Director: Gore Verbinski Writers: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter Runtime: 149 min Rating: PG
Johnny Depp doesn’t believe that Tonto should be portrayed as the sidekick in The Lone Ranger. He claims that in his new movie, placing the focus on Tonto will aid in an effort to “right the many wrongs done to these people.” While the goal is commendable, the resulting movie spends a lot of time grappling with issues of Native American rights and the meaning of justice, and not much time having fun. Although this emphasis may be preferable to some, myself included, it is probably not what Disney had in mind for its reboot for a new generation.
This version of the beloved Lone Ranger television show, which ran from 1949 to 1957, is told through a frame story wherein an aged Tonto (Johnny Depp) recalls the events that changed John Reid (Armie Hammer) into the famous Lone Ranger. Brought together through a common enemy, the two form a quick partnership and unlikely friendship, facing a scandal much bigger than they could have expected that pits the railway company and ruthless silver prospectors against Tonto’s Comanche tribe.
The frame story works very well to bring a tale well known to an earlier generation to those of us who may not be familiar with the original. Storytelling is an important aspect of Comanche tradition, so it therefore appears natural that Tonto would want to pass his legend on to his young spectator, and through him, the audience of the film. Depp is electric as Tonto, bringing attention onto this character not necessarily through narrative focus but through his acting capabilities; the audience can’t help but focus on Tonto as they focus on Depp. Hammer is earnest and likable, while Helena Bonham Carter is disappointingly underused as Red, the colourful madam of a notorious house of ill repute.
There are problems with this Lone Ranger as well, however, not least of which is its similarities with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise it often appears to mimic. The phrase “from the people who brought you” is often used as a marketing strategy, but here, it is an unnecessary reminder that this filmmaking team consisting of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski is re-treading over well-covered ground. The parallels between the films appear endless: the action style, the mannerisms of lead actor Depp, the cross-dressing baddie, the undead animal sidekick, the broken watch/compass. What this film does not borrow from Pirates, however, is its fun tone. Yes, Pirates has its moral battle with the East India Trading Company, but its focus rests squarely on swashbuckling adventure and a meaningful love story. Lone Ranger, by contrast, wants to teach a lesson; an admirable goal, but unfortunately, many of the stories are bland, and there is only so much doom and gloom an audience can handle before they start yearning for a good time (perhaps Bonham Carter’s Red could have helped here).
A great movie does not have to be fun, but an action movie aimed at a young audience should be. Although I was relieved at the lack of slapstick humour and rather enjoyed the dark tone of the film, I was admittedly a bit lost and overwhelmed by the action that all seemed to blend together by the end. Those seeking a good time may not enjoy this Lone Ranger, but those interested in a new representation of the story that explains legends and focuses on a new perspective will be intrigued.