Go for the horses, don’t mind the plot. Watch The Lone Ranger because you have to, and because it was filmed in over 16 stunning, sweeping desert-to-mountain New Mexico locations. But mind it, your world will seem small when you walk out of the cinema.
In the latest cinematic interpretation of these fictional American icons, Armie Hammer plays Lone Ranger John Reid and Johnny Depp applies his by-now stock eccentricity to the sidekick Tonto, a Native American looking for revenge. The story is hinged on the transformation of Reid from a man of the law to an outlaw. He arrives on the scene a principled attorney who believes in bringing criminals to book rather than bumping them off. He even refuses to carry a gun. But the brutal murder of his Texas Ranger brother changes this.
Unfortunately, the film’s makers picked and chose snippets from popular legend but did not give them context, without which we are left scratching our heads. A character becomes real when we know their motivations and what obstacles set them back. This is why, when Reid’s brother is killed, you feel nothing because the character has not settled with us. And if this murder is the entire premise for the Lone Ranger’s transformation, the crux of the plot is on shaky ground.
It doesn’t help that there is a lot of background noise surrounding the main plot. It is difficult to know whether we need to concentrate on the subthemes of colonial expansion and racism at a time when the railways were being laid through Native American land.
Similarly disappointing is the expectation set up that the supernatural elements in the film — accursed rocks, psychic white horses and a dead bird as a millinery accessory — would deliver on the magic they promise. Without some depth, they are reduced to comic flashpoints.
If it were not for the Hammer-Depp chemistry on screen and the well-choreographed action sequences, the film would be a drag, all 149 minutes of it. Indeed, the film is so long that you want to fast forward to the parts with Tonto because those are the only half-decent scenes. Depp’s exaggerated make-up and quirky sarcastic one-liners punctuate the action-packed scenes with humour. He channels Chaplin in the chases and getaways, clinging to the undercarriage of a moving train whose car has been set loose, walking pigeon-footed on the top of the carriage, suddenly appearing on a ladder between two moving trains.
The Lone Ranger of 2013 seems to suffer from a lack of belief in itself. Produced by the team behind super hits such as the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, the film sets the bar high, but falls short of its own expectations. But one thing’s for sure, for a film that advises you to “never take off the mask”, it would have done itself a favour by not hiding behind a weak plot.