Movie Review: The Lone Ranger rides again, with big boots to fill

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger rides again, with big boots to fill

English (U/A)   ***
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Ruth Wilson, William Fichtner

If the main character in the new Gore Verbinski film, The Lone Ranger, had failed to wear his trademark white Stetson or ride a silvery-white stallion, I could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that I had watched another instalment of Zorro’s adventures.

Yes, this film can be that generic at times.

Originally a radio show first conceived in 1933 to give children of the great depression a moral hero to admire, The Lone Ranger told the tale of John Reid and his trusty Comanche sidekick, Tonto, who toured the wild west, vanquishing evil-doers, restoring balance to the universe and attempting to show kids that righteousness really, was the only true way. Since then, however, the characters have become archaic, if obsolete American icons.

Tonto’s unquestioning subservience and utterings of kemosabe (trusty friend) are now the stuff of great parodies, and Ranger John Reid’s trademark call-phrase “High-Ho Silver!” is more a signal for hilarity than a battle cry.

In Verbinski’s film, which is both long and busy, newly minted District Attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer), a sophisticated city boy, travels by train to Colby, Texas, where he finds that his brother, Dan (James Badge Dale) is a legend among the Texas Rangers; the love of his life and his brother’s wife, Rebecca (british actress Ruth Wilson), is still resplendent as a summer rose, and that the wild west is caught between the old ways and progress.

Unknown to John, his train is also being used to transport the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (an unrecognisable William Fichtner), for a hanging at Colby. When Cavendish escapes, John is forced to band with Tonto in what is a maddening chase to bring the Cavendish gang to justice.

Undoubtedly meant to be Pirates of the Caribbean in the old west, The Lone Ranger’s undisputed star is not the Ranger himself, but Tonto, played by Johnny Depp as if he is still Jack Sparrow.

The story, as narrated by Tonto to a young boy at a 1933 state fair, unravels a fantastical tale for the audience. It is a story where all things are possible and where the Ranger’s mount, Silver, has quasi-supernatural powers. It is also a story which enthralls by degrees, as much as it bewilders and exasperates.

Scenes of sheer cinematic beauty are compromised by mindless CGI. Attempts at light-heartedness are fiercely counteracted by the gravity of drama, and worse, the film trivialises the great bloodletting that was the wild west. Part of the problem is Armie Hammer.

In the original story, Ranger John Reid was an imposing man of principle. Under Hammer, Reid’s metamorphoses is smaller — from a grade-A clown to masked bozo.

Verbinski has done his homework on the old west, but if he meant for The Lone Ranger to be anything more than a popcorn-feeding, sequel-inducing cash-cow, he has failed. And bitterly.

Comments (+)