Shortly after the release of The Lone Ranger, there was much talk about what a gargantuan flop it was, with the potential of losing $200 million for Disney. However while its $89 million US gross was rubbish compared to the $215 million it cost to make, it actually grossed $260 million worldwide, which isn’t as bad, but once all costs are taken into account, it’s still in the red.
The fact is it’s not a terrible film and it’s fairly easy to see how it could have been a good one, but it feels like it went into production before it was ready. That’s probably true as the whole thing was nearly cancelled when its budget ballooned towards $250 million, causing a rejig of the script to make things cheaper. However there’s a sense that what we’ve got is a bit of a hybrid, where things were removed but there wasn’t the time to properly refocus it, with the result the movie’s a bit all over the place and can’t decide what it wants to do (and to be honest, for what’s on screen it shouldn’t have cost $215 million).
The movie follows the birth of the classic western character, with Armie Hammer as John Reid, who returns to the Wild West after heading off to college and getting his head filled with ideas of the rule of law and civilisation. However the rough types out west don’t have much time for that, including a band of Texas Rangers, led by John’s brother Dan (James Badge Dale), who think John’s too soft.
They’re trying to bring notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to justice, but when Dan is killed and John is left for dead, he arises as the masked Lone Ranger, who along with Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp) sets out to find justice. As he does so, he realises it’s not just about Cavendish, as it also involves the building of a new railway through the territory.
There are lots of good things about The Lone Ranger, but there are too many bits that don’t really have any business being there. It’s been said much of what was cut involved the supernatural. Assuming that’s true much of it is indeed gone although some elements remain, even if they don’t really fit. You get the impression these were darlings the makers loved from the original script, such as carnivorous rabbits, and which they were therefore reluctant to remove completely. However here they come across as rather random. There’s much talk in the film of ‘nature being out of balance’ as some sort of explanation for these vaguely supernatural moments (as well as the fact it’s a story recounted by an aged and possibly unreliable Tonto to a young boy), but even that is confused and doesn’t properly go anywhere.
It also doesn’t help that the movie is obsessed with trains. Every time it wants a big action sequence, a train has to be involved, which quickly starts to feel repetitive. Individually they’re big and spectacular but after a while it feels like the movie is running out of tricks. Depp and Hammer do their best and when they’re allowed have a pretty good chemistry, but they’re surrounded by a lot of unnecessary bloat – it seems director Gore Verbinski hasn’t learned from the criticisms of the second and third Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, that simply throwing a lot of stuff at the screen isn’t enough if it ends up flabby and confused.
Somewhere in here is a good film, and perhaps some more judicious editing, including lopping off a good half an hour, could have come up with something tighter and more successful, but as it stands every five minutes of great entertainment is followed by five minutes that seems either indulgent, tonally confusied or simply contorting a way they can get the action back onto a train again. I certainly didn’t hate it, but I found The Lone Ranger very frustrating, simply because it’s clear this could have been so much more.
Overall Verdict: About 50% is a rollicking ride and 50% is a slightly confused mess. This will probably scare Hollywood away from big westerns for a few more years. That’s a shame as the setting is what works best in the films – it’s all the other stuff that makes Lone Ranger less successful than it clearly might have been.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac