I’m not surprised. I expected it to be big and dumb loud, and it is big and dumb and loud. (I did expect it to do better business, though.) What did surprise me about The Lone Ranger is that, under all the dross, there was the kernel of a good movie. At the heart of The Lone Ranger, which was the equivalent of watching a child hurl food on the floor in a fancy restaurant, was an R-rated, Tarantino-style revenge flick called Tonto that would have been awesome. Unfortunately, the movie that actually got made was Trains!: How the West Was Fun.
In 2008 there was a script that circulated called Nottingham that told the story of the Sheriff of Nottingham as he investigated a series of murders around Sherwood Forest. In it, Nottingham was a sharp lawman burdened by superstitious and illiterate villagers, an idiotic earl who owned everything around him, and some asshole with a bow who lived in the woods and appeared to be the murderer. It portrayed Nottingham as a beleaguered guy just trying to keep his head—literally, and Robin was a PTSD-riddled mess that couldn’t cope after returning from the Crusades, so he abandoned his lands, leaving them to be usurped by the earl from one county over. In the end, Nottingham and Robin teamed up to solve the murders and reclaim Robin’s land. It was AWESOME, and for a split second it looked like hot shit as Ridley Scott picked it up and Russell Crowe signed on to play Nottingham and Christian Bale as Robin. But it ended up being merely an okay “gritty and realistic” take on Robin Hood, called Robin Hood, and the final product in no way resembled the original Nottingham script.
I think the same thing happened to The Lone Ranger. Somewhere there’s a script called Tonto, and it’s a dark, violent, unflinching take on a Comanche seeking revenge for his band’s massacre and the ultimate futility of the Indian wars. There are kernels of Tonto visible in The Lone Ranger—which is more than could be said for Nottingham/Robin Hood—and they strike a discordant note in a movie that is otherwise a straight knock off of The Pirates of the Caribbean—The Lone Ranger could also be called Sand Pirates! But those Tonto bones do show, particularly in the presence of Barry Pepper as a fastidious colonel with flowing blonde locks and a trim beard—shades of Custer—and a bleak, surprisingly graphic scene depicting a Comanche attack that ends in a total massacre. This is a Disney movie, so there’s no blood, but director Gore Verbinksi does not hesitate to show both the initial volley of Indian arrows striking down an unsuspecting cavalry regiment and the ensuing decimation of the Comanche as the cavalry literally outguns them.
Johnny Depp talked a lot about bringing respect to Tonto and making him a proper character, which is where that carcass of a darker, more blood-fueled movie comes from, but instead of pursuing that project he sold the idea to Disney and made a movie meant to inspire train-themed rides and sell Halloween costumes (which goes against that whole respect thing). The result is a silly mess pockmarked with those darker moments when you see hints of a better, more interesting movie. Because man, The Lone Ranger is boring. It’s a solid forty minutes too long and the occasional glimpse of the could-have-been Tonto aside, it’s too derivative and bloated to function. There are two action sequences set on a train; the first works fairly well but the second relies too much on a magical horse and a complete disregard for the laws of physics to work at all.
Oh yeah, Silver is magical. I appreciate that they brought in the symbolism of a white horse—called a “spirit horse” and meant to carry the dead to the Great Beyond—but the “this horse be crazy” bits undid what good they accomplished with Silver’s mystical introduction. Likewise, the totally pointless narrative framework of an aged Tonto recounting the story of the Lone Ranger to a kid during a carnival served no purpose except to a) waste time and b) make Tonto seem sillier than the rest of the movie did. (I think that was supposed to be a nod to Sitting Bull participating in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show but it didn’t work.) Depp actually does a good job of presenting Tonto as someone haunted by an epic mistake with tragic consequences, and interestingly plays him right on the line between a true mystic and just plain nuts. But that old-man framework is dumb and undercuts everything else.
That’s basically the problem with The Lone Ranger. Somewhere in there is a good movie but it’s buried under a mountain of stupid. The cinematography is gorgeous, the acting is solid—Armie Hammer acquits himself nicely though he has virtually nothing to work with, and James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3, Flight) gives another scene-stealing performance—but the end result is overlong and illogical. There’s an entire backstory to Hammer’s John Reid that is never accounted for, and too much of the story relies on insane amounts of suspension of disbelief. You don’t have to know anything about film to recognize The Lone Ranger is a mess. It’s impossible to get down with a movie this long and this stupid.