To clear the air, The Lone Ranger is nowhere near as good as the original Pirates of the Caribbean. But because the lineage is so apparent—same director, same producer, same star—some very specific comparisons might help us see why.
But first, the plot: The Lone Ranger centers around John Reid (Armie Hammer), a big-city lawman returning to his home on the Texas frontier. After a lethal run-in with notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), Reid is resurrected by the Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp), and together they seek vengeance on Butch and the fat-cat tycoons pillaging native lands for silver and the transcontinental railroad.
And it's fun, make no mistake. The Wild West and its trappings make for rich cinematic backdrops, and the elaborately choreographed 20-minute runaway-train sequence at the film's climax is almost worth the ticket price alone. But here's where it lost the magic Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski stumbled upon in 2003:
1) In Pirates, the buddy dynamic was clear. Jack Sparrow was the flamboyant wildcard and Will Turner (a princely Orlando Bloom) was the pious straight man we loved to be annoyed by. Their friction was instantly established—via sword fight!—and hilarious throughout. In Lone Ranger, Depp is essentially a more sober, more taciturn Sparrow. He's committed to his choices, but Hammer is forced to carry more of the weight, and the character of John Reid suffers. His transformation from goody-two-shoes to vigilante frankly isn't all that convincing.
2) In Pirates, Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightly and her weird lips) was a tangible object of pursuit. She was also a compelling love interest and autonomous character in her own right. She had, you know, traits. In Lone Ranger, Reid's love interest (?) is his brother's widow Rebecca (Ruth Wilson and her weird lips, who is, by the way, deliciously cutthroat in the BBC drama Luther). Reid and Tonto sort of pursue her, but it's not like Reid intends to bed or wed. The leading men seem utterly asexual. What they're after—Justice-with-a-capital-J—is much harder to wrap your head around in a two-hour blockbuster.
3) In Pirates, the quote-unquote "good guys" were rambunctious lawbreakers themselves. And even the villain, Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbosa, had redeeming qualities. Lone Ranger envisions a much more simplistic character paradigm. The good guys are blandly noble. The bad guys are irrevocably foul. Moreover, there are fewer of them. Pirates had the aura of an ensemble movie; Lone Ranger often feels like a high-production TV episode.
[Worth noting that actor James Badge Dale appears as Reid's brother Dan. Already this summer, he's had small, but key roles in both Iron Man III and World War Z. Look for him to make his break as leading man very soon.]
If nothing else, it's refreshing to see an action movie that's not entangled in the network of the superhero adaptations. And this one succeeds in a number of ways. It's just obvious that Lone Ranger was itself not entirely original. It feels like an effort to reproduce the composite energy of Pirates, but with only some of the component parts.
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