Almost no one expected Pirates of the Carribean to be what it turned out to be. A movie based on a theme park ride? Starring that guy from all the Tim Burton movies and Legolas? And yet, despite all odds, it was a critical and commercial darling and launched one of Disney’s most successful franchises in years.
And ever since, Disney’s been trying to recreate that success, churning out family-friendly action adventure films like the Pirates sequels, Tron Legacy, Prince of Persia, and the halfway decent John Carter. Out today is their latest attempt, a comedy-heavy revival of The Lone Ranger.
It’s not gonna work.
While The Lone Ranger may not be one of the more painful attempts at recapturing the Pirates magic, (put simply, it’s not Prince of Persia bad), what we’ve still got is an atonal, manic, mess of a movie that will probably fail to find an audience, even though, and indeed probably because, it seems to be trying to appeal to all of them.
The story follows John Reid, a soft-spoken lawyer played by a block of old driftwood named Armie Hammer. After arriving in a frontier town to help his brother the sheriff/obvious red shirt maintain law and order, Reid is shot and left for dead, only to be awakened by Depp’s Tonto, a mysterious and possibly insane native obsessed with killing Butch Cavendish, the outlaw who shot Reid, played by William Fichtner. Tonto insists Reid is some kind of unkillable chosen one, and it’s up to them to stop Cavendish, to say nothing of rescuing Rebecca, Reid’s love interest/sister-in-law, after she’s captured. Yeah, she’s his sister-in-law. Sure, her husband dies, but he’s been dead maybe a few days when her and Reid kiss at the end (is that really a spoiler?) so it’s a tad uncomfortable.
The first thing viewers will probably notice is that the movie has all the consistency of a pizza someone’s mixed rocks into. At times the film seems to be going for a fairly serious vibe, with a healthy amount of bloodshed and a somewhat somber tone. Then without warning things will switch gears and become whacky Pirates-style comedic set pieces, and the tonal switch between the two feels jarring to say the least. Put simply, you can’t go from a scene in which the characters lament over the corruption in the local government over the bodies of a few hundred slaughtered natives to a totally random comedy beat of the Ranger’s horse standing in a tree with a hat on. Or the bit with the cannibalistic, fanged killer bunny. Not joking, that’s a thing in this movie, and the most explanation we get is that Fichtner’s character is so evil he’s “Throwing nature out of balance”.
The overall tone-deafness of the film carries over to the characters as well. When the film starts, it seems like it’ll be playing it like the Ranger is actually this incompetent boob and Tonto is doing all the actual work, which would be a clever angle if The Green Hornet hadn’t done the same thing two years ago. Then it seems like the Ranger can actually hold his own, but only through dumb luck. Then just in time for the big finale, he’s suddenly the king of all badassery, riding his horse along the top of a speeding train and making crack shots with guns he never has to reload. It’s not the first time a movie hero’s gone from incompetent to ubercompetent, but usually we get to see -how- they make the transition. Perhaps if Armie Hammer had more in the way of charm or charisma, he may may have been able to pull something worthwhile out of the script, but sadly this isn’t the case.
The rest of the cast fares little better. The normally wonderful Ruth Wilson gets absolutely nothing to work with as Rebecca, going from a damsel in distress to a vaguely in-control action gal to an outright prize for the hero entirely at the needs of whatever the current scene is. It’s entirely possible that Helena Bonham-Carter’s Red Harrington, an apparently Ronald Mcdonald-themed prostitute with an ivory leg with a gun inside it, was written in at the last minute because the screenwriters knew they had no real female lead to speak of.
William Fichtner, God bless his heart, does the best he can with an utterly generic Western villain role, a snarling baddie with no real motivation or goal besides kill people and look menacing, and when it’s revealed that he’s playing second-fiddle to another villain later in the film, any character he had evaporates like a fart in a brisk summer wind.
Since the film was first announced, a lot of fuss and noise has been made of the the casting of the decidedly not-Native American Johnny Depp in the role if Tonto. While it would have been nice for the film to prove the naysayers wrong, the allegations of racism are pretty hard to deny when the first thing Tonto does in the film is trade a small boy a dead mouse for some popcorn. Because that whole “Natives have no sense of value” thing isn’t an offensive stereotype anymore right? Right? When some actual native actors show up they don’t do any better, largely portrayed as stone-faced reactionists and victims who go from fairly sensible in one scene to burying Tonto and the Ranger up to their necks in the next, following the film’s theme of no one having any consistent personality or behavior.
The movie doesn’t even offer up any really exciting or memorable action sequences, despite contriving one every few scenes. They tend to follow the Pirates mantra of substituting over-the-top effects shenanigans for any real tension or cleverness. Remember when the big finale of Pirates was just two guys having a sword fight in a cave? Those were the days. The Lone Ranger, on the other hand, contrives this overblown sequence with a train that probably won’t stay in anyone’s head long after they leave the theater. The best part is honestly when two of the participants run out of bullets and start throwing rocks at each other.
While The Lone Ranger may offer up the occasional chuckle, is an ultimately forgettable entry in Disney’s continued quest to replicate the first Pirates of the Carribean. With no real interesting characters, a lack of any exciting action and a tone-deaf script desperate to hit as many bases as possible, you should probably give this one a miss.