Has there even been a movie that you've heard is horrible yet your mind just REFUSES to believe it? You're like “NO WAY! ___________ is involved in it, it's impossible it could suck!” and then you go see it... and discover everyone was totally right. Hopefully that isn't today's review of Disney's The Lone Ranger, because on paper it's doing a lot of right thing. This movie is from the director and writers one of our my favourite films of all time, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. And its... less than stellar sequels. Ahem, moving on.
They also cast “I wish there was a bigger and better word than awesome to describe him” Johnny Depp, who also starred in the Curse of the Black Pearl. And while this is a dreaded remake/reboot/re-imagining, it's at least of a franchise that has been dormant for decades and looks to be a fresh take on a genre we don't see that often for something new. The icing on the cake is when I was very young I freaking LOVED the Lone Ranger, I thought he was just the coolest thing in the world.
On the other hand, this movie got terrible reviews and flopped HARD. Just like World War Z the film suffered from some major production and overspending problems that led to it getting delayed multiple times. By the time it finally came out on July 3, 2013 it had set Disney back an estimated $225 million dollars with an additional $150 million spent on advertising. It couldn't even clear first place on the All-Important Opening Week, coming in second to the box office beast that was Despicable Me 2.
There is also the fact that big budget westerns DON'T work any more in terms of bringing in the dollars, as evidenced by Wild, Wild West, Cowboys And Aliens, and more recently A Million Ways To Die In The West. But I'm still going into this one very optimistic because the odds of me watching critically reviled movies are BOUND to turn around in my favour one of these times! Melt down some highly valuable silver to waste on bullets, saddle up the horse, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus The Lone Ranger!
The film opens in... 1933 at a San Francisco carnival?! Okay, didn't expect that. A young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger is looking at the exhibits of the wild west, going from buffalo to bear to one of a Native American labeled “The Noble Savage”. Charming America, really charming. However the statue of the Native American isn't a statue, it's actually a very old Tonto who seems to think the boy is the Lone Ranger. The boy corrects him and takes off his mask, but Tonto warns him to never do that. The boy asks why not, and we flash back to Tonto and the Lone Ranger in their prime.
Oh, so this is going to be an “older character tells us a story” kind of movie eh? Alright, I'll play. They are on horseback outside a town, the Ranger asking Tonto if he's sure about the mask. Tonto assures him it'll “strike fear into the hearts of his enemies”. They ride into town to... rob a bank? What the hell is going on here? Everyone in the bank just stares at them, one man asking what's with the mask.
The Ranger is definitely goofy, as I'm guessing this must be early in his career before he became a badass. We pause mid-robbery to cut back to the present, the boy (rightfully so) saying the Lone Ranger and Tonto were good guys and wouldn't rob a bank. Tonto replies there comes a time when a good man must wear a mask, as we flashback even further to Colby, Texas in 1869. I'm probably going to be really annoyed if the movie does this a lot. I'm not saying multiple flashbacks don't have their place in a movie, but it requires a lot of skill to make it work and somehow I'm thinking this movie won't have that.
In Colby, we watch as workers build a railroad. The head of the railroad company, Mr. Latham Cole, is holding a press conference nearby as we get a quick glimpse of Helena Bonham Carter, which if you know anything about the United States Constitution one of the amendments says she has to appear in the vast majority of Johnny Depp films or we have to pay her like a bajillion dollars in restitution.
Citizens of the Comanche tribe are present as well, Cole assuring him the railroad won't disrupt their lives as long as peace remains between them and that all treaties will be honoured. He also announces he's bringing famous outlaw and “Indian-killer” Butch Cavendish into town to hang for his crimes. We cut to the train bringing Cavendish to Colby, which also happens to contain the two heroes of our little story. They're in different roles though, as the Ranger (better known as District Attorney John Reid) is riding in a passenger car while Tonto is chained in a prison car next to Cavendish.
The outlaw's gang comes to spring their leader, John noticing them and following them to the back of the train where the prison car is. Cavendish is able to escape his bonds thanks in part to a pistol suspiciously hidden nearby, about to shoot Tonto when John bursts in and stops him. But things quickly take a turn for the worse as Cavendish's gang arrives, freeing their leader and shackling up the lawyer. Instead of shooting him because, um... Cavendish needs a protagonist to play off against?
The outlaws kill the conductor before they leave, chaining the train's accelerator controls all the way down so it'll crash and kill all the passengers. John and Tonto manage to escape and unhook the passenger cars from the engine to save everyone with the help of John's brother Dan, a Texas Ranger in town to see Cavendish make it to the gallows.
Tonto tries to leave after this but John arrests him and throws him in jail. Dan's wife Rebecca bursts in to make sure her husband was okay, finding only John instead. We learn they dated when they were younger and are still obviously in love with each other. It's kind of hinted at John left for college for Rebecca ended up with Dan instead, but I REALLY had to dig to get that. Cole wants the outlaw brought back into custody immediately, as he's promised the public a hanging. However the condescending manner in which he speaks to Dan kinda makes me wonder if he's not going to end up being a bad guy. He is a railroad tycoon in a western after all...
Dan and the Rangers take off in pursuit of Cavendish, Dan deputizing John to accompany them. They ride into a canyon where they see a white horse off in the distance, Dan telling John the Comanche believe they're “spirit horses come to take people to the other side”. I'm sure that was him just making small talk and that will in no way come up again. Dan tries to give his young brother a gun, but John refuses as he doesn't believe in guns. He deputized a man who has no interest in guns or likely any kind of Ranger training because... uh, origin story? So far John is a very naïve and idealistic young man, calling the writings of John Locke “his Bible” at one point. Does this mean we'll soon see him roaming around a mysterious island and killing strangers with a knife? Ha hah, just kidding! I know John Locke was the guy who signed the Declaration of Independence in real big letters!
They ride further into the canyon, which looks like it'd be the most obvious place in the world for an ambush but amazingly it isn't- oh no wait, it totally is. They get ambushed, trying to ride away as the Rangers are picked off one by one. John's horse is hit, Dan going back to save his brother but instead is turned into a recreation of Sean Bean in Lord of the Rings with bullets instead of arrows.
John is the last to fall, shot while trying to carry Dan to safety. Cavendish rides up, Dan taunting the outlaw with what I'm pretty sure is the first prison rape joke to make its way into a Disney movie. There MIGHT have been one in Bambi, but I can't quite recall. Cavendish responds by CUTTING OUT HIS HEART AND EATING IT AND HOLY SHIT THIS IS A DISNEY MOVIE. They don't show it directly, instead showing the horrified and sicken faces of Cavendish's men while playing some downright disturbing sound effects. John, bleeding out, witnesses this before he falls unconscious. We also learn Collins, one of Dan's old friends and part of the posse, betrayed him to the FREAKING CANNIBAL IN A DISNEY MOVIE.
Tonto shows up, having escaped from jail somehow, and buries all the Rangers but not before helping himself to some of their possessions while wacky music plays. This is right after showing a montage of all the dead Rangers and playing mournful music, because that makes it FUNNIER, right? He discovers John is not quite dead however, knocking him out with a rock and preparing to bury him alive. Wow, are they going to put a spin on this by making TONTO the bad guy? Because that'd be AWESOME!
Before the Comanche can finish killing John, the white spirit horse (let's just call him Silver because duh!) appears by his grave which seems to indicate to Tonto that John has been “chosen”. Tonto tries to argue that Dan should be the chosen one, but Silver is all “Fuck that, I don't see James Badge Dale's name on the poster!” and picks John again. Tonto relents, taking John away to perform some kind of bizarre ritual on him. He awakens later, learning from Tonto that he is now a Spirit Walker: a man who has been to the other side and returned, as well as being unable to die in battle. He tells John he believes Cavendish to be a “windigo”, an evil spirit with a hunger that cannot be satisfied as well as the ability to throw nature out of balance. Tonto illustrates this by throwing some meat at a group of nearby rabbits, who spout vicious fans and devour it and oh wow my zombie brain is already starting to hurt.
In my reviews for Man of Steel and Robocop (2014) I talked about how both those movies had TOO MUCH STUFF going on. That's how all these summer blockbusters are nowadays, they pack in as many subplots as humanly possible because it's supposed to make movies look MOAR EPIC but usually just invokes the grandfather of this bullshit, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Tonto, the last of the windigo hunters, had a vision a Spirit Walker will aid him in vanquishing the windigo once and for all. John is all “whatever, I just want revenge” as he's very pro-violence now. Tonto gives him a silver bullet, saying “it's what made the windigo and will return him to the Earth”. John, not believing any of this, goes to leave when Tonto reveals he got ARRESTED ON PURPOSE so he'd get imprisoned with Cavendish and be able to kill him. Ah, the good ol' captured on purpose ploy. Not getting tired of that one yet Hollywood!
He also reveals that there was a gun hidden on the train and he only dug seven graves, yet there were eight men in the posse hunting Cavendish. John realizes Collins sold them out, and is now on board with helping Tonto. Tonto gives him an outfit made from his brother's jacket, which includes the infamous mask that'll allow him to hide his identity from the world so Cavendish and his gang will think he's dead. 54 minutes in and we FINALLY have our title character and YE GODS there's still like ninety minutes left.
They head into town to visit a brothel that Collins mentioned he liked to attend, where they meet with Madame Red, Helena Bonham Carter's character. Upon seeing John she asks “What's with the mask?” and I think we have our running gag here! Red starts talking about her clients, an offhand mark about “railroaders” immediately making John think she's talking about Cole. Damn, this guy is genre savvy! I thought jumping to conclusions based off character stereotype was MY job! But no, Cole isn't one of her clients as we learn he's been CASTRATED.
And just to distract us from the fact they just introduced a Disney character that's been CASTRATED, Red reveals one of her legs is fake and is actually a GIANT SHOTGUN and I think someone spiked the pig's blood I'm drinking with LSD. John asks about Collins but she's stiff lipped until Tonto name drops Cavendish, then she's more than happy to help. I really hope they don't reveal he ate her leg because that'd just be horribly messed up. She says Collins and Dan were in her brothel about a week ago, arguing about something they found out in the desert. Red shows them a giant silver nugget they paid her with, John going to touch it but Tonto yells at him it's cursed. But naturally John touches it anyway, getting a bizarre vision of Rebecca and her son Danny being attacked by the Comanche.
A posse shows up to take Tonto, as we learn the Comanche have violated the treaty by attacking settlements all over the area. Red advises the two to escape out the back, as we do indeed learn Cavendish ate her leg. You stay classy Disney! They ride off to Rebecca's, as John is worried his vision was accurate and Rebecca will be next to get attacked. By the time they get there she is long gone and her home is burned to the ground. Tonto tells him it wasn't Comanche that did this, John going to argue when they hear a scream from the barn.
In the barn we find one of Cavendish's men dressed like a woman and torturing Rebecca's maid... who is Hispanic... by... holding up dresses to her? He dives out a window to escape them as we see the Comanche are really just Cavendish's men in disguise. John attempts to get them to surrender, but they just shoot at him. One of the men quips “What's with the mask?”
The two end up trapped in a burning barn, but escape with the help of Silver who magically teleports to the roof of the barn. That's just... weird. John asks if the horse can fly, but Tonto tells him to be stupid. NO REALLY, can the horse fly?! Silver also magically appeared when the two were trying to escape Red's, so I'm thinking this is going to happen a lot whenever the writers feel like being lazy. Which judging by what we've seen so far, I'm going to guess the entire movie. They should have should called Silver “Deus Ex Equine-a”.
John, who hasn't fired a gun in nine years, attempts to fire a warning shot at the gang but his bullet ricochets off numerous things (including the crow on Tonto's head) until it severs a rope holding a giant wood beam up that CRUSHES THE HEADS of two of the gang members. Cross-dresser gets away but John and Tonto take off after him.
The next day we journey to Cavendish's camp where he's holding Rebecca and Danny prisoner. Cross-dresser shows up, telling Cavendish the ghost of Dan Reid is now after him. The cannibal orders Collins to kill Rebecca and Danny... so why'd he bother taking them prisoner then if he was just going to kill them? He never asked her for any information and thankfully never did anything disturbing to her, so this entire scene is totally pointless. Collins takes them behind some rocks, but does the “fire shots into the ground to pretend I killed them” thing and tells them to run. They don't get very far until they're stopped by a mystery man on a horse, who kills Collins for letting them go. Gosh, the silhouette of the mystery man sure looks familiar... almost railroad tycoon-like in nature.
We catch up to John and Tonto, who are lost in the desert. As they bicker like an old married couple I'm forced to analyze what I think of our heroes so far because there's nothing else going on here to keep me interested. Their dynamic reminds me a LOT of Will Turner and Jack Sparrow from Pirates, John is a goofy idiot who is in love with a woman forbidden to him while Tonto is the goofy idiot who actually is really wise and can only speak in funny one liners.
The big difference though is they have this all wrong. In the Curse of the Black Pearl, Will Turner spent the movie learning to be a hero and stand up for what is right. Now John is doing the same thing, however he BEGINS as a noble and honest man who believes in law and order. But he soon learns that's all bullshit: the ONLY way to live a proper life is the be an outlaw vigilante that isn't bound by any of those silly ideals he spent his entire life dedicated to and deal whoever gets in his way without a trial. There's even this bizarre anti-intellectualism tone early in the movie where he gets mocked for being smart and reading books.
But I guess they realize this movie already feels like it's three hours long so Tonto finds some railroad tracks buried under the desert. We cut back to the present for NO REASON whatsoever, so the film quickly returns to the past just in time for John to get shot with an arrow. I guess that was boring too, so we instead go to the Comanche border where the railroad workers are building on as Cole has declared all their treaties null and void. There's also a brief scene where one of Cole's men brings him crates of explosives, Cole telling him to hide them somewhere else. The United States Calvary arrives (which was also hinted at in John's vision), called in by Cole to deal with his “Indian problem”. This is another part where the tone of the movie is all over the place, it's trying to pretend it has this HUGE MYSTERY going on when it's so blatantly obvious as to what is that every scene is just wasting our time.
Cole is the bad guy behind everything, hiring Cavendish and his men to pretend to be Comanches and kill everyone so that the treaties will be declared null and void. This will allow Cole to keep building his railroad for more money and power, because that's what bad guys did in the 1800s. I probably have a few details wrong, but I'd bet good money I have the overall plot down to a tee. Probably because we've seen this plot 80 billion times already.
Click here for Part 2!