Release Date: July 3rd, 2013
Director: Gore Verbinski
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 4.5/10
Has it really been nearly thirty years since a solid adventure/western graced the silver screen? I am referring to the 1985 classic Lawrence Kasdan western Silverado. Yes there have been numerous quality westerns since then like Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven, The Assassination of Jesse James, True Grit or Open Range. We’re talking about the traditional sort of western with duels, stagecoach chases, shoot outs, you know, the things that made watching westerns so much fun. In fact while not a traditional western per se Martin Campbell’s The Mask of Zorro more than fit the bill for that sort of fun. From 2003-2007, with the exception of the second one, Gore Verbinski’s Pirates trilogy made pirate movies fun again. In 2011 he made the highly enjoyable out of this world animated western Rango. Now after being off the silver screen for over thirty years, Verbinski brings back the legend of The Lone Ranger to very mixed results.
After being ambushed and left for dead, lawyer John Reid vows to bring the men who killed his brother to justice. With the aid of Tonto, a Comanche he had a run in with, he dons a mask and sets off on a journey that will force him to decide if he wants to fight justice on the side of the law or as an outlaw. That’s the basic set up for the latest take on the western icon. There’s a lot that goes on over the course of the film’s 149 minute running time but like many recent blockbuster adventures it is fairly uneventful and not all that fun.
The one thing this film has going for is Johnny Depp and the scene-stealing horse Silver. Tonto, thankfully, isn’t just another variation of Jack Sparrow. He’s a wholly original creation and the film comes to life whenever he’s on screen. Silver isn’t just the Lone Ranger’s noble steed but actually serves as comic relief. Put Silver and Tonto together and you have quite a few amusing moments. Now the film isn’t called Tonto. It’s The Lone Ranger. Armie Hammer was miscast. He looks the part, he has some good comic timing but his performance range seems to be stuck on one setting that you simply cannot buy into the character. You don’t feel the struggle between him wanting to uphold the law and having to break it. There’s no emotional depth to the whole dead brother arc and don’t get me started on the ill advised romance angle involving his brother’s widow. Of the supporting cast, which includes Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, Helena Bonham Carter, only William Fichtner makes any sort of impact with his portrayal of the evil Butch Cavendish. Buried under make up he is just pure bad and to make sure you don’t forget it a scene that evokes Temple of Doom is provided for good measure.
The story and screenplay were written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. In their story the villain’s motivations are pretty generic and rather ho-hum. Greed. In the much maligned 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger they kidnapped President Grant. That has a certain level of urgency to it just thinking about it. Hans Zimmer’s score is appropriately big and lavish but I couldn’t help but notice how some cues sounded like Sherlock Holmes. As many people know the William Tell Overture goes hand-in-hand with the icon. It’s his James Bond theme. Unfortunately when you do finally hear it proper it comes off as rather cheesy and may illicit an unintended chuckle. Verbinski has filled his film with a number of action sequences unfortunately they all involve trains. Couldn’t he have thrown in a stagecoach chase or a chase on horseback? The clear difference between this and Pirates, the first in particular, is that the action scenes in the latter were so much fun. The excitement level is pretty tepid and the spectacle of it all is fairly unimpressive. The film does have its funny moments but it wasn’t until the closing moments that I really laughed out loud. Incidentally that was the only scene I had any real reaction to.
It was a mediocre attempt to bring the Lone Ranger back to the silver screen. At the very least it has a great performance by Johnny Depp and some amusing moments, which makes it watchable, but as a western/adventure it leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t have the same energy as Verbinski’s Pirates nor does it provide much excitement. Thankfully they abandoned the decision to make the villains werewolves because that would have been a travesty. Set your expectations very low and you may enjoy it but if you’re someone looking for a grand western/adventure to watch it’s best to look to the past.