Why is it that we donít see that many westerns in cinema anymore? Django Unchained was a great break from tradition, though it counts more as a ďSouthernĒ rather then something with a true west-like setting. Though our cinema is full of action movies, I donít think a lot of mainstream moviegoers (especially the younger ones) realize that much of the inspiration for most modern cinema comes from the classic western. Many superheroes like Batman and Captain America are different variations of the gunslinger; Batman as the man in shadows who fights for justice (someone like Clint Eastwood) and Captain America as the believer in the common good and preventing the spread of evil (kind of like John Wayne). So where is that reinvention of the west that could be a goldmine in Hollywood?
What scares off a lot of storytellers from going into the western genre is that much the environment is the same thing; a tan colored desert with sweeping plains and tumbleweeds. Though the stories may be different, audiences identify their favorites visually, and itís hard to do so with a western. So the easy solution is to change the tone. Weíve seen comedies, horror, and even surreal westerns come to change the landscape. A lot of this comes into thought when trying to figure the tone in Disneyís The Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger has had a long tradition of stories that have been told through radio shows, film serials, novels, and even television series. So when I found out that Gore Verbinski (the director of the Pirates of the Caribbean films) was going to be behind it, my expectations were high to see the ranger and his Indian Tonto in a more gritty and darker light. So what do they do with The Lone Ranger?
It opens with an older Tonto (played by Johnny Depp) telling a little boy his first adventure with the masked man. Sometime in the 1870ís, John Reid (played by Armie Hammer) has returned to a small Texas town that is being run by a railroad baron. He joins with the local Texas Rangers, bring run by his brother. A deadly attack kills all except for John. Though unconscious, Tonto discovers his body and a white spirit horse (known as Silver later on) declares John ďa man who has been to the other side and backĒ. John and Tontoís backstories are revealed (though more emphasis is put into Tontoís story) as they ride off to see justice pay off against thieves and evil barons that want to rule the west.
If John Carter was an example of Disney micromanaging a film too much, then The Lone Ranger is an example of giving the director too much power. They clearly had a lot of ideas for this movie from telling something very traditional to something a lone the lines of a spaghetti western to even an acid western. They needs to pick one of those sides, because this movie tried to meet in the middle with all of this and it all feels too cluttered.
I donít know of they knew what kind of film this would turn out, but the tone is very hypocritical. Though itís being advertised as a family film, and it contains some silly jokes, you latter see a villain who literally eats the heart of every person he kills. I thought this was supposed to be a Disney movie? Plus if that wasnít enough, I can barley figure out the story. All I got was something about a guy using railroads to rule the country and a bunch of silver to pay it with. If I canít follow the story, what makes you think a child would.
You know youíve got a problem when more time is spent with Tonto then the ranger. Both Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer seem to have good chemistry, but very little of it is spent fighting bad guys. Most of the time is spent with Tonto calling John ďthe wrong brotherĒ and John trying to figure out who he is. Iím sick of these origin stories. Donít they know about the idea that more is less with masked heroes? Plus aside from the heroes and the heart-eating bandit Bush Cavendish played by William Fichter, I remember nobody else (not even a Helen Bonham Carter brothel madam who receives very little screen time)
It is only in the last half hour when the classic Lone Ranger theme plays and you see a great sequence involving trains. That alone was worth the price of admission, but it came a little too late.
Iíll give this two train wrecks out of five. The Lone Ranger is a like a newly discovered silver mine. It looks good, but they presented it to the public before cleaning it up. The masked hero and his Indian deserve better then this.