Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham-Carter
Running time: 149mins
The lowdown: Following its critical and commercial scalping at the US box office, hopes do not ride high for this reboot of the radio, TV and silver screen hero. But, we’ve not been drinking too much firewater when we say The Lone Ranger is solid, enjoyable blockbuster entertainment. The Social Network’s twins Armie Hammer grabs the reins as the likable lead and Johnny Depp manages to exorcise the ghost of Jack Sparrow for a surprisingly heartfelt turn as Tonto. As he did with Rango, director Gore Verbinski has made an unashamedly proper Western, filled with enough action, excitement and humour to tolerate the overlong running time and occasional dull stretches.
The full verdict: The twitchy trigger finger of public opinion takes down another victim. The Lone Ranger is a better film than those interminable Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and deserves a kinder fate.
But, like Cowboys & Aliens and John Carter (itself a body blow to Disney’s bottom line) this summer tentpole Western has also failed to strike box office gold.
Shame then, as Depp, Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and co. all seem intent on providing a good buck/bang ratio.
Built around a Princess Bride style framing story, in San Francisco, 1933 (the year the radio serial hit the airwaves), Tonto (Depp) is a living waxwork in an Old West museum, patronisingly named “The Noble Savage”.
Catching the eye of a Lone Ranger costume wearing lad, he regales him with what is essentially a superhero origin story.
Flashback to the 1860s. The bumbling, educated lawyer John Reid (Hammer) is thrown into Tonto’s path when saving the Indian from psychopathic outlaw Butch Cavendish (Fichtner, who cameo’d in The Dark Knight and here plays a flamboyant villain with a scarred mouth).
Reid is deputised by his brother (Badge Dale, last seen on villain duties in Iron Man 3) and the hunt is on for Cavendish. But, a railroad is being driven through the West and tyrannical capitalist baron Cole (Wilkinson, himself a villain in Batman Begins) soon has Reid and Tonto in his sights when they start threatening the venture that will make him rich, his muscle being the US Army.
Despite worries that Depp would portray Tonto as a ridiculous Jack Sparrow-alike, his performance is one of the film’s strengths. Pitched somewhere between Edward Scissorhands and Hunter S. Thompson, his Tonto is not the servant of previous incarnations, but a warrior cracked by a past tragedy that he seeks to avenge.
Instead Armie Hammer is on buffoon detail, taking the film’s duration to evolve from inexperienced, civilised lawyer to a rootin’ tootin’ Western gunslinger. With echoes of James Stewart’s character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Hammer’s engaging performance means he deserves at least one more shot at A-list leading man before being consigned to the Taylor Kitsch bin.
Liberal lashings of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti style are applied to the films look and feel. An attack on Reid’s sister-in-laws’ ranch is straight out of Once Upon A Time In The West, with small natural sounds amplified for tension before the villains’ assault.
The ubiquitous Hans Zimmer’s score is indebted to Ennio Morricone’s Italian classics, and the William Tell overture gets a sonic makeover for the riotous finale.
Verbinski also knows how to stage action, with outstanding train-based set-pieces bracketing the film. Largely flawless CGI blends with impressive practical stunt work, with the director boasting Spielberg’s flair staging three different action scenes in one and also tipping his hat to Buster Keaton’s astounding locomotive finale to The General.
Verbinski also peppers arresting moments in the indulgent running time; Reid’s deputy badge being melted into the bullet with which he’ll take revenge or a women’s temperance union marching through a Sodom and Gomorrah style carnival.
So why is The Lone Ranger 2013’s Heaven’s Gate, that notorious Western flop that brought United Artists to its knees?
Maybe the violence is too hard-edged, with hearts being cut out, heads being squashed, and bullets having real impact. Yet, there’s nothing here stronger than what Spielberg was doing in Temple of Doom almost thirty years ago.
Perhaps it’s the film’s (correctly) dim view of America’s origins. The US Cavalry (headed by the Custer-alike Barry Pepper) massacre Indians for the convenience of the railroad barons, who also use Cavendish’s cutthroats to intimidate townsfolk.
Or the fact women barely register, Wilson’s damsel-in-distress there only to be imperiled and Bonham-Carter’s role presumably languishing in some AVID Editing Suite’s Deleted Items folder.
Or maybe The Lone Ranger is simply too square for these jaded modern times. A previous attempt to launch the character in the early 80s received a similarly poor reception.
But, while it’s unfortunate there definitely won’t be another Lone Ranger adventure, take heart in the fact the chances of a Pirates of the Caribbean 5 has entered distinctly choppy waters.