×
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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Noahs Ark

    India’s Symbiosys to Co-Produce, Co-Animate Gullane’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Noah’s Ark – A Musical Adventure,” Brazil’s most ambitious animated feature ever, just got a bit bigger with the announcement that producers Fabiano Gullane’s Gullane, Walter Salles’ Videofilmes and Felipe Sabino and Daniel Greco’s NIP will be joined by leading Indian animation studio Symbiosys Technologies as co-producers and co-animators. The partnership marks the first occasion [...]

  • Navarra

    Navarre Film Commission Celebrates First Decade at San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —    Since the 1950s, Spain has been a favorite European shooting locale. One of the biggest reasons remains its easily accessible, unique and diverse locations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this past June, the Navarre Film Commission kicked off a traveling exhibition which has been touring Spain over the summer and will present [...]

  • Rambo Last Blood

    Film Review: 'Rambo: Last Blood'

    Home has always been an abstract concept for John Rambo, which is what the last scene of 2008’s otherwise expendable “Rambo” sequel finally gave the iconic Sylvester Stallone character: a moment when this unsettled Vietnam War survivor, looking very much the worse for wear, lumbers up to a mailbox bearing the character’s surname. At last, [...]

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

  • There's Something in the Water

    Toronto Film Review: 'There’s Something in the Water'

    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the unpleasant sights, smells and pollutants of industry have typically been located where the poor folk dwell, and police society needn’t notice. With the dawn of popular environmental consciousness about a half-century ago, it became clear that toxic byproducts with a dismayingly long shelf life and unknown (or, [...]

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content