Hi-ho, Silver!

The Lone Ranger
(USA, 149 min.)
Dir. Gore Verbinski, Writ. Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Ruth Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, William Fitchner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, and Helena Bonham Carter.
“Hi-ho, Silver! Away!” Summer movie season continues with the rollicking redo of the classic western series The Lone Ranger. Times have changed and so has the entertainment business, and the adventures your granddaddy used to listen to on the radio for free are now mashed into one epic widescreen adventure for a whopping thirteen bucks a ticket. One doubts that a movie has provided so much bang for your buck since Cloud Atlas, and The Lone Ranger guarantees a solid few hours of harmless escapism. It’s a hoot if you never take it too seriously.

Like Cloud Atlas, The Lone Ranger announces itself with an icky bit of casual racism. If, however, one looks at the stunt casting of leading man Johnny Depp in the role of Tonto, The Lone Ranger is hardly in the league of political incorrectness as, say, a beauty treatment of yellow face on a host of Caucasian actors. The Lone Ranger, for all the faults and brain farts of Gore Verbinski’s roller coaster ride, makes a decent improvement on The Lone Ranger’s famous sidekick while still providing lots of fun.

Tonto gets a promotion from sidekick to leading hero in this new take on The Lone Ranger. Tonto is actually the audience’s guide during the film, as The Lone Ranger begins with a frame and embedded narrative that sees an elderly Tonto tell the tale of The Lone Ranger to a young boy at a travelling circus. Tonto is perched in a wildlife display as “The Noble Savage in His Natural Habit” alongside feisty grizzly bears and buffalos, so some hint at the problems of the past is certainly at play in this remake. Tonto still speaks in halting English (although many of the minor indigenous characters speak the language perfectly), but he’s given a backstory and the majority’s share of screen time. One can debate whether this is an attempt at political correctness or a by-product of casting a star with the status of Johnny Depp.
Depp is lots of fun in the lead role, though, and he brings his trademark kookiness and eccentricity to the part. There’s also some attempt on behalf of Depp and the production team to be respectful to Tonto, as The Lone Ranger avoids slathering the actor in gobs of Red Face à la Cloud Atlas. Depp instead wears a mask of war paint, inspired by a painting that references both history and fiction, which reminds the audience that the game of The Lone Ranger is all silly make believe. (Depp also wears about twenty pounds of latex during the scenes in which he plays storyteller to the young boy.) This story isn’t a derivative of history lessons but of Saturday morning cartoons. Viewers will get this sense towards the end of the film when the plot’s extension to the greater cultural genocide of indigenous culture seems tacked on.

Seeing Tonto as the Jack Sparrow of the Wild West is childlike escapism, and Depp provides a good balance to the straight-guy square of The Lone Ranger as played by Armie Hammer (J. Edgar). Tonto helps The Lone Ranger in this high-spirited origins tale by helping him trek across the desert to avenge the murder of his brother by a ravenous outlaw, played by William Fitchner, who has kidnapped The Lone Ranger’s nephew (Bryant Price) and his sister-in-law/former flame, Rebecca, played with good measure by Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina’s Princess Betsy). Their quest across the arid west crosses paths with the plans of western expansionism fuelled by Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). There’s also a story of a looming war between the cavalry and the Comanche tribesmen, an unsettled revenge fantasy haunting Tonto, and a payback subplot involving Helena Bonham Carter’s brothel-maiden, which is forgotten for an hour-and-a-half until the bouncy Brit returns for the grand finale. The Lone Ranger is a mêlée of Looney Tunes violence as Tonto et al bring justice to the West.

There’s a lot going on in The Lone Ranger, for the script by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) and Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road, Snitch) packs enough storylines and subplots to fill a whole season’s worth of adventures for a western serial. The Lone Ranger could have easily benefited from an extensive editing job—it’s the kind of film for which even the least discerning of moviegoers can point out odds and ends that could have been snipped for time—and the mass of threads just barely keeps the spirit running as The Lone Ranger chugs towards the end of its two-and-a-half-hour running time. Kids and parents alike might find the movie exhausting.

The Lone Ranger might be a bit of a mess from a perspective of filmmaking, but while it looks as if it was cut with a spoon, there’s still much to enjoy. The costumes by Penny Rose are an inspired blend of period detail and cartoonish fun, as is the production design by Jess Gonchor and the work from the team of art directors, decorators, and make-up artists. The score by Hans Zimmer is typically rousing and the cast is a lot of fun, although one wishes that Bonham Carter’s spirited appearance as Red received more screentime. Depp’s playfulness plus Silver the scene-stealing horse serve as constant reminders that The Lone Ranger is simply an escapist lark. Some cannibal bunny rabbits also push this Western into Monty Python territory, so even truffle pigs will have to forgive the flaws of The Lone Ranger and go along with the adventure.

One can say a lot about The Lone Ranger, but one can hardly call it boring. Gore Verbinski’s take on the classic—the fifth film on top of other remakes in different media—packs enough non-stop action to make a fun ride at the movies. Like the radio shows and serials that inspired it, this update of The Lone Ranger is pure genre escapism. It’s Saturday Morning Cartoons on the big screen.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

The Lone Ranger opens in wide release July 3rd.