The abject failure of The Lone Ranger produced its share of schadenfreude, particularly among people weary of star Johnny Depp and the kind of summer movie hubris that the western reboot seemed to embody in every frame. It was too bloated, too unwieldy, too full of itself and its own overblown event status to merit forgiveness. Audiences stayed away in droves, and not without good reason. There’s a lot here that just doesn’t work. And yet in a season dominated by grim, downbeat, unyieldingly bleak blockbusters, it brought an undeniable sense of fun that most critics completely overlooked. I’m not prepared to go all Tarantino on it, but I will say it shows signs of life that definitely merit a second look. Hit the jump for my full review of The Lone Ranger on Blu-ray.
In the first place, director Gore Verbinski doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the kind of vision he brings to a project. The success of the Pirates of the Caribbean films labeled him a bombastic studio wonk, charges not without merit, but which also skip over the infectious sense of invention he brings to his various set pieces. He has a flair for Rube Goldberg-style mayhem: elements flying together with strangely appropriate timing to create a wild onscreen canvas. You could see the tendency well before Pirates, starting with his first feature Mousehunt, and the giant trains in The Lone Ranger give him the perfect excuse to go nuts. Two huge set pieces open and close the film, providing a breathtakingly inventive ride that the rest of the movie can’t quite match.
And yes, the period between those two sequences turns into a real slog at times. The focus is more on Depp’s Tonto – reimagined here as a crazy-like-a-fox Comanche bent on avenging the death of his tribe – than Armie Hammer’s straight-laced Ranger. The move proves borderline disastrous. It’s not that Depp can’t convince us that he’s an Indian; it’s that so much of his performance feels so calculated that we lose any investment in the character.
Add to that a script overstuffed with plot threads and the resulting chaos becomes far more inadvertent than it should be. An appropriately dastardly group of villains (led by William Fitchner’s hatchet-faced outlaw) has to deal with too much backstory to get down to the business of imperiling All That Is Good and Decent, while Hammer’s ostensible love interest (Ruth Wilson) has too little to do and too much time to do it. Verbinski clearly favored Helena Bonham Carter’s one-legged hooker – and hey, who wouldn’t? – but her presence only compounds the film’s unduly complicated feeling.
The saving grace, surprisingly enough, comes from the lead. Hammer knew going in that he was going to have to work overtime to distinguish himself in this monstrous production, and he finds the perfect tone to make it all work. He’s earnest and goofy, with a willingness to wink at the camera even as his square-jawed hero faces all manner of humiliating pratfalls. Then he can turn around and be the hero we all expect him to be, balancing old-fashioned decency with 21st century snark. Depp tries to steal the show, but Hammer is the one holding our attention, and in the end may have helped save The Lone Ranger from itself.
The joys he brings, coupled with Verbinski’s largely sunny tone and some clever sight gags, give the film a much-needed silver lining. The producers clearly intended it to be the start of a franchise, but its flabbiness and interminable confusion ensure that those ambitions exploded on the tarmac. Taken on its own terms, however, a real sense of fun pokes above the surface: staying true to the more straight-laced parts of the character while keeping tongue planted firmly in cheek. It’s not Shakespeare – I’m still not sure, in the balance, if it’s even very good – but if you turn off your brain and take it on its own terms, it may prove more entertaining than you remember. Box office failure may have been inevitable, as self-inflicted wounds pile up and the ungodly run time starts to weigh heavily. But I’d be lying if I didn’t grin with delight when the William Tell Overture fired up, and The Lone Ranger finds enough to that Saturday matinee joy to forgive (if not forget) its copious sins.
The disc is about what you’d expect. Stellar sound and picture quality reflect its would-be blockbuster status, making home viewing a pleasure. The extra features are thin on the ground, consisting of three routine behind-the-scenes specials, a cut scene (left mostly in the planning stages) and a blooper reel, but that’s to be expected for an effort that seriously underwhelmed at the box office. Fans of the film – and I suspect that some exist – will need to make do with a grade-A transfer, and leave the bells and whistles for a project with more financial health.