By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Lone Ranger (Disney)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper.
Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.
The western movie genre hasn't been relevant for a while, what with all the cool special effects and spectacular imagery offered up by so many superheroes and alien critters out there. The same could have been said about the pirate movie genre until Gore Verbinski teamed up with Johnny Depp to cash in on the swashbuckling fun of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The idea, I suppose, was to the capture the same magic in reviving a popular old western serial like The Lone Ranger, a radio and TV show that was popular several decades ago.
Depp stars as Tonto, a native American outcast who meets up with an idealistic district attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) on a train on its way to a remote Texas town where an evil outlaw named Cavendish (William Fichtner) plans to take over the railroad and cash in on all the booty he can get. Little do we know, Cavendish is secretly working for railroad baron Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who plans to use the railroad to branch out into Indian territory where there's a mother lode of silver awaiting. When the train carrying Tonto, Cavendish, and Reid arrives, Cavendish escapes with the help of a ruthless gang. Texas ranger and John Reid's brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and all the other rangers form a posse to find the criminal, but all of them are killed (except John, of course). Tonto saves John and influences him to wear a mask so that his loved ones will be safe, including his dead brother's wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and his nephew Danny (Bryant Prince).
As John and Tonto dig deeper into the plot to pillage the Indian territory of its silver, they must also contend with a U.S. Army cavalry platoon, led by Captain Fuller (Barry Pepper – who looks and acts lot like General Custer). Fuller seems more than willing to kill Indians in the name of western progress.
Cavendish's gang also poses as Indian raiders, ransacking settler's homes in an effort to incite war between the tribes. As The Lone Ranger and Tonto discover the plot, they must make a daring attempt to expose Cole's evil plan and bring peace to the west.
The Lone Ranger has a lot of fun moments and spectacular special effects, even if such capers are nowhere near anything close to reality. There are several scenes involving The Lone Ranger's horse Silver that are about as plausible as an elephant doing trampoline flips. There is one particular scene in which the Lone Ranger rides Silver on the top of a moving train, and then inside the passenger cars, which happen to be conveniently large enough for a grown man and a horse to go galloping at full speed through the aisles. If you're willing to chalk up such things as a little light hearted movie fun, then I suppose that's okay. For me, I found it a little too ridiculous.
There are a few other problems with The Lone Ranger, including the length of the movie, which clocks in at close to two and a half hours. It's a tough switch for content that used to rely on short cliffhangers, and probably a little too much to fathom for a western that's supposed to be fun, not tedious. Getting around all the plot points shouldn't take so much effort. It's a western - where the good guys and bad guys are easy to figure out. All that exposition gets exhausting. Gore Verbinski also takes a lot of liberties with history, technology, and geography, depicting Texas as Monument Valley, some parts of New Mexico, and the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
I think the bigger problem for The Lone Ranger will probably be matching it up with the right audience. The Lone Ranger began as a radio serial back in the 1930s and ran as a television series during the 1940s and 50s. Since then, the Lone Ranger has been a cultural ghost, with audiences mostly oblivious to its lore and appeal ever since. For people under the age of 50, The Lone Ranger will be nothing more than another Johnny Depp movie made by the same guy who made Pirates of the Caribbean. It's a risky gamble to try and build an audience that has no point of reference other than the familiar William Tell Overture theme music associated with the Lone Ranger. It may have worked out if the film hadn't been so long, and such a convoluted mess of a story.
Some of the action is fun and Johnny Depp helps keep most of the dialogue funny and interesting, but The Lone Ranger is probably another film that will ride off into the sunset without anyone being very interested in who the masked man really was.