You know what my official favorite thing about The Lone Ranger is? Aside from the fact that it opens with a pan over the Golden Gate Bridge, a fact which had me wishing Tommy Wiseau was playing The Lone Ranger. No, my favorite thing about this movie is that Johnny Depp’s eye-poppingly awful, garish, stupid, bizarre, racist, offensive on a hundred levels, holy-shit-what-were-they-thinking, turn as Tonto isn’t the worst thing about it. Wrap your head around that before you follow me down this particular rabbit hole.
The Lone Ranger is an odd property, in that everyone seems to have a working knowledge of it’s basic tenants and concepts, but it hasn’t been popular since the late 60s, reaching it’s most popular form as a 60s TV series. And since my extremely bizarre childhood involved watching a lot of things from that era (The Avengers, with John Steed, Wild Wild West, Star Trek: The Original Series and a LOT of Errol Flynn movies) you’ll be unsurprised to learn that I watched it a lot as a kid. And you know what’s interesting? Jay Silverheels’ (IE an actual fucking First Nations actor) portrayal of Tonto is not that stereotypical. Okay, so he did the whole ‘How White Man’ dialogue bullshit, but other than that he didn’t have many of the clichés. He didn’t talk to the animals, he didn’t have any Earth magic shit, hell he didn’t even do the ‘Noble Savage’ bull. Which makes it even more offensive that Johnny Depp’s performance ticks off every fucking goddamn Native cliché.
It’s actually kind of pointless to recount the Lone Ranger’s setup; Only about half of the Lone Ranger mythos winds up in the movie, and most of that is destined to be derided or straight up mocked. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For the record the plot is concerned with John Reid, a bookish big city lawyer who arrives in the West to help his living legend brother hunt down an outlaw Butch Cavendish. But Cavendish ambushes them, killing (and eating, believe it or not) Reid’s brother. Reid’s life is saved by Tonto who believes Cavendish to be a Wendigo and needs Reid’s silver bullet to put him down. But since the enemies think Reid is dead, they decide to have him wear a mask to protect himself and thus become the titular character.
This movie has such a plethora of issues that it’s hard to know where to start, but the script seems like a big fat target, so we’ll start there. Put quickly the script is fucking awful. The movie is bloated and overlong, the dialogue is awful and the plot somehow manages to be both barely there and overcomplicated (something about stolen silver and a train and…I dunno, I lost interest at the halfway point).
And that’s even before the bizarre plotholes. The whole Indian Spirit Magic bullshit runs the plot till about the halfway point, when the movie suddenly announces that none of the magic is real and Tonto just had a psychotic break. Which would be kind of interesting…if we hadn’t already seen the horse do supernatural stuff and the silver hadn’t given the Ranger a flashback. And the horse doing supernatural stuff (which it continues to do) is already problematic as it seems to be the driving force behind the Ranger doing…well anything. He seems to be vitally important and barely competent at the same time, as Tonto just drags him into being a hero. And while I’m complaining, if the main villain isn’t actually a wendigo, then why is he a cannibal, because it’s both unnecessary and a little overly gruesome for a summer blockbuster.
Most of the actors are on autopilot, as the movie revolves around Johnny Depp’s Tonto to a ridiculous degree (a performance which borrows so heavily from his Jack Sparrow persona that I’m surprised he didn’t just dress like him). The focus on Tonto, incidentally, had me hoping for a Big Trouble in Little China twist on the story, but since the Ranger is literally chosen by the spirit magic (set eyes to roll), that never arrives. Armie Hammer is a good actor but his performance here reminds me of nothing so much as George Clooney in Batman and Robin, alternately embarrassed by what he’s having to say and frightened at what this is going to mean for his career. The more bizarre inclusion is Helena Bonham Carter, who’s character shows up at the midpoint, gets a ton of characterization and even a backstory. She then drops some exposition and drops off the face of the movie. Hell until she showed up (very briefly) at the finale, I was actually under the impression she’d gotten killed. None of the other actors are even worth mentioning, although I will say that Cavendish’s crew is such an obvious knockoff of Barbosa’s crew from Pirates of the Caribbean that when one of them started wearing a blouse and carrying around a parasol I barely even noticed.
The action sequences could almost be a saving grace, and the first one is well placed and actually moves at a fairly brisk pace, but they’re not. For starters, the big finale commits Gore Verbinski’s big cardinal sins in being too long and having too many moving parts. The second is that…well they’re barely there. There are two big train action sequences, one at the very beginning and one at the very end and there’s pretty much nothing in between, just the Ranger and Tonto snarking at each other.
And now I can finally address the offputting contempt the film has for its source material. The movie jettisons most of the Ranger’s mythology, and the stuff it keeps is basically openly insulting. One of the last scenes is openly mocking the Ranger’s iconic catchphrase, which is particularly annoying since fans of the old show are probably the only people who would actually be interested in seeing this. This is not the movie for you if you’re a fan of the old TV show. Hell, this is not the movie for you even if you’re not. I dunno who exactly this show is for, other than anti-Native racists.
Usually, at the end of a movie this aggressively bad, I feel angry. But this time, I just feel tired. Not just of the Depp/Verbinski thing, though that had pretty much worn out it’s welcome at the midpoint of Pirates 3. No I’m tired of the whole blockbuster scene. This happens every year at some point, but I cannot remember it happening so early or so forcefully. I’m tired of seeing bad movies make money and good movies lose it. I’m tired of watching Pacific Rim open in 3rd while Adam Sandler and Michael Bay laugh all the way to the bank. I’m tired of bloated, stupid, boring movies where exciting, engaging movies should be. Perhaps Elysium or World’s End can turn it around, but either way, stay far away from The Lone Ranger.
Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he would pay green money to hear Tommy Wiseau say “Hi-ho Silver, away!”