The Lone Ranger confirms the opinion I’ve had ever since Johnny Depp played Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003: He is no longer good. I understand that this is a harsh statement, but I assure you it doesn’t come without backup. Consider his roles before Jack, and then consider the ones after. The ones before are less flamboyant, but they’re original (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Raoul Duke). They are worked at with charm and talent. The ones after, though very diverse and colourful, are nothing but reincarnations of Jack Sparrow’s voice and mannerisms (Barnabas Collins, The Mad Hatter, Sweeney Todd). Depp no longer seems to be taking on roles to exercise his talent; he seems to be taking them on to broaden his resume. And right now, he will take anything that comes his way.
His latest is Tonto. The Indian with a dead bird on his head that he constantly feeds — not because he thinks it’s alive, but because he wants to nourish its afterlife in the hope that it will come back. He is a very intricate person, both in appearance as well as in character. His face is painted and cracked to look like Death’s goth brother, and he possesses supernatural powers that are shown briefly in the beginning and then forgotten later on. By reputation, he is The Lone Ranger’s sidekick. This time round, he’s more of a free spirit with his own vendetta. He wanders as and when he pleases and always seems to sprout up just in the nick of time. The bond he shares with The Ranger is not so much Batman and Robin; it’s more like Woody and Buzz. Still, Depp plays him with little originality, and through his thin Indian accent, Jack Sparrow can be heard.
Of course, it isn’t fair to be picking on a rotten berry when the whole pie actually tastes pretty good. But Depp’s acting has been plaguing me for a while now, and I can only hope he takes on more serious roles in the near future (which isn’t very probable, considering he might be appearing in Pirates 5 and Wonderland 2).
The Lone Ranger has never been a character or a story that I’ve been familiar with. I probably know his catchphrases and his music better than I know the man. But I think that’s all right, because Gore Verbinski and his trio of writers — Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio — take him back to his beginnings as a staunch law man who prefers to use justice as a weapon, instead of a gun. He is played by Armie Hammer, and Hammer does a fine job. He has screen presence, good chemistry with Depp, and comedic timing that we never got to see in The Social Network. He is fresh off the line, undoubtedly refurbished for the younger generation — like myself — and he looks great. He is a confident man playing a confident man. But his confidence lies in the law, not in action set pieces. When he mounts his trusty white horse, Silver, and charges through enemy lines, or onto the tops of trains, he is weary and sometimes reluctant. He is never self-assured, and it makes his fighting all the more enjoyable.
The story spins two ways, and then merges at the end, literally. On one side of the tracks, The Lone Ranger, whose real name is John Reid, is hunting down a cannibalistic outlaw by the name of Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who killed his brother and ate his heart. On the other side, Comanches and the white folk are disrupting their peace treaty for silver. But there is a hidden agenda, and Tonto and John suspect foul play. One thing leads to another, and lines are crossed. I shouldn’t mention these lines for the sake of the plot’s surprises. Everything culminates in a spectacular climax involving two trains, first on one track, then on two, zooming on side by side. It is one of the great train action sequences that ends — again, quite literally — with a bang.
Westerns have been around since the beginning of film, and they’ve undergone massive facelifts over the decades. The Westerns of Leone are different from the Westerns of Ford. And the Westerns of the ’60s are different from the Westerns of now. The past is always shifting, even though the look and gritty feel of muddy towns and boarded up saloons remain the same. But even now, the Western is evolving. True Grit is different from Cowboys And Aliens. The Lone Ranger is also different. It is grander, louder, more explosive, and tries its hardest to be funnier. It doesn’t reach the last goal as effortlessly as it would have hoped, but comedy isn’t its pull. The Lone Ranger is, and there enough of The Lone Ranger here to fill a football stadium.
Verbinski delivers what you’d expect, and I’m finding it difficult to understand where all the bad press is coming from. Apparently, many American critics gunned it down before it was even released, blaming its rocky production and budget wars. But how can you judge a movie without having seen it? Or how can you judge a movie for what it could have been instead of what it is? The Lone Ranger isn’t perfect — not by a long shot — but it is entertaining, extravagant, and it gets the job done. Why can’t people be satisfied with that?
Best Moment | The climactic train battle. Over the top, fast, and exciting.
Worst Moment | Old Tonto.