‘The Lone Ranger’: Gore Verbinski’s Runaway Train

There is a point during The Lone Ranger in which you will want to throw your hands up and scream “I give up.” You won’t of course, but you’ll find yourself looking at other things, like the floor or ceiling, for the rest of the far-too-long two and a half hours as Gore Verbinski’s maddening mess of a movie chugs along on the screen in front of you.

The most confusing thing about The Lone Ranger is that it’s unclear how a group of people got together and made this movie, thinking it was a good idea. It’s also unclear who they thought they were making this movie for. It’s certainly not a kids’ movie; the villain has an affinity for the taste of human flesh and at one point carves the heart out of a still-breathing victim and eats it. It is also full of Johnny Depp’s all-too-familiar camp humor; Depp spends an entire scene trying to persuade a horse to choose a different person to bring back to life. In fact, the two scenes I’ve just described are back-to-back. It’s a jarring transition, to say the least.

What’s also bizarre is this movie’s casual relationship with logic or reason. In the movie, Tonto is not Potawatomi, but Comanche, a change made for accuracy’s sake; it was the Comanche tribe that lived in west Texas toward the end of the 19th century. And while the film’s plot centers around the completion of the first transcontinental railroad and the discovery of silver in Texas, no credence is given to the fact that the first transcontinental railroad did not, in fact, go through Texas at all, or that silver was first discovered in Texas in the 1600s, 200 years before the Lone Ranger rode into town. In the movie, railroad projects are finished in mere hours and several hundred tons of silver are successfully mined by a team of no more than 10 migrant workers in a matter of hours.

But is Johnny Depp good? Alright, calm down, I’m getting there. The answer is simple: no. He is not. In fact, he is very bad. Some heads turned when he was initially cast to play the historically racist role of Tonto. However, Depp has been passionate about the plight of the Native American for years, was recently made an honorary member of the Comanche tribe and claims to have some Native American heritage himself. And perhaps if Native Americans themselves have accepted Depp into the fold, this Caucasian writer has no business hang-wringing. While Depp’s re-imagined Tonto is not simple, or stupid, or savage at all, unfortunately, he’s also just not that compelling. In this film, Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger is the buffoon, accompanied on his mission by an eccentric Native American whose name means “fool” in Spanish. Depp’s portrayal switches madly between sage, spiritual advice-giver and cooky rebel, think Jack Sparrow with a crow on his head. In fact, The Lone Ranger could finally mark the end of the era in which Johnny Depp can play any role just like Jack Sparrow and receive praise for it. Hammer, on the other hand, is just maybe not a movie star. His humorless portrayal of the Lone Ranger is probably not helped by a complete lack of chemistry between him and Depp. This is, in turn, not helped by whomever made the choice to have Tonto and the Lone Ranger outwardly dislike each other for 90% of the film.

The movie is not a complete trainwreck. In fact, the film’s final sequence, which involves a train wreck, is quite good, if not great. Verbinski proves once again he can direct a thrilling action sequence. Though a scene in which Depp and Hammer are handcuffed together as they fight off a gang of bandits and another involving a Mexican standoff will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is, as a whole, the movie adds up to nothing. A framing device involving an old Tonto — now working in a traveling show billed as the “noble savage” — telling the story to a young fan adds an unwelcome feeling of melancholy to the whole story. (Where is the Lone Ranger now? Is he dead? Did he and Tonto have a falling out?) Helena Bonham Carter’s madame with a gun for a leg feels ripped from an entirely different, yet more fun, movie. A side-plot involving the widow of the Lone Ranger’s brother is completely unnecessary and could easily have been cut.

It’s hard to think who would actually get something out of this movie. Fans of the original ’50s television show won’t really recognize the characters on screen; Hammer delivers the Lone Ranger’s trademark “hi-yo, Silver” only once and as a joke. Children probably won’t be interested either. Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Lone Ranger is that it’s an odd little movie, made by Disney, who’d whitewash anything to make it more mass-marketable.