The team that brought us The Pirates of the Caribbean hopes to do for cowboys and indians what they did for pirates – make them cool again. This time, though, they go after the long established (though long languished) franchise of The Lone Ranger.
Times are changing in the United States. The Trans-Continental Railroad is nearing completion and the wild west is finally starting to be tamed – or at least that’s how Eastern-educated lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) sees it. Too bad for him, the West isn’t quite ready to be tamed yet. When he ends up the unlikely lone survivor of a Texas Ranger ambush by outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), Reid becomes the infamous masked lawman. Aided by the slightly insane Comanche, Tonto (Johnny Depp), and his new – also slightly insane – horse, Silver, The Lone Ranger is off to bring Cavendish and his ilk to justice.
Despite Hammer playing the titular hero, it is clear from the get-go that this is Depp’s show. Jack Sparrow has gotten into Tim Burton’s magical white face paint and been transported forward in time and western in space. His Tonto is just the infamous pirate captain in disguise, turning the native American into something just short of a parody. His mannerisms aren’t the only thing familiar here, though. Bits of the action are nearly beat for beat identical to scenes from Pirates. There’s even a squirrely bad guy who likes to play with parasols. There’s little effort to distinguish this as a new franchise, instead counting on what people loved about Pirates to draw them into a new series of blockbusters.
Pirates of the Caribbean with cowboys. Sounds like a fun time, doesn’t it? And it is a ton of “fun.” Johnny Depp is as ridiculous as ever, so unpredictable that you see each gag coming a mile away. The action is impressively over the top and so bombastic that it puts the giant hamster wheel scene from Pirates 2 to shame. The extended action scene on the train, especially, is like Buster Keaton‘s classic, The General, on steroids AND acid.
Fichtner’s villainous character is appropriately evil, but seriously underdeveloped. He is, at least, more memorable than Hammer’s forgettable turn as the supposed hero. The only character anyone is going to remember is Tonto, which I think is what they’re going for here, strangely enough.
Aside from being needlessly lengthy (no, I will not make a “Long Ranger” joke here), tonally, it’s just a bit messy. Prat-falls and kid friendly humor abound, but so does death, cannibalism, rape, and incest. Ok, incest is a stretch, but getting it on with your dead brother’s wife is a bit heavy, Doc. Half the time the film comes just shy of being a self-aware parody of the genre, before backing off because it’s just too good to go there. Depp, however, is apparently not too good to deliver an incredibly stereotypical performance of a foolish Indian sidekick, despite his insistence that the performance is one of respect for Native American.
I can’t speak to how faithful it is to the spirit and story of the previous incarnations of the pop culture icon as those were a bit before my time. I suspect, however, the the addition of magic horses and completely impossible antics, as well as a Lone Ranger who is a little bit of an idiot don’t quite jibe.
In the end, it’s a better Pirates of the Caribbean movie than some in that franchise. And with the everything and the kitchen sink approach, some of it is pretty entertaining, even if other parts fall flat. But by all reasonable standards, it’s pretty bad, despite being stuffed to the gills with fun. I may be guilty over thinking this one a little (it’s escapist summer action/comedy after all), but thinking is something the writers should have done at least a little of themselves.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“It’s Pirates of the Caribbean (my favorite movie) in the Wild West. What’s not to like?”
My Rating: Three out of Five Hats
The Lone Ranger gallops into 3,700 theaters July 3