp as the bizarre, face-painted Native American Tonto,) the director (Gore Verbinski: Pirates of the Caribbean, Rango,) and the premium summer release date (July 3rd) are all accounted for here. What’s absent is everything else. The film’s narrative is a simple yarn that begins to fray early. 1.5 hours in there were so many ancillary and pointless plot-lines that I had gladly checked out. The story is this: John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawyer from the east coast, is traveling back to his home in the west to live and work with his brother, Sheriff Dan Reid (James Badge Dale.) John is an affable, educated man who also is a bit naïve about the dangers of the new west. When his train is high jacked by a band of evil robbers he is thrown in the stockade with a chained up Tonto. Together they escape the train (in one of several surprisingly inspired set pieces) and forge an extremely slow developing bond.
The train robbers freed an evil man named Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) – who also might be a weird cannibal. Butch is hell bent on acquiring a caboose-full of silver. After a bloody shootout John barely survives (with a little help from Tonto) only to discover his true calling as…The Lone Ranger.
TLR is 2.5 hours long and you feel every minute. It takes over half the film before John finds his true calling and by then I had lost track of most of the other characters. Each person moves aimlessly in and out as the plot commands but with little consequence. The middle hour of this slog is so forgettable it could’ve been replaced by this and I wouldn’t have noticed. The shame of it all is the final 30-minute action sequence is maybe the most well-choreographed set-piece of the summer. Two trains, lots of horses and six shooters plus a bridge packed with dynamite!? That could’ve been the whole movie but instead I had to watch a weird love story develop in 5-minutes next to the world’s lamest orphan storyline.
And then there’s Johnny Depp as Tonto. Sure it’s completely offensive that he is the only Native American character not played by a Native American but what’s even more offensive is his bizarre characterization. Depp plays Tonto like Dustin Hoffman played Rain Man. He’s a schizophrenic who sort of stumbles into most things but has the skills to stay out of trouble. He’s Jack Sparrow played with a straight face and zero charm.
The Lone Ranger is bad – it’s not funny, has a major tonal imbalance and is paced so poorly it’s criminal. After the film finished I still had no clue what Disney saw in rebooting it. The film would’ve probably been huge in 1950 when it reflected the values of the population but now it feels stuck in a time warp. There’s very little redeeming other than the action and it’s so hopelessly padded by train discussions and exposition that it’s hard to recommend it on that small merit. But at least there’s one positive thing we can glean from this train wreck – Johnny Depp’s gonna be OK.