Disney and mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer hope they have found their next treasure chest-filling Hollywood franchise in The Lone Ranger. Created by the gang behind Pirates of the Caribbean movies (star, director & writers), The Lone Ranger returns the American icon to the big screen. Will America care? One of this summer’s big spectacles carries considerable expectations with its hefty ($250 million dollar) price-tag and star Johnny Depp. The investors must be nervous as the movie is very hit-and-miss. It is alternatively entertaining and frustrating. It shows off the Hollywood blockbuster at its best (set pieces, visual look, humor) and its worst (extreme violence, wandering plot and thin script.)
The story starts in a museum in 1933 where an old wax Tonto (Depp) comes to life to regale a young boy dressed up in a Lone Ranger outfit. Tonto tells the story of how a young lawyer, John Reid (Armie Hammer), became the Lone Ranger to avenge the murder of his brother at the hands of notorious outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). He tells him how they brought down the slimy railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), too. He tells his own story about how he was tricked by the white man that resulted in the massacre of his tribe. The Lone Ranger has too many stories going on, even for its 149 minute running time. The movie starts promisingly with an Indiana Jones vibe, only to get bogged down in the middle. It gathers steam at the end as the stories combine for the inevitable big set-piece finale.
Depp and Hammer have a good chemistry onscreen. Tonto supplies comic relief while the Lone Ranger plays the straight man. Hammer is decent as a leading man, yet he spends most of the film screwing up before he becomes the Lone Ranger. His skills rely a lot on pure luck and getting bailed out by his spirit horse Silver, the same way R2-D2 bailed out Luke Skywalker. The movie’s visuals are fantastic as it makes great use of its Western settings and clothes. The movie delivers plenty of action sequences, giving a lot of bang for the buck. You just wish they would’ve tightened up the story some and cut out about twenty minutes. Hans Zimmer’s over-the-top score did manage to weave in the iconic “William Tell Overture.” The movie doesn’t reveal its source material like John Carter did; it’s more like Starsky & Hutch in its approach.
What does this story say about America today? For a PG-13 movie, it is packed with unsettling Merrie Melodies levels of violence. It has political angles for everyone–the federal government is corrupt, the capitalists are evil murderers, the white man abused the Native Americans and Chinese horribly and there is only outlaw justice on the frontier. This seems to be the new norm for Hollywood blockbusters, although this approach leaves everything muddled. Stories are how a culture passes on its values and lessons to the next generation. The Lone Ranger is marketed as a family movie, one that happens to include decapitation, tons of murders, massive destruction of private property, violence towards women & children, and plenty of racism. How do we as a society right these wrongs? We sit around and wait for the superhero rock-star to save us from ourselves.