In keeping with my quixotic mission to fill this blog with nothing but the latest movie reviews I’m reviewing the blockbuster that never was, the film that would have bankrupted any mortal company and would have shipwrecked the career of a lesser star than Johnny Depp. No not Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (my time machine only goes back in time) it’s summer 2013’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger”.
If you don’t know, and judging from box office receptions that might be the case, The Lone Ranger charts the emergence of the titular Lone Ranger (Arnie Hammer) as he grows from bumbling unathletic lawyer to outlaw who brings his brother’s killer to justice under the mostly benevolent guidance of Tonto (Depp).
There is really no need to go into more details of the plot which at times barely exists and is cookie cutter anyway (spoiler alert the good guys win). The story feels like two or three script treatments that were forced together like bits of an ill-fitting jigsaw because, nobody could decide which one was best but they kind of liked each.
There is a darker script which includes a villain who eats the hearts of dead heroes and has mythical demon powers that are corrupting nature. This is the version of the script that I enjoyed.
Then there are at least two tamer scripts. One revolves around silver mining and suggests that Tonto is insane. The second revolves around the railway and staged Indian War.
Technically all these disparate story elements merge together but it never really works. Firstly, having these three disparate storylines runs the film runs to a ridiculous 2 hours 29 minutes.
Additionally, you can tell they were never designed to tie together. To make the film work they have to introduce an annoying framing device where old Tonto tells a young boy the story. Because, otherwise the story is filled with plotholes.
As it is the film watches like a commercial juggernaut run amok and this brings me to Gore Verbinski. The director who is responsible for everything the film does well and everything it does badly.
Verbinski suggested the casting of Depp. A plus. Depp carries the film.
Verbinski also directs big action set pieces better than anyone else in Hollywood. Don’t misunderstand me Paul Greengrass and others do better action scenes but if you want a sprawling action set piece with a multiple trains hurtling along different parallel tracks towards a none-existent bridge then Verbinski is your man.
The two or three actions set pieces of this film must span nearly 45 mins and they were great. They were really enjoyable. The final set piece brings in the famous Lone Ranger/William Tell Overture music and it is fantastic.The action never takes itself to seriously so there is excitement as well as some tongue in cheek moments. If a cynic like me can enjoy it then it’s done well.
Verbinski is also responsible for the bad though. Namely the overly long running time and the silly framing device which is a symptom of this.
It is apparent that the Disney execs thought that they could transplant director and Depp into the Lone Ranger and the film would bring in similar money to Pirates 2 and 3. You see, like The Lone Ranger, Pirates 2 and 3 also have massive long running times and bizarre tonal mismatches.
What Disney failed to realise was that those films succeeded despite of those things. If Verbinski’s creative freedom had been reined in to Pirates 1 levels then the Lone Ranger could have been great. Instead they threw money at the film and let Verbinski do whatever he wanted. Sometimes less really is more.
As for the framing device of an old Tonto telling the tale to a child dressed in a Lone Ranger costume it reads as a last minute attempt to explain away the plot inconsistencies and doesn’t work as intended.
It did however create an interesting phenomenon which explains why I enjoyed myself. The framing device makes the film more akin to a series of ½ hour tv episodes. Really expensive well acted tv shows.
So oddly enough the silly framing device saved the Lone Ranger for me by making it more of a TV box set. This of course kind of means that as a film is a complete cinematic failure but I don’t really care. I just wanted have fun watching something and I did.
Go into the Lone Ranger with the right expectations and you can have fun watching it also. It’s nowhere near as bad as the critics and box office suggest.