What may have worked for Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp in The Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl does not translate into The Lone Ranger. Many were dubious a film based off a theme park ride could not only become a viable film but even a good one.
But the combined talents of Verbinski, Depp and cast, and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio created a genuinely good film that surpassed the expectations of many. The Lone Ranger manifests everything that can go wrong with a similar approach. It may not be based off of a theme park ride—although one is surely being created—but it is based off of a well worn property that has laid dormant for over three decades. One the one hand, it’s a known story that hasn’t been beaten to death by contemporary Hollywood. On the other, and this is one of several major issues with the film, does it really need to be told again?
First and foremost is the casting of Johnny Depp as Tonto, the Native American that assists John Reid (Armie Hammer) with transforming into the Lone Ranger. Depp is not Native American and despite any of his claims that he has Native American blood, he’s still a white man. But he’s Johnny Depp, a frequent collaborator with Gore Verbinski and too old to play the titular character.
Hollywood has a long, and obvious, history of not only portraying Native Americans in a negative, many times racist, light but also casting white people for significant roles. Any hopes that this would be different in 2013 is a wash. But it’s not even the fact that Depp is of a different race, Verbinski decides because Depp is the star that the film be framed around Tonto’s telling of the story so that for all intents and purposes, Depp is really the bigger star of the film—or at the very least, Hammer’s equal. It’s a decision that reeks of marketing over creative impulses and one that actually ends up hurting the film as it’s framed with an elderly Tonto recounting the “true” story of The Lone Ranger for a young kid.
It’s supposed to set up a mysteriousness about Tonto, and the legend of The Lone Ranger, but it’s superfluous and hackneyed and would have been an easy cut to trim down the bloated and unearned two-and-a-half-hour running time.
Depp, who admittedly has the ability to be talented, is also probably the worst character in the film as he only regurgitates the Jack Sparrow school of acting, where he straddles the mysterious line between drunk or sober and crazy or sane, all while making wide eyed expressions over and over. It’s an obvious trap he’s fallen into over the last decade—although there have been some detours, namely the pretty decent The Rum Diary—and one he leans on heavily here.
It doesn’t necessarily detract from the film but it surely doesn’t add anything either. It’s Armie Hammer who instead shows range and that he has the ability to be known for more than just the Winklevoss Twins from The Social Network. It probably won’t be the breakout hit he’s hoping for but he’s surely a bright spot in an otherwise dull affair.
Overall, Verbinski just doesn’t seem sure of what he wants. The PG-13 rating may fit the bill but the film does have quite a bit of carnage and a high body count even if it removes the gore that usually goes along with it. Some scenes feel like a fun family film, similar to his Pirates films, but others feel like they’re going for something more serious, or at least for more depth. It’s a jarring shift in tone that Verbinski is never able to reconcile, and add into that the unnecessary flash forward to the elder Tonto and it’s an editing nightmare. There’s been a lot of talk and press on the numerous production nightmares and, unlike War World Z which was able to come out of its own bad production press relatively unscathed, The Lone Ranger unfortunately confirms the numerous issues it was rumored to have. Somewhere within all the chaos a decent, maybe even good, film is buried but Verbinski isn’t able to unearth it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5