In one of the busier scenes in Gore Verbinski's very busy The Lone Ranger, dozens if not hundreds of Comanche tribesmen are brutally gunned down by a machine-gun-armed U.S. Cavalry. This sad and ugly violence — employed to represent the larger cultural annihilation being waged throughout the American West in the bloody era of Manifest Destiny — is intercut with shots of Johnny Depp, at the moment dressed up like a Chinese rail worker but face still covered in warpaint, furiously pumping a railway handcar with a blindfolded Armie Hammer as his passenger. Tonto and the Lone Ranger's wacky, madcap getaway complete, we are then allowed a somber moment to pause and reflect on the terrible bloodshed to which we were just subjected. Verbinski lingers for a beat, but then it's quickly onto the next antic set piece, this long and unwieldy film barreling along and leaving someone else to bury the bodies. And, of course, trusting us to forget them.
That's the strange problem at the heart of this movie: Presumably conscious of the racial and cultural problems inherent in not just The Lone Ranger, but in our entire mythologizing of the Wild West, Disney chose to make a movie that acknowledges the dark and troubling facts of American expansion but that's also, y'know, fun for the kids and stuff. And with Johnny Depp! And so we get Verbinski's strange and scattershot movie, which veers wildly in tone in a way that insults both any reverence for the past and our simple intelligence as summertime moviegoers. Verbinski's now trademark air of corporate whimsy syncs up badly with the more sober, though glancing, historical lessons, leaving everyone in the picture completely stranded, running around in a world that means nothing while saying everything.