The Lone Ranger Review
by Daniel Rester
The Lone Ranger is the latest film from Gore Verbinski, the helmer behind The Ring (2002), Rango (2011), and the first three Pirates of the Caribbean entires (2003, 2006, and 2007). Ranger is a big-budget Disney production based on the radio and TV show, which were popular from the 1930s through the 1950s (though the TV program didn’t start until 1949). The shows revolved around the title character and his trusted friend Tonto, a Native American, with the two of them fighting injustice in the Old West. With its exciting action, fun characters, and the timeless William Tell Overture, The Lone Ranger shows entertained audiences for decades. I wish I could say the new film is just as good.
This Ranger adaptation tells the origins story of the iconic hero, keeping a lot of the basic launch pad points the same but also mixing things up a bit in developing the story. The hero starts out as a regular guy, and lawyer, named John Reid (Armie Hammer). After an escort train loses the evil Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), an outlaw who eats people’s hearts, Reid gets caught up in a search-and-capture mission aimed at finding the man. Leading the mission is Dan (James Badge Dale), John’s older brother and a Texas Ranger captain, who makes John a Ranger before the hunt for Cavendish.
During the mission, things go terribly wrong and all of the Rangers are killed except for John. Reid eventually teams up with Tonto (Johnny Depp), a Native American who has his own plan of vengeance for Cavendish. As the two set out to find the outlaw, they get caught up in situations involving female dancers, Native American tribes, and railroad entrepreneurs.
Ranger has great production values working for it and it could have been a terrific summer film. But it’s not, and it pains me to say so. Disney, Verbinski, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and star Depp presented entertainment gold back in 2003 with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Cures of the Black Pearl. But that film’s three sequels were somewhat disappointing, though they made tons of money. Disney has been trying to kick start a new franchise similar to Caribbean in recent years, presumably just to rake in more cash. They tried first with John Carter (2012), which underperformed at the box office. Now comes Ranger, which is just trying to be Caribbean dressed in Western clothes and will likely flop as well (both Carter and Ranger had budgets above $200 million, which is hard money to make back).
So where does Ranger go wrong as a film and not just a financial project? First off, the script is a bit of a mess. Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot, and Terry Rossio’s screenplay has a good story within it, but its ideas are scattered and/or hit-and-miss for the most part. The framing of the story, which involves an older Tonto telling the story of Reid to a boy in 1933, is interesting but almost seems needless – and just stretches things out even more. There are also quite a few sections that could have easily used some rewrites in order to make things tighter.
The biggest writing issues, though, are found with the character development and dialogue. It is understandable that Reid and Tonto’s relationship should be bumpy at first before developing into a friendship, but the scriptwriters set the two into a repetitive cycle of disliking each other and then liking each other. Such repetition makes it difficult to latch on to their team up, and their actions upon each other are at times just mean-spirited and unfunny (with Tonto even unnecessarily dragging Reid through horse manure at one point). Speaking of unfunny: the dialogue. Some of the sight gags in the film (most from Depp) are passable, but a lot of the dialogue tries to be hilarious and just falls flat.
Not helping things is the majority of Verbinski’s direction. Instead of balancing the tones of the script (which were probably miscalculated in the first place), Verbinski has the film presented in ways where it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Some scenes are rendered as too silly and childish, while others are highly dramatic and vividly violent. So, what was the intended audience? The director does a fine job at delivering on the action scenes, with some of them actually quite fun (though unbelievable and visual effects-heavy), but he lets many scenes go on forever. As the film slogs along – reaching nearly two-and-a-half hours by the end – everything really just becomes more bloated and unexciting. (However, the climax is admittedly entertaining, but it arrives too late in the game.)
The cast here isn’t the biggest problem, but I just wish they had better material to work with. Hammer is occasionally appealing as Reid, though he is goofy and applies a parodic touch most of the time. Depp is Depp being Captain Jack Sparrow as Tonto, which is amusing at times but mostly just feels stale after a while. The two leads also have here-and-there chemistry, which doesn’t help. The supporting cast is strong, with Fichtner (an underrated actor) best as the villainous Cavendish. Also joining are such actors as Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, and Tom Wilkinson – with most of their talent wasted.
I only loved three things about Ranger: the cinematography, the natural locations, and the music score. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is actually quite amazing, with close attention to lighting and framing and containing a love of the locations. And boy are those desert locations beautiful; it was very refreshing to see a big-budget film actually shot on many natural locations (across six states, in fact). The music by Hans Zimmer also compliments everything well, with the famous William Tell Overture kicking in from time to time.
What’s most disappointing about Ranger is that it had so much potential and even has moments and aspects of greatness. I didn’t really hate this film like many others do, and I admire much of the efforts and was entertained from time to time by some of the action. I just wish the ending results weren’t as messy and overdone as they are.
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: C).