This week Disney presents their take on the wild, wild west as director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer team up with Johnny Depp once again for “The Lone Ranger.” Following the hugely successful (and still ongoing) “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, “The Lone Ranger” pairs a white-faced, bird-headed Depp as Tonto with unlikely star Armie Hammer in the classic role.
The two-and-a-half hour movie begins quite unexpectedly with a oddball narrative element that carries throughout the film all the way through the closing credits – one that itself is a spoiler not to be revealed here. Through this unexpected storytelling method, the tale of lawman John Reid is delivered, once a suit-wearing lawyer and brother of one of the famed Texas Rangers, ultimately becoming, well, the title of the film kind of gives it away.
How Reid, aka the Lone Ranger, ultimately becomes partners with Tonto, an outcost of a Cherokee Native American, is a third of the film’s story, both sharing the desire for revenge against the baddest man of the west, Butch Cavendish, played with just enough subtlety by frequent character actor William Fichtner. But there is nothing subtle about Cavendish’s particular brand of evil. It’s clear from the very first time his filthy appearance litters up the screen that this man is no one to be crossed. And despite a vague visual similarity, Cavendish is badder than Pirates‘ Captain Barbossa was at his worst.
In fact, there is nothing subtle about “The Lone Ranger.” The film features off-the-wall humor, much of which is offered by Tonto and Reid’s horse Silver, tip-toeing the line between Hollywood western reality and “Pirates 2” style slapstick. The jokes are often setup-punchline style, with quite a few one-liners flung around.
Depp is puzzling as Tonto, leaving audiences not knowing whether to laugh with him, laugh at him, or take him seriously as he deadpans all of his lines, perhaps not cracking a single smile through the entire duration of the film. Tonto is definitely not Jack Sparrow, instead a straight-faced Native American that always manages to escape even the most precarious of situations through cunning, and sometimes absurd, means.
Meanwhile Armie Hammer is present and adequate as the Lone Ranger, but never completely heroic. Despite the film’s title, Hammer is rarely the star of the movie, more often than not acting as Depp’s sidekick and the brunt of oh so many jokes. He’s not a bumbling hero, but instead one that takes far too long to come into his own. But when he finally does, it’s spectacular.
Balancing all of its humor is the film’s frequent use of in-your-face violence, often nudging the line of its PG-13 rating. Though some of the most gruesome of violence takes place just off screen (or barely seen via carefully framed reflections), many of the gunshots are felt by the audience individually, ringing out one at a time, each hitting its mark with force. As the film progresses, the gun-slinging becomes more frequent and “wild,” sending shots flying and bodies falling in every other direction. But the realism of early scenes might be too intense for younger or more sensitive audiences. Completely family-friendly this film is not.
The film’s treatment of Native Americans is always respectful. Though Depp’s own portrayal of Tonto can’t be described as anything resembling a “real” Cherokee, his Native American costars (of which there are many) offer authenticity and even a bit of heartbreak. This is definitely not a “cowboys and indians” film.
By the end, “The Lone Ranger” becomes fully realized, finally finding its way out of generic western territory and into an extended finale that’s deserving of its title, complete with the triumphant use of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.” All the key elements that make “The Lone Ranger” what the world has known it to be for decades finally pull together for a show-stopping end to an otherwise average film.
The 2.5-hour movie could have been tightened, shedding some of its less important characters and scenes, such as anything to do with Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Harrington, and giving more attention to interesting but underused characters like Barry Pepper’s Captain Fuller. But as it stands, audiences who can make it through the gritty realism of some of the film’s early scenes will come out smiling in delight as the Lone Ranger truly rides again.
“The Lone Ranger” gallops into theaters on Wednesday, July 3, 2013.