The final action scene is almost worth the price of admission alone. If the movie were about 45 minutes shorter, I’d say that it was definitely worth the price of admission alone. Instead, it’s the tail end of a rather bloated and unfocused origin story of a piece of intellectual property no one had thought about in decades. I don’t actively dislike much of the film, but there’s just simply too much going off in too many different directions, robbing the movie of narrative focus it sorely needed.
I remember news reports of The Lone Ranger’s pre-production and Disney’s reticence to greenlight it. The problem was the budget. The original estimate was $250 million, which they downgraded to $215 million and then ballooned back up to $250 million. That’s a lot of money to put into something like this, but Gore Verbinski had proven himself profitable with huge budgets through the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, so it sort of makes sense. It’s still weird to see so much money on this.
Anyway, the movie itself is as big as its runtime and budget would imply, but big in a Pirates sequel sort of way not a Biblical epic sort of way. Now, as much as I do enjoy the original Pirates trilogy, The Lone Ranger takes it to another level. There are three main antagonists (one of whom is introduced more than halfway through the film), a bevy of supporting characters of limited use, and a weird framing device of Tanto as a museum piece in a fair. It feels like the result of a writers’ room where everyone had different ideas about how the story should go and no one got overruled. Everything got included.
The messiness becomes clear very early when the movie essentially begins with its second largest action sequence. The film certainly tops it eventually, but our introductions to most of our main characters is a big action sequence that leads to William Fitchner’s Butch Cavendish escaping from custody, Johnny Depp’s Tonto establishes that he wants to kill Cavendish, Armie Hammer’s John Reed shows up in town as a bit of a well-dressed dandy, Tom Wilkinson’s Latham Cole feels vaguely villainous in particular to Reed’s sister-in-law Rebecca, and John’s brother, Dan played by James Badge Dale, shows himself to be the polar opposite of his brother. That’s a lot, and very little of it requires a chase scene through, on top of, and alongside a speeding train that goes off the rails in special effects spectacular fashion. On its own, it’s a perfectly fine action sequence, but when it’s followed up by the ambush of Dan and John’s posse to chase after Cavendish and that ambush is a rather small scale shootout, it feels out of balance. Shouldn’t the bigger sequence have come after the smaller one? In an effort to build tension and excitement? It’s an odd choice.
As you can see, there’s a lot to go through in the first twenty minutes of the film, and the film isn’t nearly done introducing things. There’s Tonto’s backstory involving showing two white men to a river source and a large silver deposit, his tribe’s expelling of him because of his weirdness, the supernatural elements that lead to John’s resurrection and supposed super powers, the brothel and the madame who runs it who happens to have a double barrel shotgun hidden in her scrimshawed ivory leg, and the United States cavalry, represented by Barry Pepper’s Captain Fuller.
There is a lot going on in this movie, and it gets weirdly confusing as hidden relationships come out, long masked motives materialize, and Johnny Depp keeps trying to steal the screen by being the weirdest Indian in film history. It’s overwhelming, and the movie really suffers for it.
There is some thought going on in there, though, which is why I can’t completely discard the film. Our introduction to John Reed has him holding a copy of John Locke’s Treatises on Government and he and Cole end up quoting it back to each other slightly. Locke is never mentioned again past the twenty minute mark, so I can’t be sure if the evolution of John’s character from being the Lockean ideal of a civilized man to a man who embraces the state of nature of his situation and takes justice into his own hands is as intentional as it could be. I want to give the movie credit for it and say that it was actually being rather subtle about it, but considering the markedly unsubtle way that the Lockean ideals were introduced early, I’m probably wrong about that.
And, of course, there’s the final action sequence. It’s everything the movie should have been in microcosm. It’s clear with an understandable set of goals but complex enough (involving two trains in chase, a handful of switches, and the decoupling and recoupling of some cars) to remain interesting. It’s fun and exciting and has the best use of music in the film. The music is credited to Hans Zimmer, but it feels like he phoned it in for most of the film. In the final sequence, though, we finally get the franchise’s telltale use of the William Tell Overture, and it’s expanded wonderfully while given a great orchestral arrangement. The special effects are great and less cartoonish in terms of physics as some of the earlier sequences were (especially the opening train crash), and it’s just an overall good time at the movies. It’s one of my favorite single action sequences of the last couple of decades.
The problem is that it’s at the tail end of an overlong, confused, overstuffed, and overambitious adventure that needed a lot more focus and clarity around its basic storytelling.
1 thought on “The Lone Ranger”
Indeed it wasn’t that bad except for the first third of the film, of course the best part is the score, like with verbinski’s other work, pirates, reed by the way, is supposed to be the ancestor of the green hornet, Wilkinson is an analog to skargaards robber baron in magnificent seven reboot,
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