The Lone Ranger

Walt Disney Pictures
What it's about:

Native American legend, Tonto, tells a young boy the story of how straight-laced district attorney became his partner, the outlaw known as the Lone Ranger.

What we thought:

Enough has probably been said about how The Lone Ranger is effectively "Pirates of the Caribbean on Horseback" but that doesn't make the analogy any less accurate. The Lone Ranger does, after all, share the same star, producer and director as the first three Pirates films and it replicates both the distinctively knockabout action scenes of those films, as well as most of their many, many flaws.

The Lone Ranger is, of course, an enduring part of American pop culture that started off as a radio serial in 1933 and has since appeared in movies, movie serials, books, comic books, comic strips, cartoons and TV shows. While this new film might clearly be an attempt to resurrect the old favourite for a new generation and may fail entirely to do so (reviews, word of mouth and box office returns have been, to be charitable, underwhelming), it is innocuous and bland enough not to do too much damage to a character that has been around longer than Superman.

First, the good news. Despite what all the marketing may suggest, The Lone Ranger is very much the lead character in his own movie and Arnie Hammer is charismatic and likeable in the role. Despite this being an origin story, the Lone Ranger character is somewhat weak and underdeveloped but Hammer clearly makes the best of what he has to work with and he alone makes the film worthy of its storied title.

The best thing by far about the film, though, is the really beautiful (and smartly 2D) cinematography that makes the very best of the film's photogenic Texan (and Utahan) vistas. The action scenes too are nicely, if rather lengthily, shot and the film does work, at least for a while, as something of a visual feast.     

The problem is that spectacular visuals and solid leading men only get you so far – and in a film that limps in at a very disrespectful 150 minutes, it's nowhere near far enough. The movie has a nicely stripped down story of revenge and outlaw justice but both the story and its pulpy character demand a snappy 90 minute feature, rather than the horribly bloated epic-wannabe that we get here. Director Gore Verbinski refuses to reign in his own indulgences and his film is all the worse for it.

Similarly typical of Verbinski's worst tendencies is the film's utter lack of tonal inconsistency as its callous violence sits uncomfortably next to its cartoonish slapstick and its more adult themes feel entirely at odds with the film's more childlike sensibilities. To be fair, its mix of "edgy" but utterly bloodless violence and kid-tastic aesthetic may well appeal to 10-12 year old boys but people of any other age group and, for that matter, gender will probably be left wondering what on earth Verbinski is trying to get at.

And then there is the Tonto problem. The film has a number of notable actors providing solid, if undistinguished, support throughout but the film's main "actor in a supporting role" is obviously Captain Jack Sparrow. Tonto, you see, isn't played by the amazingly versatile Johnny Depp who, over his three decades in the business has amassed at least a dozen truly spectacular performances, which have in turn established him as one of the very finest actors of his generation.

No, he's played by Captain Jack Sparrow who may have been a breath of anarchic fresh air in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film but wore out his welcome within minutes of turning up in its first sequel. You can paint him white, put a dead bird on his head and give him an "Injun" accent but, make no mistake, this is Captain Jack doing his best to further wreck the reputation of the man we once knew as Johnny Depp.

And I hate to so much as approach this particular political minefield but why is Tonto still, some 13 years into the 21st century, being played by a white dude in "red face" rather than an actual Native American actor?

Not that that would have made that much difference, to be fair - iffy politics or no iffy politics, The Lone Ranger would still be the artistic (and, lets not kid, commercial) failure that it has turned out to be. It's not terrible and it's even quite watchable for the first half or so but the film fails hopelessly to live up to its legend or to Rango, Verbinski and Depp's previous and largely successful attempt at a proper - if admittedly quirky and similarly tonally nutso - Western.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24