There’s something about concluding the massacre of hundreds of Native Americans with a cheap joke about a horse in a funny hat that rubs me the wrong way. The Lone Ranger tries so hard to be every kind of movie at once that it ends up being no kind of movie at all: a sour, uncomfortable display of blockbuster bravado in the throes of arthouse despair, desperate to be somehow significant but utterly disassociated from actual insight or proper thrills. At least Armie Hammer is good.
The Social Network star plays John Reid, a well-intentioned lawyer roped into Texas Rangering when his brother, played by Iron Man 3’s James Badge Dale, winds up dead at the hands of the evil Butch Cavendish, played by William Fichtner in an open-mouthed Jonah Hex get up. Spurred by the mysterious Tonto, played by Johnny Depp as if the actor couldn’t tell if this the movie was serious or not and said “Screw it, I’ll play it both ways at once,” Reid becomes a masked vigilante fighting to avenge his brother and unmask the sinister machinations of railroad baron Latham Cole (“GOD REST HIS SOUL”), played by Tom Wilkinson, who also has designs on the Lone Ranger’s love interest because otherwise there would be no women in this movie.
Well, okay, let’s be more accurate: otherwise there would be no women “needed” in this movie. The Lone Ranger is the kind of testosterone-fueled action-adventure where all women are either victims, prostitutes or opium-dealing dragon ladies with no dialogue to speak of. Poor Ruth Wilson, so powerful in BBC’s “Luther,” can’t even hit a bad guy on the back of the head during the never-ending climactic train sequence without Tonto knocking her unconscious first. Oh, you thought you were going to be useful, Ruth Wilson? No, even the heroes get to victimize you. And Helena Bonham Carter, looking like she got lost on her way to a Tim Burton joint, seems to exude an air of authority until you realize that every one of her scenes could have been cut with no impact on the story whatsoever. She’s there because The Lone Ranger needed to visit a brothel because westerns have scenes in brothels, damn it, that is all.
Gore Verbinski, who quite possibly went mad around the time of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’s psycho opening crab sequence, seems to be rebelling against the very concept of a feel-good family epic, opening his film in a museum that hires Native Americans as statues, probably unaware that at least one of them is really an American hero and probably not caring much if they knew. From there the film goes back in time to an age when conversations took forever, perspectives were forced and action sequences kicked in and lasted at least ten minutes before we found out who any of the characters actually were and therefore had any reason to care if they lived or died.
The Lone Ranger begs to be taken seriously when the tragic origin of Tonto is revealed, but can’t resist the urge to bookend that tragedy with the old joke of a white hero speaking Pidgin English to Native Americans only to find out they were fluent the whole time. Tonto fights to avenge the deaths of his people but then sacrifices a whole tribe to save one white guy he barely knows and feels nothing afterwards. Few other observations about the character seem to matter.
The movie is briefly triumphant at the end, when The Lone Ranger rears up on his horse and The William Tell Overture kicks in, only to never end, playing for so long over an elaborate train gag that both the film and the temporarily glorious score turn monotonous. This is an overconceptualization of a tiny concept, apologetic for its old school appeal and terrified that audiences might not take it seriously. The Lone Ranger is a dashing, heroic, moral figure and Armie Hammer plays him that way, never saving the movie from itself but saving face at least in the middle of a movie that has no interest in its title character except as the brunt of jokes.
The Lone Ranger ends with a beloved character begging the hero to be anything but what he really stands for: fun. The movie comes across no less disappointed in itself. This is a blockbuster that punishes you for wanting it. I can only write about this movie the same way it was told, unfocused and with very, very harsh criticism.