“The Lone Ranger,” written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, directed by Gore Verbinski, 149 minutes, rated PG-13.
There’s something to be said for the art of old-fashioned storytelling, in passing down a spoken tale from one generation to the next, and preserving it in that way only. Like a game of telephone, the stories likely become distorted and slowly they take the form of lore. So a legend is born.
This is where Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger” begins, at a county fair in 1933 San Francisco, where a worn-out, elderly Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts his adventures alongside the famous title character (Armie Hammer) to a young fair-goer donning a replica Lone Ranger mask.
In his tall tale, Tonto, a self-proclaimed Commanche Wendigo (demon) hunter, meets mild-mannered lawyer John Reid on a train heading to Colby, Texas, where Tonto is being held prisoner with notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who has a date with a noose in Colby. When Cavendish’s men storm the train to free their ringleader, Tonto and Reid find themselves on the same side of the law, only with competing points of view. While Tonto is out for vengeance on the Wendigo, an evil spirit whom he believes possesses every untrustworthy man, Reid is gullible, believing in a system of law that is broken.
While Cavendish and his men escape justice, Reid returns to Colby where his hard-nosed older brother (James Badge Dale) hands him a Texas Ranger badge, inviting him along on the hunt for the escaped outlaw. The Rangers are set up, however, and all of them are killed at the hands of Cavendish and his men.
Tonto discovers the bodies, and while giving them a proper burial, finds John Reid is still barely alive. Reid and Tonto find themselves an odd pairing united by one simple goal: To end corruption. Together, the masked crusaders undertake a journey to find Cavendish and bring him to justice.
Armie Hammer is steadfast and charming as the uncompromising, yet polite-to-a-fault John Reid, and Depp’s interpretation of Tonto is a lot of what you might expect, which for fans isn’t a bad thing at all. “The Lone Ranger” reunites Depp with much of the team that brought us “Pirates of the Caribbean,” including producer Jerry Bruckheimer, writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and Verbinski.
Despite the change in era, the tone and themes Verbinski throws at the audience are pretty much in line with “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He manages to capture the same sense of adventure while still focusing on characters who are the last of a dying breed. The action isn’t as fluid as it was in “Pirates,” trading swashbuckling for gunfights, and ships for slow, steady locomotives. Because of this, “The Lone Ranger” misses the rhythm that Verbinski nailed in the first three “Pirates” films.
Though we may not have the elaborately choreographed fight scenes, there are ideas at work in “The Lone Ranger” that go beyond the traditional Hollywood summer fare. At the heart of “The Lone Ranger,” you’ll find concepts such as the aforementioned preservation of oral stories, as well as the corruption of men and the idealist’s antidote to that. Most importantly, the film not only recognizes the Native American genocide in an unsubtle manner, but presents it shamefully, something that other western blockbusters like “Cowboys and Aliens” ignored completely.
Though “The Lone Ranger” is a piece of cowboy nostalgia for many, its principles are perennial and admirable. The film also manages to be fun, even at nearly two and a half hours, and although it’s not quite as entertaining as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” it still has a lot to offer audiences.
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