While Verbinski has worked on large scale movies before (the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies), he has never so needlessly wasted his budgets in the manner he does in The Lone Ranger. It seems as if Walt Disney Studios just wrote Verbinski a blank check and said “Make the movie as loud and as broad as possible.” As a result, The Lone Ranger is too stupid for adult audiences and too dark and violent for young audiences. Who exactly did Verbinski have in mind as his target demographic?
Though I find it hard to believe, there really is a script for The Lone Ranger. I assumed Verbinski just woke up every morning and filmed whatever he dreamt about the night before: fistfights on top of moving trains; horses riding across the roofs of buildings; shootouts involving six-shooters that never seem to run out of bullets. The screenplay is attributed to three writers – Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio – all of whom should be buried up to their necks in sand and be forced to watch Ashton Kutcher’s entire filmography on a loop.
To say The Lone Ranger has a plot would be very generous. The film is a starring vehicle for Disney moneymaker and once-great actor Johnny Depp, plain and simple. The role of Tonto (Depp) has been greatly bloated to accommodate the star’s marquee name. The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer), a.k.a. John Reid, takes a backseat with Tonto serving as our narrator and protagonist. Tonto is a Comanche Indian who helps Reid seek revenge on the men who killed his brother. Bringing Reid back from the brink of death, Tonto rechristens him the Lone Ranger and gives him a mask to wear because it’ll look cool or something.
With Tonto’s help, Reid/the Lone Ranger chases Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), the man who killed his brother, while also trying to protect his brother’s widow, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), from the lecherous locomotive tycoon Mr. Cole (Tom Wilkinson). There’s some stuff about Cole’s plan to exploit the tenuous relationship between the white men and the savages (i.e. Native Americans) in order to profit from the bloodshed, but it’s a little too convoluted and asinine to fully explain. Oh, there’s also the obligatory madam, Red (Helena Bonham Carter), who runs a brothel and serves no purpose to the story, but since The Lone Ranger is a phony Western she has to be included.
Due to a completely mindless script that was probably scribbled in crayon on the back of a Denny’s menu, The Lone Ranger is one of the more unwatchable tentpole movies to come out of Hollywood in the last few years. Verbinski makes matters worse by using a completely unnecessary framing device that makes less sense than casting a white man to play a Native American character in 2013. The story is told through the eyes of Tonto who is recounting the events to a young boy many decades later while acting as some sort of sideshow attraction at a carnival in San Francisco. Even though he was present for less than half of the events he is recalling, he is our narrator for the duration. This bookending device adds nothing to the movie except to once again expand Depp’s role.
Speaking of Johnny Depp, I can’t think of another actor who has so shamelessly wasted his talents so early in his career; De Niro and Pacino at least waited until long after they turned 50. Depp was, at one time, truly an actor’s actor. He took on projects that challenged him and chose characters that interested him. Looking back at Ed Wood, Don Juan Demarco and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it’s hard to believe the same actor is now appearing in something as artistically anemic as The Lone Ranger.
Hammer, for his part, is serviceable and Wilkinson can play parts like Cole in his sleep. The movie’s only real value is the great character actor Fichtner as the serpent-like Cavendish. Fichtner, hidden beneath some truly terrific makeup, is about as unsettling as finding a rabid raccoon in your bed. Every time he appears on the screen the audience’s attention will (thankfully) be pulled to focus only on his performance.
The Lone Ranger is an inexcusable heap of dung that should embarrass everyone involved – especially Verbinski – and is another black mark on the already rusted and corroded Hollywood machine.