Capitalizing on nostalgia will probably always be a big thing in Hollywood, as every generation likes to look back on famous characters. But as the Lone Ranger had his heyday in the 1950s, it seems like a bit of stretch to bring him back now.
But that didn’t stop the makers of The Lone Ranger from trying, especially because they felt they had a unique take on the story. This version would be told from the perspective of Tonto (Johnny Depp), a character that has long been derided for being treated in a racist manner.
The action is framed by an elderly Tonto recounting how he came to meet John Reid (Armie Hammer), a.k.a. the man who would go on to become the Lone Ranger. The two reluctantly join forces after they develop a common enemy, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner).
Many of the characters feel undercooked, starting with the Lone Ranger himself.
The simplicity of that set-up is quickly complicated, though, as director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean series) and the trio of writers pile on subplot after subplot, ultimately taking the film to an ungainly two-and-a-half-hours.
Even at that length, many of the characters feel undercooked, starting with the Lone Ranger himself. We learn that he’s a lawyer, that he has a Texas Ranger for a brother and that he and his brother’s wife probably had a thing at one time, but that’s about it. Rarely will you see a title character so underdeveloped.
The reason for that, of course, is because of the effort put toward fleshing out Tonto. While that works for the character, it hurts the movie as a whole. It’s great fun to see Depp hamming it up with hilarious one-liners, but the focus is so singular you realize you don’t really care about anything involving Reid or the other characters.
That’s a shame, because Hammer actually makes for a really good Lone Ranger. He has presence, charm and the ability to be really funny when called upon. But because he has to constantly compete with Depp’s bon mots, he rarely has the opportunity to shine.
Depp gives it his all, and he’s the biggest reason the film remains at least semi-watchable. He may or may not have Native American blood in him, but that quickly becomes a moot point given how entertaining he is. It’s yet another in a long line of quirky yet grandly appealing roles for the eccentric Depp.
Unfortunately, the non-Tonto elements can’t compete, making the rest of the film seem as if it’s just going through the motions instead of delivering a high-octane summer tentpole. The Lone Ranger could yet ride high again, but not this time.