What Pirates of the Caribbean was to pirate films, it’s clear that The Lone Ranger was meant to be for westerns. Disney even hired the same writers, the same director, and the same actor, to start what they thought would be a huge franchise. To take The Lone Ranger on those terms, it’s clearly a failure – it doesn’t quite have the verve or energy of Pirates of the Caribbean, it was a major financial flop, and it was fairly reviled, critically. And yet… judged in isolation, this is actually a pretty good movie.
At its core, the same energy that drives Pirates of the Caribbean is there in The Lone Ranger. There are lots of fun and exciting characters, a frenetic verve and sense of humor that keeps the action moving. Armie Hammer is charmingly bland as the titular Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp is at a fairly effective and inoffensive level of eccentricity as Tonto (though it does approach the line of being offensively eccentric fairly frequently); William Fichtner and Tom Wilkinson are nearly unrecognizable and gleefully villainous as antagonists. The plot, though relatively incoherent, is streamlined enough that the objectives of each scene are almost always clear.
Unfortunately, the film manages to massively misuse two separate excellent female actresses. Ruth Wilson, who has the capacity to be so much more, to show many more facets of personality, is only ever asked to be the damsel-in-distress, complacently distressed by the situations she is placed into, only occasionally succeeding in taking some modicum of control. On the other hand, Helena Bonham Carter is properly-used, but underutilized, as a badass local madame – she could have appeared in approximately 20% more of the film and it would have been all the better for it.
The Lone Ranger seems to have some interesting sentiments as regards grotesque capitalism and the place of the white man in destroying the world of the native Americans. This subtext could be entirely problematic within the context of this particular film so it’s thankfully left latent and never explored fully.
All in all, this is probably an underrated film, more fun than not, with some very exciting action sequences (the epic final set-piece, scored to the finale from the William Tell Overture, is entirely engrossing), deserving of a real critical re-evaluation.
I’m of two minds as to whether or not it’s a good thing that this film will almost certainly never get a sequel; on the one hand, if the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels are any indication, there’s a high probability that a The Lone Ranger sequel would be a huge creative misfire. On the other hand, this does seem like a franchise and a world with stories that are begging to be told, with legends and myths that deserve to be constructed and deconstructed, and this film does seem to have at least laid a foundation that might have been successfully capitalized. Maybe we just don’t deserve good things, or maybe we’re better off for not seeing this turned into a franchise.
It’s also worth mentioning, as a footnote, that The Lone Ranger is another in a long line of films to criminally under-use Stephen Root, one of the most underrated actors ever.