The Lone Ranger Review

Posted: September 9, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “Moviebuff801” Dennos

The Lone Ranger seems to have had something of an uphill battle ever since its conception. Between the bloated budget of $215 million (not that too far off from Man of Steel!), the casting of Armie Hammer, a relative unknown in the general populace, and the issue of whether or not this character was even relevant to this generation’s moviegoing audience, the odds were never really in this movie’s favor. Still, the creative team behind the initial Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, three of the most highly entertaining blockbusters from the 2000-2009 decade for my money, were behind this one, so my interest was definitely piqued. So, are the results just as exhilarating and fun as those? Well…not so much.

After a weird opening at a carnival in the 1930’s where an elderly Tonto begins recounting the film’s story to a young boy dressed in a cowboy outfit, we’re thrust into the action when we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawyer traveling home on a train.  On that same train are two prisoners: Tonto (Johnny Depp, underneath not just a wealth of face paint, but also a dead crow) and Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a nefarious criminal on his way to the gallows.  But in the middle of the transport, Cavendish stages a daring escape and gets away, despite Reid and Tonto doing their best to stop him, not to mention completely wrecking the train in the process.  In the wake of all that mayhem, Reid meets up with his Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and his wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), whom Reid may harbor his own feelings for.  Dan and his posse are saddling up to go after Cavendish’s gang, and Reid insists on tagging along, something he regrets after a violent ambush in a canyon that leaves him the sole survivor, rescued by none other than Tonto and a “spirit horse.”  Tonto believes Reid to be a “spirit walker” and insists on helping him exact revenge on Cavendish because he thinks the outlaw might be a wendigo.  Tonto gives Reid a black mask and a silver bullet, and together they go after Cavendish, who may just be involved in a plot hatched by a corrupt railroad tycoon named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson).

I’m anything if not completely honest, and director Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger is nowhere close to being the trainwreck that a lot of critics are making it out to be. For the most part, it’s a fairly competent and entertaining, if overbloated and relatively underdeveloped action Western. It works the most where it needs to work the most, but still has enough faults with everything else to keep it from being much more than a wait-for-the-DVD rental. The things that work are what you expect: the big action set-pieces, especially the climax, are energetic and fast-paced. Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer actually do pretty decent work and have passable chemistry. And, of course, Hans Zimmer’s score is really neat, with a nice blend of Western and adventure sensibilities. I mean, just listen to his rousing reinvigoration of the William Tell overture, which blares triumphantly throughout the film’s climax. Even I, who had NO exposure to The Lone Ranger growing up, had a grin on my face during this:

Look, bitch about Johnny Depp all you want, but at least he makes the effort. While his version of Tonto isn’t entirely a copy-and-paste Jack Sparrow performance, there’s still a nice blend of his now trademark quirkiness and at least some straightforwardness with this character and if, like me, you haven’t become too bothered by this pattern of weirdness on display in each of his movies since the first Pirates, then odds are you’ll enjoy him here. Armie Hammer, on the other hand, does the best with what he’s given but the character of John Reid/The Lone Ranger isn’t very strongly written, especially in how his ideals constantly go against everything The Lone Ranger seems to stand for. Other side characters also feel never fully-developed.

But thinly-defined characters isn’t the biggest problem in The Lone Ranger. Its biggest faults lie in an overlong running time, resulting in a sagging middle section, and the way the story develops in the second hour. The plot structure of this film is curiously similar to that of the late-90’s adventure The Mask of Zorro. Both films feature a man assuming a masked identity of justice after losing a brother, aided all the while by a partner/teacher, the villains in each have schemes involving the taking of land for their own purposes, both have secondary villains with grotesque hobbies (severed limbs in jars in Zorro, heart-eating in this movie) and so on. What’s funny about that is two of the writers on this film, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, worked on Mask of Zorro as well. But the difference here is, this kind of story was handled much more effectively and with more heart in The Mask of Zorro. By the time we get to the shift in story focus in this film, it isn’t nearly as interesting or exciting as the revenge quest it started out to be. In fact, if the story had been more focused on Reid’s hunt to exact revenge on William Fichtner’s Butch Cavendish, it might’ve been better. Cavendish is a good-enough villain that delegating him to be a henchman feels like something of a missed opportunity. I think the writers could’ve given Cavendish more development, making him a bit smarter and more crafty, so that just having him would be enough.  Between the film’s two villains, I definitely prefer Cavendish to Cole.  Also, Cole’s plot to stage attacks to make it look like the work of violent Comanche tribes just so he can do away with a peace treaty and run a railway through the entire country is, well, pretty bland. Not to mention it vaguely feels like Johnny Depp getting up on his soapbox about Native American culture.  And while I’m at it, giving the film bookends with the 1930’s scenes feels off, but also, whenever the film jolts back to that every once in a while during the Second Act, it interrupts any flow that the movie may have.

Overall, while I certainly wouldn’t call The Lone Ranger awful by any means, it still lacks the heart, wit, charm and fun of those first three Pirates films. Hell, even On Stranger Tides is more entertaining. The film still has its more inspired moments and the opening and closing 30 minutes are pretty good, but despite all the money and talent on display, The Lone Ranger decidedly feels like a more minor, and heartless, effort.

**1/2 /****

  1. I found the similarities between this film and The Mask of Zorro interesting. It’s too bad The Lone Ranger is nowhere near as good as that film. I still love Mark Wahlberg’s quote regarding the film: “$250 million for two dudes on a horse? Where’d the money go?”

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    The Mask of Zorro DEFINITELY handles this kind of story better. I heard the budget was mostly due to Gore Verbinski wanting to build a lot of the sets/do a lot of the action practically, as opposed to using CGI.

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