While it's pointless to speculate why the film performed the way it did, we can acknowledge that the movie is a much more interesting and complex mechanism than most made it out to be. Of course, whether all those mechanisms cohered competently and entertainingly continues to be a source of debate between those who found the film to be messy, bloated misfire and the small few who believe Verbinski has crafted something of an expensive anti-blockbuster blockbuster. And certainly the filmmaker's stamp is on the movie from the lovely framing to a number of flourishes that might have left some taken aback. When we asked Verbinski if he was worried about whether or not anything in the movie was too weird, he fired back: "I hope so. I hope there's a lot that's too weird."
So below, we break it down: the good, the bad, and the weird of "The Lone Ranger." And needless to say, spoilers undoubtedly will follow.
No matter how you feel about "The Lone Ranger" for the first two hours or so of its epically immense running time, once The Lone Ranger, in full regalia, atop his mighty steed Silver, starts riding alongside a speeding locomotive, you can't help but give into the wild, over-the-top world that Verbinski and co. have created. Or, at the very least, you'll crack a smile. Verbinski has showed this kind of gonzo inventiveness before; for the climax of his "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy, he had two massive ships firing at one another while being swirled around in a massive whirlpool. The director shows an unparalleled sense of spatial geography and comic timing, with a knack for escalating the stakes within the sequence until the tension becomes nearly unbearable (something Robert Zemeckis used to be oh-so-very-good at). Even though the sequence involves at least two speeding trains (on parallel tracks), you always know what's happening where in any given moment during the sequence. The gags are piled on, one on top of the other, with a child shooting grapes at a monstrous cavalryman gleefully embellishing a moment where Tonto (Depp) uses a ladder to walk from one train to the other in a moment of Buster Keaton-esque physical comedy derring-do (other amazing moments: a gunfight between the trains, a horse jumping between two cars of the train, and Ruth Wilson perilously dangling off the side of one of them). As far as summertime action set pieces go, it's unlikely anything will top the last twenty minutes or so of "The Lone Ranger." It's that jaw-dropping.
There are a lot of things wrong and weird about “The Lone Ranger,” which we’ll get into shortly, but none of the failures of the film can land at the feet of two leads, Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. For better or worse, the script puts them at odds with one another for most of the picture, but the pair share a great chemistry, with Hammer forging his own identity as the principled hero, which is no small feat against someone as charismatic as Depp, who could easily steal the entire picture out of from under him. And though Tonto is right up Depp’s usual weirdo alley, it’s not a simple Jack Sparrow rehash as many critics lazily countered, as the character is less informed by eyeliner and alcohol, and given a new shape by an almost silent comedy approach. He’s an endearing oddball, but also an emotionally and spiritually wounded one, and Depp finds those notes. Extra points go to a barely recognizable William Fichtner as the truly vicious and fearsome Butch Cavendish, while Tom Wilkinson has some fun smarming it up as the duplicitous railroad baron Cole.
Unlike most of the summer movies that have slammed headfirst into movie theaters this year, "The Lone Ranger" luxuriates (perhaps a little too long) in its own visual opulence, mostly uncluttered by elaborate computer-generated imagery. (It's got its fair share of visual effects but they're mostly seamless and hidden, subtly deployed mostly during the train chase sequence at the end.) Instead, "The Lone Ranger" takes in the John Ford-y vistas for all their widescreen grandeur, at one point the image seems to flicker, like it's faltering under the weight of its own beauty. Everything about "The Lone Ranger" is designed for maximum aesthetic impact— the smooth contours of the trains, every rusty button on every period-specific costume, the way that the glass of the train cars cracks and crunches like old school glass. The movie is overwhelmingly beautiful and Verbinski and company give you ample time to soak in its majesty.
For better or worse, there's nobody who could have made this "Lone Ranger" besides Gore Verbinski. He is a singular talent, whose imagination rendered things like the train chase but also insisted on oddball elements like the wraparound story (more on that in a minute), and some of the more self-indulgent flourishes that so many have found so off-putting. But in strictly directorial terms, "The Lone Ranger" is a stunner. There are subtle things like the whip pan that accompanies the arrival of the Texas rangers in the film's opening train sequence, and the way a computer generated herd of buffalo get out of the way of a steaming train in the same scene, but there are also more flashy embellishments, like the drop of poison that drips into a character's bedside water glass but also liquefies an entire, unrelated frame of Tonto and the Lone Ranger traveling through a sandy desert, or the shot that follows a character as he cascades (mid-air) through a train car. Both exaggerated and simplistic, these moments are all Gore's. Before a public screening of the film in New Mexico recently, Verbinski stated that he was really trying to do something "different." He succeeded. Beautifully.
Composer Hans Zimmer has cooked up a number of memorable scores for Verbinski, most notably the still-unreleased scores for both "The Ring" and "The Weather Man," and "The Lone Ranger" is no exception. When we talked to Verbinski last month about the movie, he said that Zimmer used the "William Tell Overture" as the blueprint for the entire score. He said that Zimmer was responsible for "taking out the motif." "You hear it early on and there are tertiary fragments that are little themes throughout," Verbinski explained to us. "It all accrues during the finale." Zimmer stepped into the production late after bluesy rocker Jack White, who had originally been commissioned to write the music, had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts following the movie's brief cancellation, and absolutely knocked it out of the park. It's more subtle and mournful than Zimmer's similar score to Verbinski's animated western "Rango," but it's also more epic and sweeping. Just awesome.