×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Lone Ranger’

No longer simply the sidekick, Tonto gets top billing in Disney’s extravagant but exhausting Lone Ranger reboot.

With:
Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Cook.

In classic Westerns, the hero rides off into the sunset, but in “The Lone Ranger,” it’s Tonto we see shambling off toward Monument Valley as the credits roll. No longer simply the sidekick, Tonto gets top billing in Disney’s extravagant but exhausting reboot, whose vaguely revisionist origin story partners a heavily face-painted Johnny Depp with the blandly handsome Armie Hammer. Directed by “Pirates of the Caribbean’s” Gore Verbinski, this over-the-top oater delivers all the energy and spectacle audiences have come to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production, but sucks out the fun in the process, ensuring sizable returns but denying the novelty value required to support an equivalent franchise.

SEE ALSO: Will ‘Lone Ranger’ Make Armie Hammer a Superstar?

It’s a testament to Depp’s Lon Chaney-like ability to reinvent himself from role to role that so much of Bruckheimer’s quarter-of-a-billion-dollar gamble rides on whether he can bring some of that Jack Sparrow mojo to Hollywood’s most iconic Injun. Certainly, Depp plays Tonto as no one else could, borrowing the look of the character from Kirby Sattler’s painting “I Am Crow” by interpreting a bird flying directly above the head of a noble Native American as a strange sort of headdress.

This odd hat proves to be Tonto’s only distinguishing feature when a 12-year-old Lone Ranger fan discovers him tucked away, half-forgotten in a San Francisco sideshow tent. The year is 1933, months after the radio series began its popular run (Tonto did not appear until the 11th episode), and the “noble savage” (Depp, virtually unrecognizable beneath heavy “Little Big Man”-style makeup) offers to set the record straight about John Reid’s legendary exploits some six decades earlier.

SEE ALSO: Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer See ‘Lone Ranger’ as New Genre-Bending Superhero

Tonto’s tale doesn’t alter the key elements of Lone Ranger mythology so much as it expands them, beginning with an unexpected memory of the masked lawman sticking up a bank. While this scene is certainly inconsistent with Reid’s goody-goody radio-show image, it assumes that audiences know or care enough about the character to wait nearly two-and-a-half hours to discover why the Old West’s ultimate white-hat hero would break the law.

Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe might have saved an entire reel’s worth of screentime by diving directly into the pic’s first setpiece, during which bandits manage to derail an inbound train carrying the dastardly Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to the gallows. Embellished by herds of virtual buffalo and other CG touches, this stunning, mostly practical sequence serves to introduce Tonto, Reid and the other key players — including railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), older brother/model ranger Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) and soon-to-be-widowed sister-in-law Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) — and helps to bookend an adventure that climaxes aboard another runaway train.

SEE ALSO: 1981 ‘Lone Ranger’ Pic Galloped Quickly Into Oblivion

In keeping with Elliott and Rosso’s “Pirates” formula, the intervening plot proves far more complicated than such archetypal material demands, and as such is likely to alienate younger viewers who may already be overwhelmed by the intensity of Verbinski’s vision. The Lone Ranger may refuse to fire a gun unless absolutely necessary, but the film hardly shares his pacifist philosophy, its abundant carnage ranging from scary carnivorous rabbits to an ambush in which Butch kills half a dozen Texas Rangers and finishes the job by eating Dan Reid’s heart.

Having proved his acting chops in “Billy: The Early Years” and “The Social Network,” Hammer offers a more uneven performance here. Alternating between silly and serious, Hammer verges on slapstick at times in his portrayal of an effete, Ivy League-educated lawyer (the only character here remotely concerned with dental hygiene) who requires Tonto’s coaching to unlock his inner heroism and exact revenge for his brother’s murder.

SEE ALSO: Consumers to Play Cowboys and Indians with ‘Lone Ranger’

As in “Pirates,” such a vanilla protag is typically the least compelling personality onscreen (which explains why Orlando Bloom was edged aside as the series went on), though Fichtner’s villain is no match for Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa or Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones. Likewise, Wilson displays nary an ounce of Keira Knightley’s empowerment, evidently content to play the damsel in distress, while it’s never quite clear what Helena Bonham Carter — looking as if she stumbled in from the nearest Tim Burton set — is doing here, playing a crimson-haired madam whose false leg conceals a double-barreled shotgun. As for the rest of this motley ensemble, Verbinski did a better job of distinguishing between scraggly Western henchmen in his 2011 animated neo-oater “Rango.”

Naturally, audiences will look to Depp to pick up the slack, though this time, the star’s eccentricities seem more calculated — and ultimately less amusing — than before. With his bone-white face separated by four vertical black streaks, Tonto certainly looks distinctive, though his very appearance is what disguises the inherently Depp-like appeal of the character. Whether offering birdseed to his crow-hat or conning gullible white men into unfair trades (an amusing reversal on history), the actor’s bow-legged, pidgin-speaking Tonto needs more dynamism to register through all that makeup.

Tonto and Reid are further dwarfed by the sheer scale of the unwieldy action unfolding around them. To see these two heroes framed against vistas made famous by the likes of John Ford brings a swell of all-American pride, though it’s easy to lose the characters amid the intricate, hyper-detailed production design that has become such a Verbinski-Bruckheimer signature. This team builds things just to blow them up, and by the film’s climax — which juggles several high-peril situations aboard two criss-crossing locomotives, including the sight of Reid riding his “spirit horse,” Silver, atop a train — what began as an elegantly epic, potentially realistic retelling of the Lone Ranger legend has devolved into Wile E. Coyote-style cartoon shenanigans.

Film Review: 'The Lone Ranger'

Reviewed at Disney Studios, Burbank, Calif., June 28, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 149 MIN.

Production: A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release presented with Jerry Bruckheimer Films of a Blind Wink/Infinitum Nihil production. Produced by Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski. Executive producers, Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Johnny Depp, Eric Ellenbogen, Eric McLeod.

Crew: Directed by Gore Verbinski. Screenplay, Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio; story, Elliott, Rossio, Haythe. Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Bojan Bazelli; editors, Craig Wood, James Haygood; music, Hans Zimmer; production designers, Jess Gonchor, Crash McCreery; supervising art directors, Jon Billington, Brad Ricker; set decorator, Cheryl Carasik; costume designer, Penny Rose; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Lee Orloff; supervising sound editors, Addison Teague, Shanon Mills; re-recording mixers, Paul Massey, Christopher Boyes; sound designers, Teague, Mills, Boyes, Gary Rydstrom; special effects supervisor, John Frazier; special effects coordinators, Jim Schwalm, Jon G. Belyeu; visual effects supervisors, Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich; visual effects producer, Shari Hanson; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic, Base FX, MPC, lola|VFX, Smoke Donkey VFX, Atomic Fiction, Virtuos; ILM animation supervisor, Kevin Martel; MPC visual effects supervisor, Matt Middleton; special makeup effects, Joel Harlow; animal coordinator, Boone Narr; stunt coordinator, Thomas Robinson Harper; associate producers, Pat Sandston, Melissa Reid, Shari Hanson, Tom Engelman, Morgan Des Groseillers; assistant director, Simon Warnock; second unit director, Charles Gibson; second unit camera, Patrick Loungway; casting, Denis Chamian.

With: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Cook.

More Film

  • Liam Gallagher and Son shopping at

    Cannes: Screen Media Buys 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Screen Media has acquired North American rights to Charlie Lightening and Gavin Fitzgerald’s feature documentary “Liam Gallagher: As It Was.” The film follows the former Oasis frontman as he finds himself on the periphery of the rock ‘n’ roll world after years spent at the white hot center of the music world. Screen Media will [...]

  • La Casa de Papel Netflix

    Madrid Region Booms as an International Production Hub

    Madrid is booming as never before in its 125-year film history; arguably, no other European site is currently transforming so quickly into a global production hub. A 20-minute drive north of the Spanish capital, a large white-concrete hanger has been built beside the Madrid-Burgos motorway, at the entrance to Tres Cantos, a well-heeled satellite village and industrial [...]

  • Emirati Comedy

    Cannes: Stuart Ford's AGC Takes World Sales on Emirati Comedy 'Rashid and Rajab'

    Stuart Ford’s AGC International sales arm has taken global distribution rights outside the Middle East to Dubai-set concept comedy “Rashid and Rajab” which will be hitting movie theaters in the region starting in June. The deal between the film’s production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi and AGC, which have a close rapport, was signed in [...]

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu

    China Box Office: Weekend Chart Dominated By Non-Chinese Films

    Unusually, all of the top five films at the China box office this weekend were non-Chinese. That’s a relatively rare occurrence, as audiences typically favor local films over foreign content. But it is one that may happen more often, as high-performing local titles become fewer and farther between due to production slowdowns. The lack of [...]

  • White Lie

    Playtime Boards Canadian Psychological Thriller 'White Lie' Starring Kacey Rohl (EXCLUSIVE)

    One of France’s leading sales companies, Playtime has boarded “White Lie,” a character-driven psychological thriller film from the promising new Toronto-based directors Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas. Now in post-production, “White Lie” is headlined by Kacey Rohl, who has been seen in hit TV series such as “The Killing,” “Arrow,” “Hannibal” and “Wayward Pines.” Rohl [...]

  • Cannes’ Focus CoPro’ Gives Push for

    Cannes’ Focus CoPro’ Gives Push for First-Time Features

    CANNES–Seven first-feature projects will be pitched to an audience of industry professionals at Focus CoPro’, an event hosted by Cannes’ Short Film Corner that will take place Tuesday May 21 at the Palais des Festivals. The pitching session, which is run in collaboration with Nisi Masa and the Pop Up Film Residency, was introduced last year [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content