Fun for audiences – not for critics
For his latest effort in re-imagining a forgotten genre, director Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) has transported us back into the old west for some adventure under the sun, in “The Lone Ranger” (2013). Based, of course, on the 1950’s television show, that is in turn based on the 1930’s radio program, “The Lone Ranger” is a film about a group of Texas Rangers that are ambushed by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and his notorious gang of killers. All the Rangers are thought dead, but with the assistance of a spirit-walking horse and an Indian warrior named Tonto (Johnny Depp), one of the Rangers (Armie Hammer) comes back to life.
Tonto says that the former Ranger should now wear a mask to conceal his true identity as he begins a journey to seek justice for the other fallen Rangers, including his brother, Dan (James Badge Dale). Together, Tonto and The Lone Ranger chase down Cavendish, who is working with a corrupt railroad man to transport silver out of the mountains. This unlikely pair also are looking for Dan’s widow (Ruth Wilson) and son (Bryant Prince), who were kidnapped by Cavendish.
“The Lone Ranger” isn’t exactly a faithful retelling of the story we love because the star of the film is Tonto, instead of the title character. Of course, that’s what you get when you hire mega-star Johnny Depp to play the sidekick. Depp has truly become a master of eccentric characters, and he plays Tonto with a Buster Keaton deadpan that makes him irresistible. Armie Hammer (along with the films screenwriters) has chosen to turn The Lone Ranger into a naive, simple-minded hero who falls into the villains hands at every turn. Then he just has to sit and wait for Tonto to save him, again.
It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just not all that it could be. With the exception of a couple of over-the top moments early on, the film plays more like a western drama through the first hour and a half. The plot details are in abundance, and overly complex. William Fichtner is a disgustingly grotesque villain who just muddles up the light-hearted feel of things. There are no surprises, or at least not any good ones, and it’s easy to find yourself pining for the moment that things really heat up.
That moment does come at the film’s climax, that is so over the top, it’s just laughable. But that’s alright. Once the William Tell Overture starts playing, the film can do no wrong, despite its efforts. Every cheesy, over-the-top, improbable event takes place… and it takes fun to a whole new level. Unlike so many Hollywood movies, “The Lone Ranger” resonates with enjoyability and fun. The director had fun, the writers had fun, the actors had fun and the audience has fun. It is quite refreshing, in a way, to see a movie get made because someone thought it sounded amusing. Trains, horses, cowboys and Indians- what’s not to love?
Other aspects of the production turned out nicely, as well, like the supporting cast, with actors like Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham Carter providing a much appreciated lift to the numerous dialogue plagued scenes. Also, the location shooting was a grand addition, with the west looking as glorious as it has since the days of John Ford.
Should critics be giving “The Lone Ranger” great reviews? Certainly not. It was made to entertain, not impress. It is, however, a far cry better than other entertainment driven western films, like “Wild Wild West” (1999) and “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011). Don’t expect to see a film that will make any top ten lists, just see it enjoy yourself.