THE LONE RANGER
Release Date: 9 August 2013
Director: Gore Verbinski
Running Time: 149 Minutes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter
Screening Reviewed: London Press Screening
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
When is a Pirates of the Caribbean movie not a Pirates of the Caribbean movie?
The answer, it seems, is when the same creatives and talent come back together to give the same tired routine a fresh coat of paint and pass it off as something else - bastardising another, albeit admittedly mostly-forgotten, franchise from yesteryear in the process.
A cynical overview that may perhaps be, and in fairness The Lone Ranger team certainly do a stellar job in grounding their usual narrative tropes and visual excesses through a wholly convincing Wild West filter. However, there is just far too much repetition of what has come before and a complete failure or dogged refusal to learn from mistakes such as the over-indulgence and tonal mess of the Pirates sequels in particular. Much of the fault has to be leveled at writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, whose screenplay and storytelling for Lone Ranger seems stuck firmly on Pirates autopilot. It isn’t the finest film critique practice to review one movie almost exclusively by comparison to another, but here the similarities are so overt and overbearing it’s almost impossible not to. Remember that old chestnut of having multiple characters pointing guns at one another and shifting allegiances at the drop of a hat? Prepare to welcome it back in The Lone Ranger. How about the finale of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End with two ships crashing and colliding with one another as characters leap from one to another and cross-engage in increasingly silly and heightened action set pieces? Replace them with runaway mine trains and you’ve got your ending here. And do I really need to go anywhere near the bleedingly obvious Jack Sparrow/Tonto analogies? Regardless, on top of a whole swathe of Pirates paste jobs, Lone Ranger also compounds its’ uninspired casting laziness by shoehorning in the fantastic Helena Bonham Carter, Depp’s proudest alumnus from his ‘make it big playing the same character for a decade’ school, but at least sees fit to bump up the ridiculousness of her character by giving her a wooden leg-cum-shotgun.
The mind boggles.
If the above criticism was a little erratic, then it is entirely befitting of the incongruent mess that Lone Ranger delivers. One minute it can offer a pensive flashback depicting the brutal and opportunist murder of a native clan, then literally moments later we can be watching a horse inexplicably dressed up as a cowboy that has somehow climbed a tree. In a similar vein to the irrelevancy of On Stranger Tides’ central villain Blackbeard randomly dabbling in voodoo and for one scene only brutally seen incinerating a member of his crew, Lone Ranger’s central villain Butch Cavendish (an admittedly well-cast William Fichtner) is shown, again just the once mind, to be a heart-eating cannibal. It’s an important criticism because it is in many ways demonstrates why the film so spectacularly misfires on itself - the writers seemingly have no real comprehension of tone or consistency and instead we see the chief villain commit a random act of barbarism to cement his awfulness before cutting to the next random spot of illogical, jarring silliness or over-the-top set piece that continually pushes suspension of disbelief too far, usually for the sake of trying to capture the original Pirates comedy-drama formula. And whilst Verbinski remains a perfectly competent director, admirably making the most of the trite he is given here to work with, he pushes the incongruences too far. Rather than reigning in the scripts woeful attempts at making about five different movies at once, he allows every flavour and ingredient of the screenplay to flourish to levels of excess - the comedy here is broader and more lampoonish than even Pirates, the set pieces are the most egregious and CG-dependent that he has delivered as a director and the attempts to homage the serials and movies that inspired the genre come across as intelligence-insulting to a modern audience, with frustratingly predictable or ridiculous resolutions that dissolve the film of any tension or sense of genuine threat. And of course, our chief villain coldly goes about his business flippantly shooting and murdering his subordinates or innocents at a whim, yet orders one of his crew to have a main character hostage be shot out of sight and similarly puts our hero in an elaborate, escapable death trap when he finally has him captured.
The core tale of The Lone Ranger is fairly accessible and straightforward, yet so formulaic and derivative that predictability rears its head from early on. Armie Hammer gives a suitably earnest and put-upon turn as lawyer John Reid who goes on to become the unlikely titular hero, but the film groans under the weight of wanting to make Tonto (Depp) more than the sidekick figure he initially was. Reid’s brother is eventually (add bloated running time to the team's trademark faux pas') killed by Cavendish (courtesy of the aforementioned cannibalism) leading him on a personal vengeance mission that conveniently has personal relevancy for Tonto, who here is apparently somewhat mentally unhinged as well, no doubt to accommodate Depp’s cookie-cutter oddball shtick. Somehow, the whole thing gradually dovetails into another cut and paste job in the form of a wider, more political, yet-another-birth-of-the-railroad storyline that we all know and love from The Mask of Zorro amongst others. And it is all framed (see: padded out) as a prolonged flashback by a completely unnecessary trip to a circus in 1930’s San Francisco where an elderly Tonto is recounting the tale to a young boy.
I wanted to like The Lone Ranger, I genuinely did. Going to see the original Pirates of the Caribbean back in 2003 remains one of my most surprising and memorable cinema experiences, so fresh, unique and fun a movie as that was, and it’s a sad admonishment that a decade later that same formula, practically identically, is being churned out as such a disappointment and completely devoid of that movies impact and, judging by box office figures in the US at least, audience engagement. It’s hard not to see that the intentions to make another fun, and indeed funny, adventure in the vein of what they have done before was probably the admirable and appropriate reasons that led to Verbinski and his team wanting to make the film in the first place, and there are semblances of a good, fun film hiding somewhere amongst the mess, but ironically that very pedigree and history is what has undone The Lone Ranger in its attempt to be all of those things but writ even larger. It has its moments, and if its mindless, thoroughly stereotypical B-movie or serial silliness that you’re after, then on that front Lone Ranger certainly delivers. But overall this a movie that isn’t sure exactly what it wants to say, do or be, so any satisfying through-line or cinematic identity is sacrificed in favour of a jumbled bricolage of silliness and the feeling upon leaving the cinema is mostly of numb, eye-rolling uncertainty and bemusement. The team no doubt aimed for big, epic fun and adventure, but instead ended up with a big, derivative, schizophrenic mess. But hey, why settle for one genre or story when you can throw half a dozen into the mix?
Heigh-ho Silver, (go) away...
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * (2 out of 5 Stars)
Press access for this screening of The Lone Ranger was provided by Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios UK. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.