Lone Ranger, The (United States, 2013)

July 02, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Lone Ranger, The Poster

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty "Hi-yo Silver" - the Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!

Those words, spoken at the outset of every radio and early television broadcast of The Lone Ranger, defined the experience of listening to or watching them. Though the final TV season was in color, my memories of The Lone Ranger are in black-and-white. They're also of a hero whose time has passed. He hails from a more innocent age and attempts to "modernize" him fail because they lose the essence of what defined the character. The version of The Lone Ranger in Gore Verbinski's movie is just some guy in a mask riding a white horse. He's not the character essayed most memorably by Clayton Moore. And, though the story is mostly faithful to the established origin of the character, it's not until the last 15 minutes, when "The William Tell Overture" arrives in its full glory, that this starts to feel a little like The Lone Ranger. But that's too little, too late. And when The Ranger (played here by Armie Hammer) finally shouts "Hi-yo Silver," the moment is spoiled by turning it into a joke.

Apart from considerations about the mediocre, overlong nature of the film, there are reasons why the level of buzz and anticipation are so anemic. For the most part, the under-40 crowd has no connection to the character; the TV show probably hasn't been shown in syndication since the late 1970s or early 1980s. It also has another big strike against it with young viewers: it's a Western, and that's not a popular genre these days. Older viewers, who might be attracted to the name, are understandably skeptical. They see no reason for the story to be retold and, all things considered, they would rather wait to see this on video. That's not something Verbinski or Disney wants to hear but it's the truth.

One could make a compelling case that Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean succeeded in large part because of Johnny Depp. Conversely, it could be argued that The Lone Ranger fails because of him. His interpretation of Tonto is weird and off-putting. This isn't the noble, heroic figure brought to the small screen by Jay Silverheels. This is Cap'n Jack in moccasins and with face paint. And, because Depp is the big name in the credits, Tonto gets the more showy material. Hammer's Ranger is dull and one-dimensional in large part because he's forced to play The Straight Man. The warmth and charisma that humanized him in the TV series is absent. Meanwhile, Tonto's bizarre behavior is encapsulated by a costume detail: he wears a dead bird on his head and occasionally tries to feed it.

The Lone Ranger tells of The Masked Man's birth and early days. The sole survivor of an ambush, John Reid is rescued and nursed back to health by Tonto. Once hale, he mounts his snow-white steed, whom he later names Silver, and sets out to deliver justice to those who killed his brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), and the rest of his group. The chief miscreant in all this is Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), but he's only part of a larger conspiracy. The Ranger is also given a love interest in the person of his late brother's wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). And, as befits a movie taking place in the Wild West, there are plenty of trains to provide a rousing climax.

Verbinski apparently learned all he needed to know about the laws of physics and human endurance by watching The Fast and the Furious series. Both John Reid and Tonto appear to be indestructible, which effectively limits the degree of tension. Verbinski overcooks his stunts, as he is wont to do, but it doesn't work nearly as well here as it did in Pirates of the Caribbean. For one thing, the tonal inconsistencies are a barrier to full enjoyment. At times, The Lone Ranger wants to be a goofy, semi-spoof of the old series. Then it shifts into grim territory, as in scenes where Cavendish carves out and eats the heart of a victim or when Indians are massacred by U.S. cavalrymen using a machine gun. The overall structure is also odd, with a prologue, an epilogue, and a few interludes taking place some sixty years in the future when Tonto has become a decrepit figure in a traveling road show.

The Lone Ranger revels in its sense of excess but it doesn't get fun until that final twenty minutes. It's hard to deny that the final chase in and around two moving trains is entertaining and "The William Tell Overture" helps things immensely. That's the only part of the movie when Hammer seems to be channeling the real Lone Ranger. As a Western action-comedy, this finds a middle ground between the awfulness of The Wild Wild West and the solid entertainment of Maverick. Verbinski gives a nod to the TV series by desaturating color in some scenes, thereby reducing almost everything to a monochrome. Somehow, that seems to be an appropriate metaphor for a motion picture that's tone deaf and wasteful of blockbuster dollars. The Lone Ranger will continue to ride in the memories of fans but this is likely the last time he'll ride in a major motion picture.

Lone Ranger, The (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 2:29
U.S. Release Date: 2013-07-03
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1