I was actually really looking forward to this (unlike everyone else). I don’t know too much about The Lone Ranger. I’ve read some comics, saw a couple of shows and saw the 1981 LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER at the Drive-In when I was 5, but that’s about it. I know the myth of the guy and the basic premise, but I don’t know too many details. When I heard Gore Verbinski was going to direct this new version with Depp as Tonto, I got excited. I knew going into this that this was going to be more about Tonto than the masked hero, so I wasn’t going to let that bother me. Mostly, I was just excited to see a big budget western on the big screen. You see, I fucking love westerns! I didn’t care for them when I was younger. I always thought they were only for old people. Well, now that I’m in my mid-30’s, I just love them. And since not many westerns get made these days, you could say I was pretty pumped.
Now, this is very different from any LONE RANGER that has come before, so if you’re going to piss and moan about how faithful it isn’t, than you should probably not even go to this. The movie opens at a carnival in the 1930’s where an old Tonto (Depp) tells the story of The Lone Ranger to a boy who is dressed up as the Lone ranger. It then goes back to the old west. A young innocent lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer) comes to town and gets mixed up in a jailbreak that involves the hideous Butch Cavendish. He tries to stop the escape, but even with the help of another prisoner, Tonto, he is unable to stop Butch. John meets ups with his brother, the sheriff, and they head out to re-capture Butch. The villain kills everyone. Or so it seemed to be. Tonto finds a nearly dead John and brings him back to fighting shape. Vengeance enters into the equation, as the two try to track down Butch. But there is more going on. There is also a plot involving territory and the railroad and political corruption and things like that. But mainly, this is all just a ploy to show how John dons the mask and becomes the Lone Ranger.
The film opens most spectacularly. I wasn’t expecting it to open in the 1930’s. I thought this was a nice touch. And then there is a funny bit that shows the lone ranger and Tonto robbing a bank, and then the kid whom Tonto is telling the story too interrupts it, freezing the frame. That gave me an indication that this was going to be a fun film, not to be taken seriously. In the first 40 minutes we’re treated to a well executed action set piece on board a train. That would be the jailbreak. And then I find out that the villain is none other than one of my favorite character actors, William Fichtner! Yes, Please! There’s some great stunt work as well as some impressive effects during this portion. I loved how a shot seemingly follows a man as he flies through the window of a train. Great energy!
The film also closes with yet another spectacular set piece, again, on board a train. There’s a couple of main bad guys now, as the Lone Ranger and Tonto try to rescue a damsel in distress and the town. The scene begins with the Lone Ranger on top of a roof riding Silver (his horse). Just as he appears. It begins! The William Tell overture, the original theme of the Lone Ranger TV show. For the next 15 minutes, Hans Zimmer has created a rousing musical overture for the following action. People are shooting in rhythm to the music, and (as my 9 year old daughter pointed out) even the engine of the train moves to the beat of the theme. Lots of people jumping and shooting as well as trains crashing and exploding. Both of these set pieces are executed with precision and care. Everything is carefully storyboarded and I think are the two best action sequences from any movie out in theaters this summer.
But then…. there’s the middle section. You see, the movie is about two and a half hours. Now, I love me some long westerns. In fact, my two favorite westerns of all time are well over 2 hours (RIO BRAVO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST). But it has to earn its length, which quite frankly, I don’t think THE LONE RANGER fully earns. This probably would have worked better being about a half hour shorter. There were several sequences that could have been cut out completely and not be missed. A good example would be the whore character of Helena Bonham Carter. She’s fine in it. In fact, there is some pleasure to be found within her scenes, but story-wise, she serves no purpose whatsoever. If you would cut her out completely, nothing would be missed.
Another issue is the tone. Sometimes it’s goofy and fun, with a tongue-in-cheek vibe. But other times it’s down right somber and dark, with scenes of genocide and cannibalism. Now, I like both of these approaches, but it doesn’t really work well together. At least not in this movie. But neither of those things are the major issue here. For me, that was the character of The Lone Ranger himself. He starts off as a bumbling coward who won’t fire a gun. Sure, it’s his principle not to fire a gun, but he’s supposed to be the lone fucking ranger. He eventually gets to the point where he does kick some ass, but there is no transition. One moment he’s a sissy, the next moment he is a square-jawed hero. It comes out of nowhere. And another thing: For being a hero, the Lone Ranger sure whines and complains a lot. He bitches about everything Tonto does, and is very irritable. I think it would make sense for his character to be like this at first, but by the hour and 45 minute mark, you’d think he’d stop his belly aching! It was a bit irritating.
The performances are mostly pretty good all around. I didn’t care for Armie Hammer all that much, but I don’t think it was his fault. It wasn’t HIS whining that bothered me. It was how his character was WRITTEN. He certainly does look the part of The Lone Ranger, but unfortunately the part wasn’t written properly in my opinion. Johnny Depp is amusing. He’s pretty much doing what audiences expect him to do these days. Just be quirky, weird and likable. He does a good job with the part, but it’s nothing groundbreaking. William Fichtner is made up to look mega-ugly here as Butch. He’s not at his best, but he is playing this role extremely straight, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me. It works. Tom Wilkinson is decent as a politician. Barry “I should have never acted in BATTLEFIELD EARTH” Pepper shows up as a secondary villain. Ruth Wilson is charming enough as the Ranger’s love interest. And James Badge Dale, in his third film of the summer, is solid as John’s brother.
Verbinski is a great director. Ever since I saw the much under appreciated MOUSE HUNT (one of the best recent comedies of the past 20 years), I have had my eye on him. He has created some beautiful images. He is clearly in love with the western and definitely takes advantage of some wonderful panoramic views of monumental valley. And like I said, his action scenes are definitely the film’s highlight. The problem lies within the script. I’m not that upset that Tonto has equal, if not more, screen time than the title character. That’s fine. It’s how the Lone Ranger was written: As a bumbling baffoon who whines all the time. That just didn’t seem like the Lone Ranger to me. But at least we have Hans Zimmer doing the score. Holy shit! It’s terrific. Besides using William Tell, the score has several nods to composer Ennio Morricone. Loved the flutes!
Now, this movie is getting railed by the majority of film critics and audiences as well. Now, I don’t think it’s the flop that this will no doubt be labeled as. It’s not a terrible film. It’s misguided and a little bloated, but it still has some of the best action you will see all year. And that’s why this movie frustrates me. I don’t want to give it a negative review, but I also don’t think it fully earns a recommendation. If you want pure summer escapism, set your expectations low and you might have a good time. THE LONE RANGER begins and ends with a bang. Too bad the fuse fizzled out somewhere in the middle. And man, the way the Lone Ranger was written. This could have been the best film of the summer with some simple tinkering. But as it stands, it’s just an okay movie with some spectacular action. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.
– Running time: 2hrs 29min.