The Lone Ranger (2013)

2015 #177
Gore Verbinski | 149 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Hated by Americans and loved (well, ok, “liked”) by everyone else (well, ok, “by lots, but by no means all, of people who reside outside America”), Disney’s attempt to pull a Pirates of the Caribbean on Western adventure IP The Lone Ranger is by no means as successful as the first instalment in their piratical franchise, but is at least the equal of its sequels — and, in some cases, their better.

The convoluted plot sees us arrive with John Reid (Armie Hammer) in the frontier town where he grew up, where his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is now sheriff. Construction of the railroad is running by the town, spearheaded by Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who letches after Dan’s wife (Ruth Wilson); but work is plagued by a band of outlaws led by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Receiving information on his whereabouts, Dan rounds up a posse and heads out to tackle him, with John insisting on tagging along. Unfortunately it’s an ambush and they’re all slaughtered (oh dear)… except John just about survives, and is found and nursed back to life by a Native American, Tonto (Johnny Depp). He has his own grievances, and together they set out on a mission of revenge.

And if you’re wondering where Helena Bonham Carter is in all that: despite her prominence on many of the posters, her role is really just a cameo. That’s marketing, folks.

I know some people complain about simplistic stories that are used to just string action sequences together, and that’s a perfectly valid thing to get annoyed about, but The Lone Ranger swings to the other extreme and uses an over-complicated story to string together its action sequences. All it actually needs is a little streamlining, because the film is allowed to swing off into too many sideplots. This makes the middle of the film a slog, and you feel every minute of its excessive two-and-a-half-hour running time.

That slog is made worthwhile by what comes before and after said middle: a pair of train-based action sequences that are each truly fantastic. The second, in particular, is arguably amongst the grandest climaxes ever put on screen (providing you don’t feel it’s tipped too far into being overblown, of course). It’s inventively choreographed, fluidly shot, and perfectly scored with just an extended barnstorming version of the Lone Ranger’s theme music (aka the William Tell Overture). It’s an adrenaline-pumping action sequence that single-handedly justifies the entire film’s existence, if you’re into that kind of thing.

With multiple trains, horses, actors, guns, stunts, and copious CGI to tie it together, that sequence must’ve cost a bomb. Notoriously, the whole film was deemed too expensive and Disney insisted the budget be slashed, resulting in delays… and it still cost a fortune. That, quite apart from the negative critical response in the US, is a big part of why it flopped at the box office — a recurring problem for Disney at the minute. To be frank, I’m not convinced anyone made a truly concerted effort to stem the overspend. When a gaggle of CG rabbits hopped on screen, all I could think was, “who allowed this?!” You’ve got a massively over-budgeted film that the studio want cut back, and one reason for that is CG bunnies that have almost no bearing on anything whatsoever! The amount of time and effort that must’ve gone into creating those fairly-realistic rabbits for such a short amount of screen time… it cost millions, surely. Millions that could’ve been saved with a simple snip during the writing stage if only someone had said, “well, those bunnies don’t add anything and they’ll be bloody expensive, so let’s lose them.”

So criticism is not unfounded, but the film doesn’t deserve the level of vitriolic scorn poured on it by the US press and, consequently, public. Discussing this, the “critical response” section on the film’s Wikipedia page is interesting, and this part pretty much nails it:

Mark Hughes of Forbes, analyzing what he felt was a “flop-hungry” press desiring to “control the narrative and render the outcome they insisted was unavoidable” for a highly expensive movie with much-publicized production troubles, found the film “about a hundred times better than you think it is … [a] well-written, well-acted, superbly directed adventure story.”

I’m not quite as effusive as Hughes, but The Lone Ranger is worth the time of anyone who enjoys an action-adventure blockbuster. It’s a three-star adventure-comedy bookended by a pair of five-star railroad action sequences, which make the trudge through the film’s middle hour-or-so feel worthwhile. There was a better movie to be made here — one that was half-an-hour shorter, more focused, and probably several tens of millions of dollars cheaper to make — but that doesn’t mean the one we got is meritless.

4 out of 5

6 thoughts on “The Lone Ranger (2013)

  1. Yep, much better than the original reviews had it. I’ve seen this film twice now, and enjoyed it both times. I think John Carter suffered a similar undeserved fate. I’m not saying I would have liked seeing a series of Lone Ranger films – in some ways it is quite refreshing a film like this being standalone- but it certainly deserved better recognition than it got.

    I won’t defend its OTT budget mind- it really should have been a smaller production and it was only a matter of time until these huge budgets caught someone out. There’s far too much excess in Hollywood even now. But its not a bad film at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the fact it got a much better reception everywhere outside the US shows how accurate that Mark Hughes quote is. The way the US public often seem to just regurgitate their critics’ views of films is what makes me continually distrust their reactions (cf. what I said about critics & audiences in my Tomorrowland review).

      I keep waiting for Hollywood to pull back on their budgets across the board, but when they’re still regularly producing $200-250 million CGI-athons that gross over $1 billion, why change?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Its depressing. Who’s ever going to change anything? It reminds me of the Banking Crisis and the economy in general, with the crazy salaries higher management and those on boards etc get and the whole ‘rich getting richer’ and the gap between rich and poor getting wider. So many are getting a slice of the pie from these huge budgets. Directors get paid crazy fees, actors get overpaid, I’m sure EVERYONE is making over the odds on these blockbusters. So why change anything? Its a bit like our football, with how much premiership footballers and their agents get paid, why would they want anything to change?

        Sooner or later one of these blockbusters is going to fail. It may not take a major studio with it but the way money is being thrown at franchises with multiple films in production… Who knows what might happen? What if Batman vs Superman flopped, and the rest of the DC films already in production were thrown into jeopardy?

        But then I think, it’ll never happen. Films getting dumber. Audiences lapping it up. We’re doomed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There’ll always be filmmakers and stars prepared to pocket the cash, of course. And even if they have artistic integrity, they can use their name (and possibly their paycheque!) to fund an indie movie in-between. That’s why it’s the mid-budget movies that have disappeared — the stuff too expensive for independents but too cheap for the current studio mindset. It’s mad that something like Gone Girl has to cost $60 million.

          I think it will take several films in a row flopping to even come close to worrying studios. Look at something like the newest Fantastic Four: critically panned, audiences hated it, a box office bomb, but it did still make $168m — more than its budget, though it won’t be enough to cover the marketing costs. Yet they’ve not 100% cancelled the sequel, and I’m sure Fox released something else this year that will cover that shortfall (and then some). The studios place big bets with all these super-budgeted movies, but they only need one or two to hit home and it covers the two or three others that year. A sensible business practice, of course, which only falls down if they all flop. Until that happens, and the result does serious harm to a studio, I can’t see it stopping.


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