The Johnny Depp Archive

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, James Badget Dale

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Johnny Depp as Tonto and Arnie Hammer as John Reid in The Lone Ranger

While Only God Forgives divided the critics like Marmite, there was no such love it/loathe it conflict surrounding The Lone Ranger. On the whole, everybody hated this overly-long, racially suspect, hotch-potch epic Western action comedy drama. So I can't say I was exactly looking forward to my two and a half hours in the company of the legendary masked hero and his 'Red Indian' sidekick Tonto, but hey, it's Johnny Depp, it's a must.

William Fichtner as bad guy Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger

But you know what? It's... not bad. Not brilliant, but certainly not deserving of the critical roasting it's received.

Eager, idealistic young lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) is heading out West to join his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) in the fight against truth and justice. But when Dan is murdered by a band of outlaws, led by the deliciously horrible Butch Cavendish (an unrecognisable William Fichtner), John is left for dead, only to be brought back from the other side by cod mystic Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp in Newcastle United-patented black and white facepaint and a dead crow on his head), who also has an axe to grind with Cavendish.

Helena Bonham Carter as Red in The Lone Ranger

Throw in all the usual clichés of the Wild Wild West (steam trains hurtling towards the end of the track, scattering Chinese workers in coolie hats while moustachioed men frantically tap out telegram messages; a bawdy house awash with busty, bustled babes, overseen by a flame-haired madam with an ivory leg that doubles as a gun (played by – who else? – Helena Bonham Carter); raiding parties, grizzled, baccy-chewing bad guys; spurs, horses, teepees and a fortune in silver to be blasted from the hills) and you've got a solid recipe for a pleasingly entertaining Saturday afternoon movie.

There are huge, dramatic, well-conceived stunt set pieces that make the film well worth seeing on the big screen; yes, it's long, but it all rattles along at a fair old pace; and guess what, Johnny's great. Meanshile, the framing story of an aged Tonto (looking – quelle surprise – like Keith Richards in buckskins) telling the tale to a young Lone Ranger fan leaves room for poetic licence: all seems a bit far-fetched? It's just Tonto, remembering the past a bit better, bigger and more exciting than it really was – don't we all?

So what's to complain about? Well, there is a slight feeling of deja vu. Because in fact we have already seen a lot of it before – in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Johnny's wry, seemingly fey and feckless but deep-down super-smart Tonto is the Native American answer to the foppish yet savvy, wily Captain Jack Sparrow, a comic, focus-pulling foil to Armie Hammer's uptight Ranger – who would be honest, slightly dull Will Turner if he didn't look so much like Brendan Fraser in The Mummy. Then we have the stunts: Tonto swings around on ropes and dances through gunfire; he and Reid, chained together, run and duck and jump; the pair dice with death, then shrug their shoulders and crack a joke. Yup, swap ships for trains and the people behind Pirates of the Caribbean have brought us... more of the same.

Some stunt men do their stuff in Gore Verbinksi's The Lone Ranger

Then there's the uneven tone. To say the film doesn't know what it wants to be is to do it a disservice: it's definitely a rumbunctious, stunt-filled action movie in the classic tradition of Buster Keaton's The General. Sure, it has epic pretensions, embedding itself firmly in American Wild West mythology through sweeping glorious landscape shots and classic frontier tropes, yet it constantly undercuts itself with postmodern quips, such as Tonto's final remonstrance to John as he tests out his rallying cry of 'Hi ho Silver'. (Spoiler alert: 'Don't ever do that again.')

However, there are moments when the story takes a more serious turn, and this is when things jar uncomfortably: a scene which juxtaposes a wholesale slaughter of a Comanche tribe by machine gun with a Tonto and John pumping up the train tracks on a handcar is particularly badly judged.

Still, as escapist, big budget, thrills'n'spills action movie, The Lone Ranger, quibbles aside, does hit the spot. But don't take my word for it, take the word of the teenage lads beside me in the cinema, who watched the whole thing with wrapt attention, before turning to each other at the end and proclaiming firmly: 'That was good.'

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