I get the feeling that Disney is planning films for as many of the sections of its theme park as it can. Fantasyland has been their focus for decades now: you only need look at their history of animated motion pictures. Brother Bear and the probably-never-to-be-re-released Song of the South find their home in Critter Country (formerly Bear Country). More recently, however, New Orleans Square has been captured by the likes of The Princess and the Frog, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion; Brad Bird’s next film is Tomorrowland, seemingly based on the same section of Disneyland; and currently we have The Lone Ranger, presumably to be featured in Frontierland sometime soon.
It’s abundantly clear that Disney was hoping for another Pirates of the Caribbean-type success with The Lone Ranger. So much so that they reportedly pumped $215 million (excluding marketing) into a western, something that hasn’t had mega-success with the general cinema-going public for years now. Time will tell whether the film does well enough to lead to a sequel, but at first blush it certainly seems that they’ve duplicated that which (supposedly) worked so well for pirates: here we have a perfectly entertaining yet completely forgettable cinema experience. To be more precise: whilst watching The Lone Ranger I was certainly enthralled, but the moment I stepped out of the cinema, I knew I’d never watch it again.
Armie Hammer stars John Reid, a man returning home to see his brother Dan (James Badge Dale), a Texas Ranger. Though he doesn’t know it, the train he’s travelling on also contains the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and Tonto (Johnny Depp), a Native American. One thoroughly expensive explosive action set piece later and Hammer’s been co-opted as a Ranger, and he and Tonto are hot on the heels of Cavendish.
As many people may already know, I’m not the biggest fan of the Pirates franchise. The Lone Ranger is at least better than the worst of those, insofar as the story mostly makes sense. It also does a good job of explaining why John and Tonto don’t fit into their respective communities; they’re both outsiders, and for a multiplicity of reasons. The rest of the characters don’t get anywhere near as much depth, however. Butch is simply a bad guy, whilst the female characters, Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson) and Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter) do nothing more than fulfill the roles of damsel in distress and object of male affection.
The action scenes are decent without ever becoming truly thrilling. Initial trailers seemed to suggest that the film wouldn’t be too reliant on CGI. Having now seen it, I can certainly tell you that the first half of the film appears to be practical (though I’m sure it’s not) whilst the climax very quickly devolves into a chaotic CGI clusterf*ck. Sure, this film mightn’t feature krakens and undead pirates, but it still remains in the realm of the impossible. That being said, at its best moments, director Gore Verbinski et al appear to be aiming for a Buster Keaton/The General-type vibe for some of the train-bound action scenes, which is never a bad thing. The humour, however, falls flat most of the time.
At the end of the day, The Lone Ranger is an accomplished yet thoroughly unsatisfying film. It’ll kill two and half hours(!) admirably, but Verbinkski is yet to come close to the achievements of his first feature, Mousehunt.Rating: