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What Went Wrong? The Good, The Bad & The Weird Of Disney's 'The Lone Ranger'

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 8, 2013 at 12:24PM

Disney's "The Lone Ranger," a lavish period epic directed by Gore Verbinski, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, had kind of a rough weekend. It began with an unprecedented critical pile-on (there have been some to leap to the film's defense, like Matt Zoller Seitz, who described the movie as a "personal picture, violent and sweet, clever and goofy... as obsessive and overbearing as Steven Spielberg's "1941' — and as likely to be re-evaluated twenty years from now, and described as 'misunderstood'") and ended with a limp box office tally that couldn't even top the middling opening weekend gross of Disney's forgettable franchise nonstarter "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."
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The Lone Ranger

The Bad

Too Fucking Long
There's no reason that a movie called "The Lone Ranger" should clock in at at an ass-straining 2 hours and 30 minutes. No reason. And yet there seems to be very little fat in terms of what to cut out, which led to one of the film's editors, James Haygood, to publicly defend the film's length and editorial integrity, on his Facebook page (he also gets some well-placed jabs in at the movie's critical response). "I know I wish the script had allowed me to shave out more, but we went through, over and over and over, looking for things to lift, but there's a point you just break the film - it stops making internal sense, and THAT becomes the problem," Haygood wrote. "We decided to make each scene as efficient as possible, and to make sure going from one scene to the next made sense. That was our mission." Verbinski's movies are never tight on time (his third "Pirates" movie ran nearly 3 hours) and part of their charm lies in their sometimes meandering aimlessness. But "The Lone Ranger" needed to be a 100 minutes of all killer, no filler funtimes. Instead, it's burdened by a wraparound story (see below) and a number of scenes which are extraneous in the first place, but within the movie seem to drag it down with excessive bagginess. Had the movie been cut down, it might have lost some of its hangdog atmosphere, and at a trim 2 hours would've likely been at least more enjoyable— and not just because it would have gotten us to the train chase 30 minutes earlier.

The Lone Ranger
The Framing Device
The year is 1933, and Tonto now works for a traveling sideshow, acting as a human mannequin in a Wild West tent, as part of a diorama detailing “The Noble Savage in His Natural Habitat.” When a young boy walks by wearing a Lone Ranger costume (we’ll bet a factory somewhere is cranking them out for Halloween), Tonto feels compelled to break the fourth wall and tell him the true story of how he met the masked hero, the genocide of his people, a heart-eating bad guy, land deals, murder and whorehouse madams. Where are this kid’s parents? How is he not freaked out and/or bored? Where’s The Lone Ranger? Is he dead? How come no one else walks by the display? How did Tonto end up here? Can that kid be any more annoying? Can the script be any more spoonfed by continually jumping back to this kid (which grinds the movie to a staggering halt each time) to ask thuddingly obvious questions? That Verbinski made this element— above anything else— the “deal breaker” in making the movie his way or not at all, is perhaps the most baffling part of all of this. The director says he wanted to tell “The Lone Ranger” from Tonto’s point-of-view, but does so in the most ham-fisted, literal way possible while still managing to make it confusing, and a constant fork-in-the-spokes to the pace of the movie. Aside from Nick Carraway titling his psych-exercise memoir “The Great Gatsby,” this may be one of the more embarrassing, blundering narrative missteps of the year.

The Lone Ranger
Lone Ranger & Tonto Aren’t A Team Until Too Late
Call it origin-story-itis, or the result of the filmmakers already thinking one or two movies ahead (franchise!), but the most disappointing aspect of “The Lone Ranger” is that we don’t really get the iconic hero we’ve known for decades until the final third of the movie. On the one hand, perhaps it can be understood that the masked man— despite being a pop culture staple and/or reference for over seven decades— needs to be re-introduced and contextualized for a modern audience. And sure, it probably makes sense to add a bit more to Tonto’s sidekick role, especially when you get an A-list actor like Johnny Depp to play him. But the movie overplays its hand in establishing every minute detail of The Lone Ranger and Tonto’s pre-fame life, and their tedious journey to become crime-fighting pals. This means, essentially, the audience has to sit and wait for these two to go through the familiar motions of learning to trust each other, complete with the standard cliché that finds them splitting up— oh no!— only to come back together again about ten minutes later. So instead of the rootin’-tootin’ adventure the advertising tries to sell, with these two classic characters, much of the film finds them constantly at odds, not becoming a true team until the final train chase sequence—  but by then, it’s too late. As the “William Tell Overture” roars over the theater speakers, hoping to shorthand the transition from bickering buds to heroic duo, the moment feels unearned. 

The Lone Ranger
The Abrupt Tonal Shifts
Wholesale slaughter of Native Americans, a human organ-eating bad guy, harshly treated indentured Chinese laborers, corporate boardroom maneuvering... bring the kids! It would seem that in Disney’s dance to keep the budget down, no one really bothered to read the script or perhaps realized what a wildly uneven mix of tones the resulting film would be. Sure, Gore Verbinski delivers the action (two massive train sequences), and there’s no end to the assorted array of hijinks between the Lone Ranger and Tonto. But the film’s continual and abrupt shifts to “dark” and “mature” throughout may have parents questioning whether it was wise to bring their kids at all. Riding what must be the limits of PG-13, and certainly the edgiest Disney movie in ages, the film’s desire to make a point about the bloody path history left in its wake when it came to building the West, belongs in an entirely different movie. Verbinski simply doesn’t have the nuanced hand required to go from the wacky, Odd Couple antics of his heroes to the more sober, history-lesson segments in the film, which include a flashback as we witness Tonto’s tribe get murdered en masse. As for the fearsome Butch Cavendish, William Fichtner plays him perfectly, giving a real sense of unpredictable danger. But in a movie where the actual bad guy is really the evil Corporate Leader, who is taking over the West via some shady dealing (zzzzzzzz), the human flesh connoisseur and murder happy Butch feels like a leftover element from a darker (and yet zanier) version of this movie, who in the final act, winds up as the secondary bad guy anyway.

The Lone Ranger, Ruth Wilson
Not-So-Romantic Romance
Every hero needs a girl to come home to, but we can’t recall the last time a blockbuster romance was this oddly formed and borderline inappropriate. On the one hand, perhaps there is something to be said for the logic-driven, John Locke-reading, straight-as-an-arrow John Reid having a thing for this brother’s wife. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in history something like that happened, and it’s an interesting texture to have our hero’s heart wrapped up in something entirely, seemingly unattainable. But, the script doesn’t give John much of a journey to win the heart of Rebecca Reid. Her son (his nephew) already likes him, they openly flirt with each other in front of his brother Dan solidifying their feelings for each other, and once he gets murdered, John doesn’t waste much time after he’s in the ground to make his move. John is presented as a goodhearted, noble man, fighting for a righteous cause, but his relationship with Rebecca is a weird mix of contrived, undercooked and slightly distasteful. (Not to mention that Rebecca’s mourning period for her husband, lasts all of a few seconds, with her heart drawn to John from the start.) While John might be upset that Dan had to die, in the end, it made him a hero and landed him a brand new family all in one fell swoop. It seems dying is the best thing his brother Dan ever did for him.

This article is related to: The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp, Features, Jerry Bruckheimer, Armie Hammer, Gore Verbinski, Tom Wilkinson


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