In the golden age of Hollywood, the Western genre seemed to be the king of the cinema. From “The Magnificent Seven” to “Rio Bravo,” audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of adventures featuring cowboys, railroads, and gunslingers on the open plains of the “Old West.” But then, something happened, and audiences’ fascination with Westerns began to fade. The genre now feels a bit too dated, and attempts to revive it in recent years haven’t been met with much success.
So it was a considerable gamble when Disney and “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski decided to reboot the classic “Lone Ranger” franchise as a big-budget summer action/adventure film. Though the Lone Ranger character has appeared in various forms on the radio and in film, most people probably know the masked vigilante best from the 1950s TV show, where he appeared along with his Native American friend named Tonto. Verbinski was able bring a fresh, exciting perspective to the once defunct pirate movie genre with “Pirates of the Caribbean” — is he able to accomplish a similar feat with “The Lone Ranger”?
Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” starts out on a train headed west. One of the passengers is a lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer), who is traveling to visit his brother Dan, a Texas Ranger. The trip is interrupted when Butch Cavendish, a dangerous prisoner being transported on the train, manages to escape. John rides out with a posse led by his brother to capture the prisoner, but the posse is ambushed by outlaws. As the only survivor of the attack, John is stricken with grief and vows to avenge his brother’s death.
He crosses paths with a wandering Comanche warrior named Tonto (Johnny Depp), who has some decidedly eccentric traits. Though the two don’t exactly get along, they both want to bring Cavendish to justice (for different reasons), and they decide to join forces. Along the way, they manage to get caught up in a much larger conspiracy and use their unique brand of vigilante justice to save the day.
Most critics haven’t been very kind to “The Lone Ranger” in their reviews so far, and this movie has taken quite a bit of flak. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it at first, but I have to say that, at least for me, this movie was a heck of a lot of fun.
“The Lone Ranger” is very much a Gore Verbinski film, with his trademark over-the-top action sequences, quirky humor and a touch of the supernatural. I’ve only seen one episode of “The Lone Ranger” TV show, so I can’t comment on how faithful the film is to the source material (though I suspect Verbinski has taken quite a few liberties). The film is book-ended by two fun action sequences set on trains, and the cinematography does a good job showcasing the breathtaking desert landscapes of the American West.
I’m not really a fan of Westerns in general, but I think this movie worked for me because it felt imaginative and different. Although Verbinski could have taken the film in a very “safe,” predictable direction, he didn’t, and the movie is better for it. “The Lone Ranger” has touches of both classic Hollywood Westerns and some of Verbinski’s previous films, including “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the animated Western “Rango.” The film also has elements of “Blazing Saddles”-esque humor, but it’s not entirely a comedy, and it has some interesting reflections on America’s push westward, a history often whitewashed in classic Westerns.
“The Lone Ranger” does have its flaws — I probably would have cut the film’s opening, which sets up the movie as a story told by an elderly Tonto to a young boy dressed as a masked cowboy. I’m not a huge fan of the Hollywood technique of presenting a film as an extended flashback, and I think the movie would have been just fine if they’d started right off with Armie Hammer’s character riding into town on the train. There’s an odd bit about cannibalistic rabbits I would have preferred they left out also.
However, I think those who are willing to just sit back in the theater and enjoy a unique summer popcorn flick will find there’s plenty of fun to be had here, especially if you’re a fan of Verbinski’s other films. The crowd at my local theater seemed to be enjoying the film, and there was plenty of laughter throughout. I’m going to have to disagree with the critics on this one; I found “The Lone Ranger” to be quirky and exciting and a good kind of crazy.