Twitter Plot Summary: The Lone Ranger and Tonto join forces to stop some guy from putting a railroad through Comanche territory.
Director: Gore Verbinski
Key Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Barry Pepper,
Five Point Summary:
1. An early introduction to every variation of facial hair known to man.
2. Some mumbo jumbo about spirits…
3. Wearing a tiny mask does not make your face unrecognisable. When will they learn?
4. Mine cart madness.
5. William Tell overture. Hit it.
Going into the film I was aware that a number of the mainstream reviews had been quite negative towards it. I’m not sure of the reasons behind this, maybe it’s a reaction against Jerry Bruckheimer and his “CRASH BANG WALLOP!” style of movie making. Maybe it’s fatigue at Johnny Depp joining up with Gore Verbinski for yet another film, in which case why aren’t they as vocal about him teaming up with Tim Burton so often? I’m at a loss to explain it, because having sat through the 2.5 hour running time I didn’t think it was that bad at all. The story moves along at a good pace, the characters get plenty of development and the effects and locations look rather spiffing. It’s not a dull 2.5 hours either. If you’re going to make a long film then you have to keep it entertaining and keep the energy up, otherwise your audience will lose interest. Not so here, thankfully.
The plot is quite a simple one – a big train company wants to run their line through Comanche territory in order to connect the East and West coasts of the United States, and they’re making it look like the Comanches have broken an agreement to stay on their side of the border. This of course makes the white man appear morally right when opting to wipe them out. Depth is added through the disparity between the “Wild West” and the onset of the new civilised world that is lurking on the horizon. It’s a tale of brothers, a tale of old meets new, a tale of Johnny Depp being a deadpan Native American with a dead bird on his head.
Hammer and Depp are excellent in their respective roles as John Reid/The Lone Ranger and Tonto. They disagree on many fronts until finally reaching a mutual understanding, and both characters have a solid story arc. Tonto in particular is much more fleshed out compared to the original serialised version of the character, thanks in part to modern storytelling techniques and also because it makes him someone you actually care about. His story is very much about the naivety of the Native Americans when they first encountered the white man, and is yet another example of the “old meets new” theme.
Whilst we have gained a much stronger character in Tonto, there’s a distinct lack of strong female characters. Ruth Wilson is the brother’s wife who’s always getting into trouble, and Helena Bonham Carter’s brothel owner is there just to show off an ivory leg and push The Lone Ranger and Tonto onwards in their quest to find Cavendish. It seems a waste of Bonham Carter’s talents in not giving her more to do, as the role could have certainly added to the adventure romp vibe.
William Fichtner is merely okay as bad guy Butch Cavendish rather than spectacular, which was something of a disappointment. He’s a reliable presence for sure, and the character is a rather nasty guy with a penchant for cutting out the body parts of his victims. With a few tweaks he could have been far more sinister, but because Fichtner is a talented guy he doesn’t lower himself down to cringeworthy caricature. A little push towards the Lee Van Cleef area of Western villainy would have sealed it.
The biggest gripe is the framing device – the story really does not need an elderly Tonto recounting his tale to a young boy in the 1930s. A straight story set in 1869 would have been far more appropriate. The CGI rabbits also don’t tend to serve much purpose except act as an allegory for how nature/people can be vicious despite outward appearances. Other than that the CGI is either unobtrusive or used sparingly, which is a bonus. There’s a lot of location shooting (which look amazing, by the way), and a similar amount of practical effects that in this day and age is a brave decision to make. There is a significant amount of CGI, but doing practical stunts is often the best way of evoking realism, and in my eyes you can’t go wrong with that.
Whilst the framing device jars, it’s otherwise an entertaining spectacle that borrows the tone and the spirit of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, so it’s got that fun element of silliness as opposed to teeth-grindingly bad silliness. I’d be hesitant to mention it in the same context as the three sequels as that would show The Lone Ranger in a more negative light, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that.
Favourite scene: The final climactic scuffle across two trains. Big dumb fun.
Quote: “Horse says you are a spirit walker. A man who’s been to the other side and returned. A man who cannot be killed in battle.”
Silly Moment: A horse standing in a tree. Go figure.