Ah, summer. The time where movie season succumbs to churning out as many sequels, prequels, and remakes as possible. It’s the time to bring out the top grossing franchises and hope they score big again. Amongst the sequel frenzy we usually see one or two big-budget remakes of somewhat obscure movies or television shows from the past. This summer we get Disney’s $200 million version of The Lone Ranger.
There’s a long history of storytelling as far as the Lone Ranger is concerned, but most people probably remember the character from the TV series that aired for eight seasons from 1949 to 1957. So like other cinematic revivals of old TV shows – 21 Jump Street and The A-Team to name a couple – The Lone Ranger is obsessed with making everything bigger, shinier, and explodier (a seasonal word which aptly describes most big summer blockbusters).
The movie begins as a withered Tonto (played by Johnny Depp who is always at the top of the casting list as long as the part calls for peculiar eccentricities) recounts his time with the Lone Ranger to a small boy. John Reid (Armie Hammer) will become the Lone Ranger, but before he does he’s a timid lawyer who believes in the court system and abhors the Wild West justice meted out by scoundrels and ruffian lawmen.
His brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is the complete opposite. He’s the kind of Texas Ranger who shoots first and asks questions never. He thinks his brother’s justice crusade is silly, and that all disputes with the law are better handled with a few bullets.
After an ambush set up by the dastardly Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a group of Texas Rangers is left for dead. Like the old story goes, Tonto rescues John. Whether he brings John back to life, is not entirely certain. Although he does refer to John as a “spirit walker” the rest of the movie. A person that cannot be killed in battle.
The first hour or so of The Lone Ranger feels like you’re watching Pirates of the Caribbean only with less water and more horses. Depp has mastered those dead pan eyes which convey most of the movie’s intentional humor.
There’s an entire story about dishonorable railroad tycoons, mean outlaws, and prostitutes with hearts of gold, but The Lone Ranger really wants to be a comedic action movie. A popcorn thriller for the family, and that’s where it goes awry.
For those who were fans of the old TV show, you may find this new version to be infinitely more violent. It’s bloodless PG-13 violence, where all the nasty stuff happens just off screen, but it isn’t something meant for children. Even I squirmed when it was implied that Butch cut out Dan’s heart and ate it (yes, this movie is PG-13, although the off screen violence would suggest a hard R rating).
There are moments of genuinely funny humor, but it soon wears thin as we quickly realize that Depp is simply giving us a Jack Sparrow routine with slightly less flamboyance. With all the chuckling and sight gags, the middle of the movie tries to get downright serious about the plight of Native Americans, with dismal results. The script has spent so much time laughing that it feels completely disingenuous when thousands of Native Americans are slaughtered during a battle scene. You don’t get to be a comedy and Dances with Wolves simultaneously. It just doesn’t work.