Gore Verbinski’s return to the Western after 2011’s animated masterpiece Rango is already famed but for the wrong reasons. This film has cost Disney $190 million, due to its massive bombing performance at the box office but was this was bound to happen? There’s little way to market the film – it is a Western in 2013 and had a budget of $250 million, with more spent in advertising. Add to that rounds of critical bile and you have yourself the potential for a flop. Yet, despite all the negativity, there is something here that is just not that bad. Flawed? Yes, but there is far worse to see out there.
The plot is a mess; there is a genuine plot to get behind but the framing device creates a once upon a time vibe. It is an odd way of telling the story that often costs the film momentum and it’s all to no real end. How far you go with this depends on how you take the flaws, especially the tone jumping. Director Gore Verbinski struggles to keep it consistent, it is very funny one minute, deadly serious the next, yet in each case it does succeed in some sequences. Tonto’s backstory for instance is brilliantly done and contrariwise his tomfoolery is occasionally fun. The direction delivers action readily and Verbinski had the best intentions, even if the results are a bit untidy. This was clearly meant to do for Westerns what Pirates of the Caribbean did for pirates, it may have failed but it is an interesting failure all the same.
The Pirates of the Caribbean references are a bit too overused but Johnny Depp is still fun in the part of Tonto. Despite playing a native Indian, the representation is respectful. Armie Hammer grows into the lead role well enough, making a fine Ranger. He and Depp have enough chemistry to carry the film. At 2 ½ hours however it is way too long a film and yet there still feels to be too many characters to do justice to with some left with nothing to do. Still, William Fichtner’s Jonah Hex-faced Cavendish is good and Helena Bonham Carter is fun, in her light part. There are some nice gags with silver the horse too.
What really hits the bullseye however and in many ways redeems certain issues, is the climax. It is a messy journey there but once Hans Zimmer’s version of the William Tell Overture hits, it is impossible not to have fun. That closing set piece is ten minutes of brilliance, backed by superb scoring and offering pulse-quickening action. It is a shame the script wasn’t chopped and edited more in places because if the film were all as good as that closing set piece we would have a reboot of the year candidate. That said for all that is wrong, and there is a lot, this is never a joyless film and when all is said and done it entertains as a Saturday night caper, like the original series did as a Saturday morning caper. The Lone Ranger is a flawed but fun experience, which may improve with age.