Poor, poor Gore Verbinski. The man who made waves with Pirates of the Caribbean a decade ago, an unexpected hit in its time, will forever be chasing that lightning in a bottle. Sure the sequel Dead Man’s Chest was a step up but At World’s End was a bloated mess. Sadly The Lone Ranger shares much in common and suffers the same fate as the third Pirates outing that finds the story lumbering under the weight of the plot. It can’t get out of its own way and that keeps what should be a really fun time just out of reach.
It’s a fun Western, something for kids and adults, or so the marketing tries its mightiest to convince us. So does the movie succeed? Yes it does. But does the movie also fail? Yes it does. Admittedly the source material is the biggest burden to bear as it is a dated property. Like films about astronauts, Westerns had their time and place and we as a society have moved past the era when Cowboys & Indians inspired a nation and were still exciting and exotic entertainment. Granted they have their fan base (and GoSeeTalk has reviewed a fair number of Westerns to high praise) but Westerns also either grab you or they don’t. One of the more polarizing genres out there there’s a reason Hollywood, and a good chunk of the public have deemed them a dead genre.
Front and center in this film, and by that token carrying a lot on his shoulders, Armie Hammer wasn’t the wrong choice but he may not have been the right one either. More of a Dudley Do-Right than an outright cowboy, the polar opposite of his Ranger brother Dan played by James Badge Dale (Flight, Iron Man 3 – he’s one to watch so keep an eye on his blossoming career), the moral code John keeps himself to is admirable but he’s too white glove, or white hat rather, to be a man tasked with braving the West to bring down ruthless and highly unsavory bad guys. Hammer makes the role work, as best he can that is, but even with Depp’s many a funny repartee there’s a stuffiness to the character and material that can’t be shaken.
So enter the comic relief. To bring the story closer to the kids level is a bit of segmented narration from an aging Tonto to a young boy at a travelling circus. But if grown men and die-hard Superman fans thought Man of Steel was too long then there will be a lot of antsy youngsters and likely empty seats by the time the lights come up (if not sooner) and the film has an overall stale feeling as dry as Johnny Depp‘s make-up.
Now Verbinski knows how to stage ridiculously fun and exciting action and granted it is enjoyable but it comes too late in the game and just doesn’t make up for the time waited to get here. If movies are like rollercoasters then Gore inserted the experience of waiting in line for the 5 minute thrill-ride into the movie. It’s not a tedious wait as the cast of really great actors like William Fichtner and Tom Wilkinson give solid performances (although they share screen time with characters whom 90% of look like live-action counterparts to the cast of Rango) but still come across as one-dimensional; colorful, yet one-dimensional. Finally John’s brother Dan and the “Rangers” had a coolness about them but their time, as foretold by the title, is all too brief.
Making this feel even more dated is Hans Zimmer playing it safe, especially when sticking to the familiar William Tell overture. What made something like Butch and Sundance so memorable (and to some extent Shanghai Noon which copied the formula) is that the story was infused with a modern sensibility, be it speech, music or song choices. To liven things up it might have been exciting to give this a bit of an electric guitar and really give the Lone Ranger an updated power anthem. Instead it feels as hokey and toothless as it did in the TV show. An homage and nostalgic to those who grew up with this singular hero, but misses the mark with modern audiences. Thinking back, and trying to be as fair as possible there is fun to be had and when Depp is on (and Hammer has some great parts too) the film really shines. Also there are number of wonderful camera shots, great angles, use of light, cinematography, etc. (which includes some great reveals of characters in the initial train robbery) and pacing….right up to the point where Dan dons the iconic mask. Then things slow down, way down.
The Lone Ranger is too just heavy and sluggish for what is supposed to be a Western romp and not as much fun either. Sure there are laughs and excitement but is so repressed by plot that once it’s time for The Lone Ranger to ride (in a rather fun and rousing finale) it is past the point of caring. It’s a 2 hour and 30 minute movie (or 150 minutes…pick your poison) and feels every bit of it if not longer. It’s long in the tooth and what is to be a reverent and passionate origin story (truth be told the introduction of the mask is rather inspired) hobbles across the finish line with fanfare befitting a passing tumbleweed and is just as easily forgotten. It’s doubtful audiences will want to see John and Tonto ride off into another sunset.
The pace of The Lone Ranger can be likened to sailing, which is fitting considering this comes from the Pirates crew; you’re not going to catch wind in your sails every minute of your trip so prepare yourself for some downtime…unfortunately there’s too little of the former and too much of the latter. Insult to injury is the credits sequence which feels like a cruel joke on the part of Verbinski. If the movie wasn’t long enough he succeed in making us stick around to the very end, as unsatisfying as it was. Maybe he was just bitter about the production and wanted us to feel his pain…or maybe he backed the wrong horse. Either way The Lone Ranger is going to be lonely at the box office.