WHAT MAKES A HERO truly heroic? It seems Hollywood is no longer entirely certain, even though countless jobs, reputations, vast fortunes — and the futures of vast multinational corporations hinge on providing the public with a steady stream of heroes.
Being risk-adverse and creatively shy, the studios have become addicted to pre-sold properties with high name recognition, even though filmmakers may not always have the audience’s affection for these characters.
The Lone Ranger, an icon of simpler times, is caught in a double loop of nostalgia — both for the golden age of radio and early TV — when the character was created; and for the “thrilling days of yesteryear” in which his stories are set.
These were times, we’ve been told, when the good guys wore white hats, the women were ladylike, and the steeds were fast and true.
This latest over-budgeted, over-fussy but often amusing adaptation is compromised of a desire to preserve the legend while simultaneously “enhancing” it to conform to modern, summer blockbuster standards.
So the stalwart gun slinger of yore has been altered into a reluctant tenderfoot, who would rather argue legality than duke it out; the once stoic and trustworthy Tonto has morphed into a fitfully kooky, borderline nutso quasi-mystic that the other Comanche think has ridden around the bend without a horse. Even the Ranger’s trusty horse Silver has turned into a bit of an oddball.
Clocking in at more than two hours, this bloated oater is saddled with multiple backstories and plotlines, all of them wrapped in a pointlessly bizarre framing device that finds Johnny Depp buried under mountains of latex as a wizened Tonto in 1933, working as a carnival attraction, and spinning a tall tale of his first adventure with the masked man in 1869.
Back in that still-untamed West, we find absurdly handsome, East Coast-educated attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) returning to Texas — to bring law and refinement to the dusty plains — as a prosecutor.
In Reid’s absence, his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) has stayed busy, not only fighting crime as a Texas Ranger, but in marrying the beautiful girl (Ruth Wilson) that John left behind.
After some shenanigans with a runaway train, and some family drama, John accompanies his brother and crew of Ranger’s on a manhunt for vicious fugitive Butch Cavedish (Wiliam Fitchner), only to be ambushed by the desperado’s gang.
The rest of the posse is wiped out, with the badly wounded John rescued by the pseudo medicine man. The gently unhinged Tonto sees spirits in all things, and convinces Reid that he is a re-born ghost, and must now adopt a secret identity to dedicate his new life to justice by any means. Sure, why not?
Turns out Butch is just working for the real baddie, Tom Wilkinson’s power-mad railroad baron. Trains here are a metaphor for corporate greed and manifest destiny, but also a good excuse to blow stuff up.
Depp has never met a role he couldn’t drown in quirks, and his spaced-out Tonto is so infused with twitches, winks and funny walks, that when he dons a suit jacket and derby hat, you’ll half expect him break into his Charlie Chaplin routine from Benny and Joon. For his part, Hammer (who played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network) is all square jaw and square line readings. He’s game, and looks the part, but there’s a certain spark that never makes it through the eyeholes of his mask.
Even with lengthy delays, re-shoots and an adjusted budget, The Lone Ranger still feels disjointed and choppy, especially in the loud, chaotic action scenes though the concluding train chase, an extended fight scene that is hugely entertaining, even if it takes too long to get to it.
Depp and director Gore Verbinski scored huge success with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, so you can’t blame them digging into the bag of tricks again, but instead of fistfuls of silver they come up with only sawdust.
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