The enjoyable, big western The Lone Ranger surprises in many ways. And that's a good thing.
If you've not been following the troubled, off-again/on-again production of Disney's The Lone Ranger, here's a quick rundown: origin story with werewolves (no I'm not kidding) gets pulled by Mouse House after its creators can't guarantee the pricetag wouldn't stay below $250 million, then is suddenly resurrected once the monsters are removed. But, does Disney's decision to ditch the dogs represent a dodged bullet (no pun intended)? Luckily, the answer is yes: The Lone Ranger is fun and entertaining, even though it's too long.
You know this story: John Reid (Armie Hammer, J. Edgar) and a band of Texas Rangers are ambushed by the wanted felon Butch Cavandesh (William Fichtner, The Dark Knight). The Indian Tonto (Johnny Depp, POTC series) finds the bodies but soon realizes that John's contains the Spirit Walker, a hero who cannot be killed. After being resurrected, Reid assumes the identity of The Lone Ranger and rides with Tonto to seek justice for his team's murder. What you may not know is that this John Reid is not the hero in waiting we grew up with, but instead a legal bookworm who can quote John Locke but barely handle a weapon, spurring taunts from his soon-dead-to-be Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale, The Grey). Same for Tonto, who becomes storyteller, revenge seeker, and Reid's spiritual pain in the butt. There's also the railroad magnate-in-waiting Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson, The Dark Knight), whose alliance with Cavandesh is strictly for money. As revelations about Tonto's past returns to haunt him, The Lone Ranger must decide whether to honor his code for justice or seek revenge for Dan's death, all while protecting his widow Rebecca (Ruth Wilson, Anna Karenina) from Cole.
Ranger has a lot going for it, including the long-term relationship of Director Gore Verbinski (POTC series) and Depp. Sometimes those associations reaped bitter fruit (Rango and POTC: At World's End), but this time the duo are back to their classic forms. Verbinski utilizes the famous Monument Valley in Utah and The Valley of The Gods to give us terrific western landscapes, while updating the look and intensity of The Lone Ranger story arc. The winning element here seems to be Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (National Treasure), whose high-flying films always have a semi-comedic ribbon while also doing a fairly good job of telling the story. On the comedy side, Writer Justin Haythe (Snitch) keeps things light by giving Depp a chance to display his comedy in all its unadulterated glory. Haythe even creates a personality for Ranger's horse Silver (the horse's real name by the way) that results in several comedic interludes that give it a real personality, adding another layer to the story. But Haythe also knows when to throw down the serious dramatics, such as Reid's death and rebirth, portrayed well enough by Hammer. He's a suitable Reid/Ranger, but I'm not sure he's cut out for full leading man cred quite yet; his pretty-boy collegiate look gets too much in the way. The cast has good chemistry - led by Depp - who finally has a good script to work from. Haythe's non-linear origin story is unique, and gives Depp the time to develop Tonto as more than the paper-thin version we got in the television and radio series. His recounting of the origin story to an unsuspecting audience in the boy Mason Cook is done with a warmth and uniqueness that provides important anchors throughout the film. That, and the comedic/action moments tell you a lot about what Verbinski and Haythe think of Reid/Ranger: his is not a superhero, but a nerd reborn into a hero's role.
Under most circumstances, that might be considered too tough to pull off, but Verbinski does two important things to ensure success: surround Hammer with terrific talent and throw in some nice tips-of-the-hat to fans of the classic series. He accomplishes both by introducing Reid's brother, dusting off the great villain Cavandesh, and casting Dale and Fichtner respectively to portray them. There's also Wilson, who plays the widow with a western toughness, and Tom Wilkinson does an excellent job as the man pulling all the strings. This is as much Tonto's story of redemption as it is Reid/Ranger's origin, and it was good to see our creative team give time to both stories. The one issue with the film is its length: at just under 2 1/2 hours, kids and teens are going to find a hard time sticking with it. Unlike Dead Man's Chest, where the story moved fairly quick, there were a couple of times that I caught our test audience looking at their watches. Also, westerns don't sell well in theaters, for reasons I could never fathom, leading some to believe that Ranger will quickly fade after a decent opening. I hope not: granted, it's got issues but none of them torpedo the story or ruin the experience. Its well cast and well-balanced story make for good theater, while proving that The Lone Ranger story is still applicable in today's lifestyle of Internet smartphones and genetic therapy.
Led by a very good cast, The Lone Ranger returns the story of the wild west back to its roots, when justice and revenge seemed interchangeable. Depp's performance renews my faith, and Verbinski's direction adds a new wrinkle to the story. Thankfully, we got this version instead of werewolves. I hope audiences give it a chance, as it represents one of the nice surprises of 2013. The Lone Ranger is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 149 minutes.
Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125
Please Leave A Comment-