Contractually unable to join the extras in their jump to safety, Johnny Depp focuses on the paycheck in the distance.
Hi-yo, Silver, stay away! Johnny Depp stars as Tonto, the vengeful Native clown without a tribe, in a film that is inexplicably named after his sidekick (Armie Hammer). Well, perhaps not inexplicably: the white man often gets top billing in these buddy pics. Still, it's Tonto who gets the backstory, the narrative arc, the final confrontation, and the character development (there's a reason he wears a dead bird on his head). Director Gore Verbinski is happy as ever to insert slapsticky humor amid scenes of mass slaughter, but what worked in the fantastical world of pirates and krakens doesn't play amid the grim realities of cowboys and Indians. But the film's greatest weakness isn't the tone or the focus or even the overstuffed plot and structure. Rather, it's self-hatred: <em>The Lone Ranger</em> devotes great time and energy to mocking the Native mysticism and Ranger heroism it ultimately affirms.
The list of things that are terrible about The Lone Ranger is long. Reading a complete version might take longer than the film itself (a murderous 2 hours and 20 minutes). It might also be more fun. But since I lack director Gore “Hey, it worked with pirates, so why not try Indians?” Verbinski’s moneymaking track record, I’ll keep things brief. Hopefully, it’ll be enough to convince you to spend your time and money on something else. We aim to please.
Let’s start at the start: the name of this film should be Tonto. Everything else about the film belongs to Johnny Depp’s wonky Native-without-a-tribe, and yet the white man gets the title. Typical.
The story opens in 1933 San Francisco, a boy dressed as The Lone Ranger visits a Wild West exhibit at a traveling circus and is treated to a Princess Bride–style bit of storytelling by the ancient Indian (Tonto!) who normally spends his time standing stock still and posing as the exhibit’s Noble Savage.
This conceit alone should be enough to keep you away, yes? How about if I tell you that its only real purpose is to provide narrative feints designed to juice the drama and strip away the kiddies’ notion of moral righteousness? This ain’t your daddy’s Lone Ranger, pardner! This is a Lone Ranger who robs banks! Oh, and he refuses to pray on the grounds that Locke’s Two Treatises of Government is his Bible! Yee-haw!
So, Tonto tells the story of how the Lone Ranger came to be. But, really, it’s the story of an Indian (Tonto!) who seeks vengeance against the wicked white folk who slaughtered his village. Tonto gets the narrative arc. Tonto gets the backstory. Tonto gets the character development (such as it is). Tonto gets the “good” one-liners. Tonto gets the final confrontation. But the Lone Ranger gets the attention, I guess because Native Americans and Johnny Depp fans are not a reliable market base?
So, let’s take a look at this Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer). He’s a lawyer, a believer in court-of-law justice as opposed to the frontier kind. That’s promising. He’s got a tough-but-good brother who followed in Dad’s footsteps and became a Texas Ranger — and who married our hero’s old flame, to boot. That’s even better. And he bumbles and blubbers his way through the film right up until the final set piece. That stinks.
But I’m getting bogged down in the details. The Lone Ranger is boringly overblown, needlessly complicated, and shockingly tone deaf, happy to insert slapstick humor amid scenes of mass slaughter. Johnny Depp plays a sad clown, Armie Hammer plays an educated clown, and William Fitchner plays a cartoon demon. (He’ll cut out a man’s still-beating heart and eat it, but he’ll never get around to raping the pretty lady he kidnaps.) But here’s the biggest problem, and the last item on my list: the film hates itself. It spends great energy mocking the very Indian mysticism and upstanding heroism it ultimately affirms. Hi-yo, Silver, stay away!