I was astounded by the new filmic version of The Lone Ranger. Astounded that Director Gore Verbinski and Disney Studios could do such a terrible job bringing this character to the big screen that is. How this ultimately developed into such an overblown mess is anybody’s guess, but very little about this film reflects the tone of the original television series and it is difficult to understand what went wrong. There is no doubt that Verbinski has tried to recapture the elements that made his Pirates of the Caribbean so successful, no doubt under considerable pressure from the studio to do so, but this film falters in so many areas that it is not surprising to discover that box office numbers are far below what was anticipated.
Verbinski has tried to transform what is essentially a fairly typical western narrative about revenge, justice and retribution – the cornerstones of any cowboy story – into a stunt and special effects extravaganza, sacrificing narrative, characterisation and logic along the way. Whilst many of the typical western tropes are present – the damsel in distress, the whore with a heart of gold, the black hat/white hat tradition to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys – an overabundance of action sequences prevent the audience from really getting to know or care about any of the characters.
Armie Hammer (The Social Network) stars as the initially naïve and inept John Reid, who adopts the persona of The Lone Ranger to avenge the death of his brother Dan (James Badge Dale), who is killed by notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Joined by Native American outcast Tonto (Johnny Depp) in his bid to bring Cavendish to justice, the pair find themselves embroiled in a series of stoushes that become more outlandish as their mission progresses. With Reid a somewhat reluctant hero and Tonto presented as a fool, it is unlikely that these two would ever achieve their objective. In fact, it is really disappointing to see Depp stoop to mockery of Native American culture in his portrayal of Tonto. There has obviously been an attempt to place Tonto at the front and centre of the narrative, rather than simply being a solemn sidekick which, in itself is commendable, but the way this character has been constructed is as nothing more than a clueless, bumbling buffoon.
Almost all attempts at humour fall flat and it is really difficult to work out at whom the film is targeted. The moments of violence render it unsuitable for young children, yet the simplistic dialogue, crazy action and downright silly moments (such as a horse up a tree for example) seem to suggest that it is, in fact, a younger audience that they are trying to secure. I would certainly like to think that most adults would find this to be a somewhat insipid film experience. The cast is strong with the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper also featuring, so much of the blame for this mess must lie with Verbinksi, whose back catalogue is littered with misfires such as Mousehunt, The Mexican and the uninspired American remake of The Ring. He certainly did the western thing much better in the animated Rango, which also featured Depp.
There is no doubt that The Lone Ranger is great fodder as a film character, which makes it all the more frustrating that this attempt has been botched so badly. The success of Westerns as a Hollywood staple has always been due to their simplicity. In this instance, the filmmakers seem have to lost sight of this fact and, as a result, we have been presented with a film that tries to be all things at once and fails miserably.