The best thing that can be said about The Lone Ranger is that it’s nowhere near as bad as the abysmal, nightmare-inducing, western-that-borderlines-on-fantasy Will Smith vehicle Wild Wild West. It’s also less juvenile and more entertaining than the Seth Rogen stoner adaptation of The Green Hornet, which was created as a then-contemporary version of The Lone Ranger in 1936.
Both heroes wore simple masks, fought crime and set race relations back by a hundred years through their shamelessly stereotypical ethnic sidekicks. In fact, Britt Reid a.k.a. Green Hornet is supposed to be a direct descendant of John Reid a.k.a. Lone Ranger. You can employ that ever-useful tidbit if you want to sweep a hot girl at a bar off her feet with your sweet nerd trivia. You’re welcome.
The Green Hornet was an excuse by Seth Rogen to cram in his rejected jokes from Superbad into another movie while laughing all the way to the bank. At least the team behind The Lone Ranger genuinely attempts to entertain their audience with a grand epic special effects extravaganza. It even takes some stabs at eccentric creativity and originality seldom found in a $250 million dollar mainstream blockbuster.
Some of these moments work, like Tonto threatening to rape a bad guy with a duck’s foot (I’m not joking). Some of them fall flat, like the overplayed gag of Tonto feeding his dead eagle with crumbled peanut shells. I just admire Gore Verbinsky and Johnny Depp, the team behind the first three Pirates of The Caribbean films, trying to at least have some fun with a highly expensive project that must have come attached with a lot of pressure to succeed.
The Lone Ranger suffers from the same problems as the Pirates of The Caribbean movies, namely that its promising start ends in overblown, overlong action set pieces that feel endless. In the case of The Lone Ranger, you might not need to pop two extra-strength Excedrins before reaching the third act like you might have felt the need to during At World’s End, but having some ibuprofen ready might come in handy.
That’s too bad because the opening action set piece that starts the film with a literal bang, after a wholly unnecessary framing device is set up, showing an old Tonto telling his story to a kid dressed as The Lone Ranger, is legitimately involving and entertaining.
Pragmatic lawman John Reid (Armie Hammer) is forced to catch the psychotic Butch Cavendish (The delightfully hammy William Fichtner) with help from the mysterious prisoner Tonto (Johnny Depp). After they fail to stop Cavendish’s posse, the two are tasked with stopping the train from derailing and killing everyone on board.
This delightfully exciting sequence full of creative action choreography and visual gags reminiscent of the best of Buster Keaton is a prime example of how effective and memorable an expensive Hollywood action set piece can become in the hands of the right people.
Unfortunately, Verbinsky tries to top himself with a roided-up version of that scene for his finale involving two trains chasing each other across two train tracks. It must have gone on for a good twenty minutes and its sheer bloated excess eventually weighs down on the audience. Ironically, Verbinsky provides his own anti-thesis to his opening scene via his final action sequence.
The first half of The Lone Ranger is actually quite compelling. Even though it sets up a typical revenge story, it does so with some energy and creativity. It’s after the halftime mark when, just like the Pirates of The Caribbean films, when the story becomes too convoluted and the film devolves as it expands. In the end, we get a mixed bag of those peanuts that Tonto seems to like so much.
Speaking of Tonto, how eccentric is Johnny Depp’s performance within the batcrap Depp spectrum? It’s not as annoying and obvious as Captain Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka but a notch above in insanity compared to Barnabas Collins.
I don’t think there was any way for Depp, a white man who claims to have a tiny bit of Indian ancestry, to portray the monosyllabic and crazy Native American Tonto and not seem a bit racist. Of course an unknown Native American actor could have been picked for the part and Armie Hammer could have been left to drive a 250 million dollar movie by himself. You’re adorable!
The name of the game is to make money and the only other way to not offend anyone would have been to not make a big budget adaptation of an incredibly racist radio show from a "simpler time", and we can’t have that.
In the end, The Lone Ranger is more entertaining than you might give it credit for, as long as you don’t expect much and bring your own earplugs to get through the last hour. However, if you want to see an excellent western from the same team, stay at home and rent Rango.