Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Movie Review - The Lone Ranger (Disney 2013)

I went to see The Lone Ranger with fairly low expectations which is apparently a good thing based on the reaction from family and friends who went in with high expectations. Even though I generally enjoy Johnny Depp's characters, from the trailer I was expecting tons of cheese from his "Jack Sparrow turned zany Indian" paired up with the hapless cowboy. While this sounded entertaining and the trailer showed a fair amount of running, jumping and exploding action, I still wasn't expecting a 5 star movie. I'm not quite sure why.

The movie opens in 1933, which confused me at first until I quickly surmised that we were going to receive the story in flashback form. The first character we get to know is a young boy dressed up as the Lone Ranger wandering through a carnival museum of the old west. I actually really liked the kid they had playing that part. He wasn't the best actor but he had a lot of childish awe and wonder as he listened intently to the origin story of the Lone Ranger being presented him. I loved his wide-eyed amazement and questioning as aspects of the story played out. He made for a fun intermediary for the story.

As to the main story, it's told mostly linearly but with a little skipping back and forth at times as well as a few instances where we skip over key moments in the actual story that are just left unanswered ("how did you get out of jail?", for example). The storytelling is generally pretty straightforward though at times it tries to explicitly leave elements mysterious or unanswered in some attempt for dramatic tension. In these moments the hidden bits felt either obvious or pointless comments and in either case didn't seem to add any tension to the story. The few surprise twists, on the other hand, were handed to us in the form of clues that weren't explicitly brought forward as clues and thus there was some payoff in figuring things out as a viewer. The biggest revelation was actually pretty well played. Thanks to the clues, I was able to deduce the mystery long before it was revealed but I still felt like the clues were subtle and obfuscated well enough to make it interesting.

The plot had one major story arc but also has a few related story lines that spur off the central arc and return again by the end. From a very high level the story seems to be about the Ranger hunting down the main villain with the help of Tonto. As the story progresses, we find other story lines interlacing with this central plot until we have a variety of plots for many of the central characters, each of which intersects with the main story in a compelling way. While there were a lot of coincidences (as is often the case), I felt like the story lines were compelling and the overall plot was pretty interesting.

One of the big complaints against the movie that I've heard has to do with the level of violence. Rather than sticking with the comic-book style violence of the old Lone Ranger stories or the more "off-screen" violence from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this film has more on-screen violence than may be expected. The central villain in the film is brutally violent in ways that are more over the top than your standard Disney film. And while true-to-nature, the senseless and brutal way the "civilized" soldiers dealt with the Indians was a stark contrast to the comic humor the writers tried to bring in elsewhere in the film.

Speaking of the writers, I really did find a lot of cheesily funny one-liners throughout the film. It's always tough to know which ones were explicitly written in and which were due to ad-libs from folks like Johnny Depp but there were plenty of moments that were worth a chuckle. Tonto was eccentric and full of strange mannerisms and advice. While he did not wholly resemble Jack Sparrow, it was readily evident that they were the same actor and sometimes it was too obvious. There was a good amount of situational comedy and plenty of laughable physical comedy as well. The problem I had is that the comedy is juxtaposed against the harsh violence and brutality.

The other main problem I had was with the Lone Ranger himself. As I mentioned, I expected from the preview that he would be a hapless cowboy. Indeed, during his first scenes in the movie, he is a bit clueless and really shows no promise as a hero. The problem for me comes with his transformation to the Ranger. With no apparent training or explanation, he becomes an expert rider, roper and shooter racing across the West righting wrongs. I acknowledge that this is a "superhero" movie and they are filled with "zero to hero" situations. But those scenarios generally provide at least some explanation for the change. In this movie, Tonto explains that our hero is a Spirit Walker and gives some explanation of what that may mean. But he never seems to imply that it grants him sudden agility or ability as a cowboy. The Ranger's first few encounters involve a lot of blind luck. But by the end of the movie, he is showing true talent as a cowboy and I wondered at the transition.

Overall, I did enjoy this film. It was certainly a little more grim and violent than I was expecting and those aspects will grant it a confused audience especially for Disney-fan families wondering about taking their younger kids. The violent moments in this film definitely warrant a PG-13...not for younger viewers. The humor felt like a strange contrast to the harsh western environment, but I did have some good laughs. I also felt like there were a lot of plot points and characters that had more potential than they were allowed to exploit.

The last 15-20 minutes of the movie truly were the best part. At that point we get the amped up William Tell Overture (as mixed by Hans Zimmer) and some madcap action sequences with the Ranger and Tonto chasing down the bad guys. The intensity and fun of that final set was just a ton of fun and well worth the unbalanced beginning.

Was the final action sequence enough to "save" the entire film? I guess it depends on just how "lost" the film was to you. If you, like me, go in with lowered expectations, you'll probably enjoy the movie and come out on a great high from the final scenes. If you go in with heightened expectations (like my wife and some other friends/family), the first 2/3 of the film may knock the entire franchise off its pedestal and leave a bad taste in your mouth that not even a great finale can redeem. Personally, I could take or leave the film generally. I felt like Johnny Depp did a good job, as usual. Arnie Hammer was entertaining but unbalanced. I would have liked some more screen time for Helena Bonham Carter. And on the whole I would have preferred the action more of the type shown in the finale as opposed to the starker action through the rest of the film. I could be talked into seeing the movie again...but without asking I would gladly seek out and watch the last ~15 minutes again and again. It was just a lot of fun.

3.5 out of 5 stars


Brian Miller said...

you are much more generous with your stars than i would have been...yes, the first 2/3 is miserable...ha...cut my heart out like that one guy...smiles.

Okie said...

Yeah...I know from those I've talked with that I'm in the minority on this one. My wife and siblings are of the same general opinion as you that the first 2/3 of the movie was irredeemable.

Anonymous said...

Nice review Okie. As long as we don’t get a sequel or any more movies, I’ll be fine with this crap-fest.