Just like another 2013 blockbuster with a man in a cape, the launch of another bygone icon is a tough sell to a modern audience, some of whom will be oblivious to the main character.
The team behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” (POTC) series, including director Gore Verbinski have decided the time is right to dust off the stetson, saddle up the white horse named Silver and go back to the Wild West with Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s faithful sidekick.
Sidekick is unfair, as this story is told more from Tonto’s (Johnny Depp) perspective, complete with a revisionist approach to the previous stereotypical Hollywood portrayal of Wild West lore, at least to those old enough to remember, White Man good, Indian savage bad.
This interpretation brings the Lone Ranger into the more plausible modern world, at least in sensibility, where most white men are corrupt, greedy liars who mistreat the locals, workmen and anyone that isn’t them, as they strive to steal as much silver as they can, whilst building the railroad through honourable Comanche territory.
This is a curious film, arriving under the Disney banner with a mish mash of styles and tone. One minute comical, cartoon like violence and action sequences, juxtaposing against scenes of slaughter that would be not out of place in “Dances with Wolves”. Tonally, the film is all over the place with several sequences pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a summer family blockbuster.
Strict law abiding attorney John Reid (Arnie Hammer) arrives in the mid-west to meet up with his carved from stone Ranger brother, his pretty wife and young son. Stumbling across the escape of the Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner), a man who would not only kill puppies but probably also eat them for breakfast the next day, he finds the written law and the reality differ somewhat.
Hindered and occasionally aided by the trusty but more than a little mad Indian Tonto, he arrives at a point where to right wrongs and pursue his strict moral code, he must become a masked fugitive. This enable him to bring justice to this much troubled land as the Lone Ranger, cue William Tell signature tune. The film is bookended by Tonto revealing the story to a young boy, who presumably arrived through the gift shop as he is now replete in full Lone Ranger gear.
Whether this framing device is required is debatable and only adds to the far too long 149 minute running time.
To the main question, is it any good?
Most critics have clearly decided to choose the Lone Ranger as this years “mega-bomb”, writing the film off as a $215m disaster. I would argue the film is fun, the effects are state of the art and actors good enough in their roles to get a pass. Depp is not as annoying as his character “Captain Sparrow” has become in later POTC films, despite being caked in war paint and with a dead bird on his head. Hammer, whilst forced to act as a doofus for most of the running time is more than adequate in the role.
The supporting characters including Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Barry Pepper and James Badge Dale all provide just that, fine acting support. Some with relatively minor roles to make their mark.
The period setting is provided with suitable blockbuster expense, there are explosions a plenty and much stunt work ranging from the “that looks real and dangerous” through to, that must be “green screen” to create such an effect.
Overall this is by no means a disaster. There are flaws, length being one and as mentioned the tonal shifts jar uncomfortably. The film is quite violent, albeit mainly off screen but contains sequences you might not expect with a Cinderella castle twinkling in the opening credits. True, it is far better that cause and effect of screen violence are shown but this is inconsistent throughout the film.
The bird feeding gag gets old really quickly and quite what the rabbits/hares are up to, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they built the giant pointless tower onto which Reid gets banished at one point.
A curious mix of “Dances with Wolves”, “Wild Wild West” and “Maverick”, not settling for any length of time on any distinct genre.
Mostly good fun with state of the art effects, action sequences and with some engaging characters. Certainly not the disaster some might lead you believe but whether this will be enough to see the “Lone Ranger” ride again, remains to be seen