The Lone Ranger is one of the oddest movies I have ever seen. It also has one of the best action sequences of the year, which, in context, adds to its oddity.
When I use the word "odd," I don't mean the sort of "odd" we'd use to discuss a truly odd movie like Holy Motors (though, there's certainly some of that kind of oddness), but odd in a "What were these people thinking?" sort of way.
I didn't hate The Lone Ranger, though I don't blame anyone who does. To me, it was a spectacle of the macabre, which I'm sure wasn't the point. For the life of me, I just can't figure out whom this movie is for, which is why I find it so fascinating. Before I saw the movie, I just assumed it would be for kids. It is not for kids. (At my screening, I witnessed wary adults lead a mass exodus of children after the villain slices out the heart of a still living human being, then takes a bite.)
Gore Verbinski's Rango was my favorite movie of 2011. I have often said in private conversations that Verbinski is one of the best directors working today who is never mentioned in conversations about the best studio directors working today -- and I have yet to encounter an argument against this statement. I think Verbinski is extremely talented at pushing the limits on how weird a mass-audience movie can get without going too far. And I don't think he went too far in this respect with The Lone Ranger -- the weirdness that he adds is the only thing that makes the film interesting. Well, that and the 20-minute action sequence that closes the movie.
At two and a half hours, The Lone Ranger is a really long movie. But it seems that every movie in 2013 is too long, and so it feels cliché to bring that up. But, whatever, it is long. In those two and a half hours, John Reid (Armie Hammer) is thrust into the vigilante game after he and his brother (James Badge Dale, who just might be in every movie this summer) are ambushed by the heart-eating Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Later, Reid teams up with a strange man who wears a bird on his head. His name is Tonto (Johnny Depp). There is a side story about Reid's brother's widow (Ruth Wilson) that doesn't matter and probably should have been cut from the movie.
Oh, and for really no reason whatsoever, the movie is framed by a very old Tonto, who now works as a living mannequin at some sort of side show. (Chevy Chase did this once, too, on The Chevy Chase Show, which might be the only funny thing to come out of The Chevy Chase Show.) Old Tonto tells a young child about his adventures with the Lone Ranger. Whatever.
But here's why The Lone Ranger is one of the oddest movies I've ever seen: I've never seen a movie bounce back and forth so quickly and so often between horrifying violence and campy, unironic humor. The Lone Ranger is without question more violent than a "serious" movie like the Coen Brothers' True Grit. In one scene, a character is getting his heart cut out and eaten; the next, Depp's Tonto is hamming it up with a horse. In one scene, cannibalistic flesh-eating rabbits (?!) devour one of their own; in the next, the aforementioned horse has just climbed a tree. Then, out of nowhere, Helena Bonham Carter starts shooting people with a gun that also happens to be her leg.
The Lone Ranger is fascinating, but not in a "you should see this movie" kind of way. Well, except for that ending.
It's actually a shame that one of the most well-constructed recent examples of action is in a movie that a lot of people might not see. For all of the valid complaints about the ending of a movie like Man of Steel -- involving what has to be thousands of people on a massive scale resulting in widespread destruction -- here comes an ending that involves just a few characters, two trains and a horse. And most importantly, the sequence is so well filmed that there's never any confusion as to what any character is doing at any time. It's a grand game of musical chairs orchestrated by Verbinski, one of the best in the business at this sort of thing. If The Lone Ranger tanks, I hope Disney just tacks on the ending to Thor: The Dark World, just to prevent that ending from going to waste.
Unless you want to pay full admission to a movie for only the last 20 minutes, there's no way The Lone Ranger can be recommended for anything other than the oddity that it is. And in an era of sterile, test-marketed-to-a-tee blockbusters, I do appreciate that The Lone Ranger is at least different -- but it's impossible to call it good.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.