The Lone Ranger
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Justin Haythe
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer
Disney’s big hope for capturing the summer blockbuster market is The Lone Ranger. The film reunites Johnny Depp with Director Gore Verbinski and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The House of Mouse is clearly hoping that the magic from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will rub off in the Wild West. And for the most part it works says Hannah McFaull.
The story of how the Lone Ranger came to be manages to pack a complex storyline amidst some of the best choreographed steam train fight scenes you’ll ever see on the big screen. It has a lot of the same slapstick humour that made the Pirates trilogy appealing, and most of it comes from Depp’s Tonto. It’s also surprisingly violent, but not so that you couldn’t take kids to it. I counted more than 20 deaths within the first five minutes, dispatched in a variety of creative ways. Throw in a comedic turn from a spirit horse, a love story and Helena Bonham Carter as a brothel owner with a secret gun in her prosthetic leg, there was a lot going on.
The story of how idealistic lawyer John Reid becomes the Lone Ranger is told to a young boy at a Wild West carnival sideshow by an elderly Tonto, the renegade Comanche who becomes his partner after saving his life. Their fight to bring outlaw Butch Cavendish to justice following the slaughter of Reid’s brother and the other Texas Rangers, leads them to uncover greater conspiracy that demands justice. The centre of the action revolves around the expansion of the railways westward, the conflicts between the ‘progress’ of the railway companies and the treatment of the Comanche and other tribes by the US Army and private corporations.
The film seems to have two seemingly contradictory messages at its heart. One is that bad things happen when nature is out of balance, as repeated by Depp like a mantra. Whether this was a wider climate change reference or a comment on the devastation of the Indian way of life by the white man, kids will be having nightmares about the rabbits used to reinforce this message for weeks.
The other is that no matter what you do the forces of capitalism are essentially unstoppable. And this is where the contradiction lies. Disney films usually have a clear baddies and goodies demarcation, and whilst Tom Wilkinson’s villainous railroad tyrant Latham Cole is over the top and brilliant, and William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish is vile in a Jafar from Aladdin mixed with Shere Khan sort of way, it’s identifying the goodies that I think will be confusing.
Neither Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger or Depp’s Tonto are likable enough to be heroes. Hammer is pompous, hammy and really only has one facial expression to speak of. Other reviews have described Tonto as Jack Sparrow in the desert, which whilst I can see to a certain extent, the clear racist implications of him being the only white actor playing a Native American didn’t sit right with me. The Comanche tribes don’t fit into the neat good/evil dichotomy cleanly, and it seems Disney are trying to both reinforce and rebuke the ‘noble savage’ stereotype.
Despite sub-par performances from the leads, there is enough going on to make the whole experience enjoyable. There are a number of moments that made me laugh out loud and the production budget for explosions must have been a huge part of the $225 million it took to make it. The supporting cast are tremendous, including the horse, and there are all kinds of nods to the popular 50s TV show (look out for the perfect timing of Hi-Yo Silver! Away!). The film definitely didn’t feel like the 149 minutes running time and there was enough to make me think that I’d happily watch future installments if they planned to churn them out. A good way to spend a couple of hours of the school holidays whether you take the kids or not.
The Lone Ranger movie website is here.