August Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 11 years ago

Hollywood has been busy lately trying to breathe new life into old comic book heroes such as Superman and Batman. So it is not surprising that producers would eventually try their hand at rebooting an American Old West hero for modern audiences. The Lone Ranger, directed by Gore Verbinski, is based on a 1930s American radio show about a masked vigilante with a strong moral compass. But while the title bears the hero’s moniker, the crowd-puller in this $255 million action film is the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick Tonto, played by Johnny Depp.

Unfortunately, not only was Depp unable to save the film from harsh criticism and box-office failure, but was also one the main reasons for the film being widely panned.

Depp has made a career out of portraying eccentric characters. And it seems that after the likes of Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter, his role as Tonto, complete with an outlandish get-up and , mystifying persona, is somewhat tedious. In addition there has been controversy about a white actor. But to his credit, Depp has revealed that he has Cherokee ancestry.

The problems with The Lone Ranger go beyond Johnny Depp and one of the main flaws is that the namesake hero fails to make a mark. The statuesque Armie Hammer (best known for his performance as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network) cuts quite the figure in his black and white cowboy costume.

But standing next to Depp, who has a dead crow perched atop his head and white paint all over his face,
Hammer often fails to maintain the audience’s attention.

The script doesn’t do much service to Hammer either. The film begins with an aged Tonto relating the story of the Lone Ranger to a young boy at a fair. Cutting to a flashback, we watch a train, releasing thick plumes of black smoke, speed through a barren landscape. In one train carriage we find John Reid, a young man devotedly reading Two Treatises of Government by John Locke (which he tells a fellow passenger is his Bible) and in another we have Tonto held imprisoned for being a Native American warrior. Armed men on horseback, who have come to rescue their ringleader Butch Cavendish, who was also imprisoned in the carriage with Tonto, attack the train. In the midst of the chaos, Reid and Tonto find themselves chained to each other and fighting off armed thugs on top of a speeding train.

The action scenes are more slapstick than thrilling and while the physical comedy is initially entertaining, for the most part the film fails to strike the right note. In some scenes, the film reads as a burlesque of retro western films, while in others it tries to present itself as a sincere reimagining of The Lone Ranger franchise.

Butch’s men later kill Reid’s brother, a heroic Texas Ranger, in an ambush. To avenge this death, Reid assumes the persona of the Lone Ranger and joins forces with Tonto. Johnny Depp’s performance has been divisive, as mentioned earlier. And the more attention there is on Depp as the bemusing Tonto, the less the audiences care about Hammer as Lone Ranger. There is little chance of a film being successful if the hero is the second most important character in the film. And the box-office numbers reflect that: The Lone Ranger is struggling to recover the film’s massive budget, much of which was spent on creating massive train wrecks on-screen. Little did the producers know that the film would turn out to be a train-wreck itself.

Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.