Summer is here, and once again, the blockbuster combo of Disney and Bruckheimer return to revive a classic franchise for a new generation and recapture the magic (or should that be profits) of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. The Lone Ranger has finally charged into the town on his noble steed, ready to ignite box office figures! However, much like the townspeople of Rock Ridge in Mel Brooks’ near perfect Western parody, Blazing Saddles, who eagerly expect a Randolph Scott to enter town and save the day, and instead receive Cleavon Little’s black slave turned sheriff, Bart, the sense of shock and disappointment at this abomination of a film is overwhelming…and not nearly as funny either!

Reviving the classic American TV hero for a new generation, The Lone Ranger follows John Reid, a man of law, who after being left for dead by the villainous Butch Cavendish, is saved by the seemingly disturbed renegade Native American Tonto. And thus the odd couple begins a quest for justice that will transform both men, bringing them right into the heart of a critical time in American history, bumbling through one pratfall after another, and inevitably leads to a blockbusting finale where the heroes take on the villains, and the evils of greed, racism and sadism! The Lone Ranger tries to capture the epic scope and sweep of the classic westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone; but to even think of comparing this film to the work of these masters is insulting to their memory. The Lone Ranger clocks in at a hefty 149 minutes, and upon watching it, it is abundantly clear just how much of this time is wasted and pointless, revealing the vacuous and wearisome nature of the film, crushed under the weight of it’s absurdity and overly inflated length.

The film uses a retrospective narrative structure where an ancient Tonto in 1933, regales a young boy with the story of The Lone Ranger, moving between past and present. This classic mythologizing of the past, and passing of the legend, is extremely reminiscent of both The Princess Bride and, in particular, the classic revisionist western, Little Big Man. However, Little Big Man uses this structure to question the validity of the hero’s claims, as he may be manipulating his past in order to avoid culpability in the war crimes of the American West against the Native American, and therefore becoming a satire around the saying, ‘he who wins the war, writes the history.’ The Lone Ranger uses this mythologizing structure without any intention of satirical, political or ideological exploration, which only illustrates how derivative the film is its narrative technique. This is a film that is pure façade, and even when it sets up the possibility of deeper levels of meaning and questioning of American past, it is cast aside in favor of the cheap joke, heavy-handed representations or the shameless excess of blockbuster logic.

 

THE LONE RANGER

If the filmmakers were being at all honest, the title leering out at the audience would just be Tonto, because it is overwhelmingly clear whom this film is built around. When your title character plays second fiddle to the sidekick, something isn’t right. At worst, it feels undermining to Armie Hammer as an actor, who really should have used this film to push himself into the limelight as a lead hero for a tent pole film, but instead plays straight man to Depp’s zany, Comanche version of Jack Sparrow, and as a result, it is almost impossible to believe in his character and performance. However, with so much weight placed upon Depp’s shoulders, the overall quality suffers due to the simple fact that the character is inherently flawed and one note in dramatic terms. Indeed Tonto’s best moments come when Depp is able to use his physicality to create humour; a role that he could have perfectly fulfilled more consistently and affectively in a more established sidekick role. The chemistry between the two characters feels as jagged and forced as the film’s schizophrenic tone, jumping between dark bitter western, Disney comedy and family friendly adventure, in such a jarring manner that it’s hard to understand what kind of a film the filmmakers where aiming for in the first place, now lost in a dustbowl of mediocrity and shameless artifice.

Gore Verbinksi once again shows his eye for stylized action, rivaling Michael Bay in his near obnoxious action set pieces. He delivers the same bombast and hollow visuals as he delivered in the increasingly appalling and shallow Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, that makes it hard to accept this film as having an autonomous identity away from that series and it’s fatal flaws. Ultimately, Verbinski’s eye for gloss, visual comedy and money shots reinforce just how empty and bankrupt as a piece of cinema this film really is. The finale action set piece is the film’s highpoint, showing genuine flashes of visual slapstick that evokes Keaton’s The General, as Tonto and The Lone Ranger battle the villains of the piece, crossing between two trains moving at a relentless pace, almost making up for the average nature of the film’s first battle on a train, that fails to be anything other than a narrative means to an end. However, overall, the visual excesses only reinforce the greater problems within a film as jumbled and abhorrent as this.

The Lone Ranger is the worst kind of summer blockbuster. Bloated, self-satisfying, obnoxious, shallow and not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. This is an opportunity wasted to bring a new franchise with something different back into the cultural zeitgeist. Instead, we have a film where the hero is upstaged by his sidekick, and a horse upstages everyone. This film combines the worst vices of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with those of Wild Wild West…and yes, it IS as horrifying as that sounds.

 

 

 

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk