The Lone Ranger – 2013

Director Gore Verbinski
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter
Screenplay Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

The Lone Ranger was pretty much announced DOA when it was released in July 2013.  Why is pretty much tea leaf readings based on production difficulties, a general distaste for Jerry Bruckheimer and a feeling that Johnny Depp’s luck had to run out at some point.  The film’s primary failure in that it did not stretch beyond the shadow of doubt cast over Disney from the previous summer’s John Carter.  Other than that, like John Carter, it’s pretty good.

Disney’s too big, though, to not have films do great box office.  They will survive, of course, but everyone in Hollywood not owned by Disney (there’s only a few left, I know) will have a field day, as the company counts receipts from the Marvel and Lucasfilm (okay, Star Wars) and other Disney owned features, toys, etc.  Point is, failure is not new territory for Disney, and it’s also not a problem.  People just need something to talk about, or fill column space.  See, I just got two paragraphs.  This writing is a piece of cake.

Back to the film, it’s not nearly the mess that it could have been, even if it leans a little too heavily on not shooting guns and doing the right thing.  When you see the bad (always white) guys kill, maim, injure and prosper, the guy in the white hat does everything he can by the book, even if the person he is fighting has done something unspeakable.  That’s just dumb.  Armie Hammer has the propensity to play more intelligently (The Social Network) than he is allowed in this portrayal of the titular character.  He’s got a lot of spirit, though.

Depp is at his most appealing playing Tonto.  I don’t give a rip if he is 1/32 Comanche or he comes from a long line of quitters.  He’s cool as a cucumber and, when he’s not being required to suffer at the hand’s of his partner’s naivete or required to tell the story to a little kid, he’s literally giving the people what they want.  It’s easy to appreciate what they worked to carry out with the role and they largely succeeded.  His story, and the portrayals of Comanche Nation is good enough for me, even if I don’t have the heritage to say so without protest.

The bad guys are drawn effectively as well.  Fichtner is almost unrecognizable, Pepper is delightfully vapid and Wilkinson, as usual, is the real snake.  His reveal is supposed to be a surprise, but it is just about as much of a secret as how the big Disney villain always dies.  I would give you a hint, but, really, it’s no surprise.  Really.

Speaking of bad, the annoyance that is Bonham-Carter is muted by brevity and appropriateness of content.  Her weapons, along with her character, is borrowed.  At least we don’t have to see her naked.

The direction is exactly what one can expect from the helmer of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films.  The action sequences are crisp and exceptionally well-timed.  They make Depp look unwittingly brilliant.  What they have borders on crystal clear magic.  The film’s signature scenes are ones involving trains.  The beginning and especially the end are magnificent and thrilling.  If the film had been more successful, they just may have re-done Thunder Mountain.

They are re-doing Thunder Mountain, but there will be no Lone Ranger references.  Nor, will there be a sequel.  They played Hammer’s character as if there would be one, and it hurts the film overall.  So does the PG-13 awkwardness.  So much violence in a traditionally low-key action character is off-putting enough, but making it PG-13 muted is kind of lame.  They could have toned down the massacres, since they knew it would not amount to anything.

The Lone Ranger is a decent summer film.  It will have life on video that it didn’t quite achieve in theaters.  It’s one of the few Depp performances I look forward to seeing again.

(***1/2 0ut of *****)

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