The Lone Ranger follows a formula that director Gore Verbinski, star Johnny Depp, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer perfected with the Pirates of the Caribbean series: one part humor, one part horror, one part slapstick, 10 parts over-the-top-CGI. Will serve 20 million adolescent males and however many dates they can drag along.
The first adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow surprised audiences that had entered into the bargain with low expectations. Who thought a film based on an amusement park ride would be any good? (The less said about the sequels, the better.)
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The Lone Ranger gets no such benefit of the doubt. The masked gunman fighting for justice on the western frontier is an American icon, with 80 years of radio, television, and film adventures under his belt. It’s no surprise that the muddled mess Verbinksi and company churned out has disappointed.
We begin not in the 19th century but in the 20th, as an aged Tonto (Johnny Depp) serves as a sideshow freak for a traveling circus. Sparked to life by a child wearing a Lone Ranger-style mask, Tonto begins telling his story in a series of flashbacks.
Before we delve into the overly complicated plot, allow me to suggest that, were the studio looking for a way to trim down the absurdly bloated two-and-a-half hour running time, eliminating the flashback structure would’ve been a good idea. While the format covers up for some of the sloppy plotting, it also slows the proceedings down and adds unnecessary girth to an already obese frame.
But I digress. Back to the plot: John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a district attorney on his way to the frontier, where the two branches of the intercontinental railroad are about to meet. He believes in justice—believes in it so much, in fact, that he refuses to use a firearm.
Reid’s brother Dan is the gunslinger in the family. A ranger’s ranger, he has no problem slinging lead. Which is good, because notorious bad guy Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) is headed to town on the orders of railway honcho Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who wants to christen the transcontinental with a hanging.
I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that Tonto inspires John Reid to become the Lone Ranger in order to save his now-dead brother’s beautiful wife from the hands of Cavendish.
The Lone Ranger is a weird mixture of daffy slapstick and deadly seriousness. Scenes of Tonto and the Lone Ranger yukking it up are juxtaposed with scenes of a still-living man having his heart eaten. Animals are also used to curious effect: Cute bunnies turn into ravenous cannibals, while trusty Silver is able to, among other things, climb roofs and eat scorpions.
Some of Man of Steel’s more annoying critics have complained about its tone. The new Superman, they say, is too serious, not funny enough. The Lone Ranger shows what happens when you try to satisfy everyone by combining broad comedy and realism. The shifts are jarring and unpleasant.