A critical and commercial flop in the US, The Lone Ranger arrives here trailing the stink of failure but there’s no need to hold your nose – it’s much much better than you’ve heard. Yes, this $250million reboot for the vintage radio and TV character is overlong, over indulgent and tonally uneven, but it’s also stuffed full of deadpan comedy, breakneck thrills and breathtaking visual spectacle.
It helps, of course, if you’re not allergic to Johnny Depp in wilfully eccentric comic mode. Reuniting with Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski, he’s as quirky as ever, his kooky Comanche loner Tonto a near cousin to roguish pirate captain Jack Sparrow.
And it’s Depp’s character who sets the film’s mood and acts as its unreliable narrator, with the story framed as a tale told by the wrinkled and befuddled elderly Tonto to a young boy visiting a Wild West sideshow in 1933 San Francisco – a device that excuses (if you’re feeling generous) the most bizarre touches that follow.
Tonto’s tale explains how upright lawman John Reid (Armie Hammer, who played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network) came to don the black mask and white hat of the wrong-righting Lone Ranger in 1869 Texas, via brushes with vicious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and rapacious railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). And Tonto’s tale also explains how he himself came to be an outcast from his tribe and why he became the Ranger’s sidekick.
For some, the sight of a white actor playing an American Indian will be repugnant; some will be repelled by Depp’s face paint, feathers and stuffed crow headdress; others will find his comic shtick of feeding the dead bird crumbs the turn off.
These may be deal-breakers for you; but if you’re happy to enter into the spirit of the enterprise then it’s hugely entertaining. The big action set pieces – including a pair of sequences aboard runaway trains – combine rambunctious sprawling spectacle with a clockwork comic precision. And Depp and Hammer’s double act works like a dream, giving Tonto and the Lone Ranger’s sidekick-hero relationship ironic twists and kinks that acknowledge the change in sensibilities since the duo’s heyday.
But the film doesn’t overdo the irony. There are innocent pleasures to be had here, too. And when score composer Hans Zimmer hands the baton over to Rossini and the rousing strains of the William Tell Overture (theme, of course, to the original radio and TV series) appear on the soundtrack, ready to spur the heroes to another impossible feat of derring-do, it’s hard not to be stirred and swept away.
7 out of 10