Mania Review: The Lone Ranger -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: B-

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  • Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Ruth Wilson, William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper and Tom Wilkinson
  • Written by: Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott and Justin Haythe
  • Directed by: Gore Verbinski
  • Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 149 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: The Lone Ranger

The masked man rides again

By Rob Vaux     July 01, 2013

 I cannot, in good conscience, call The Lone Ranger a good movie. But I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time during its Bruckheimer-esque two-and-a-half-hour running time. Director Gore Verbinski specializes in summer-style mayhem – going all the way back to his comparatively modest first feature Mouse Hunt – and unlike a lot of explosion-based filmmakers, he actually possesses his own auteurial voice. The Rube Goldberg action sequences and slightly-off-kilter sense of humor couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s, and even when his budget rises to Third World GNP proportions, he never forgets to put a smile on our faces.

So here sits his update of The Lone Ranger, the venerable cowboy story morphing into Pirates of the Caribbean: The Wild West Years. The potential for disaster looms large, and Verbinski never quite manages to shake it. But thanks to some interesting concepts, a game tone and a goofily lovable performance from Armie Hammer in the lead, the film finds its way to the proper end of a modest good time.

Hammer actually proves to be an ace in the hole: smart enough to see the ridiculous side of his hunky, square-jawed physique and charming enough to sell us on a slightly satirical approach to the role. The script delivers the perfect reimagining of the iconic figure for him: greenhorn lawyer John Reid sent out to Texas to prosecute various bad men and thus establish the rule of law in the great frontier. That hits a snag when notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) breaks out of imprisonment on the train carrying Reid, who then joins his Texas Ranger sibling (James Badge Dale) in hunting the man down. One ambush later and Reid is left brotherless, with an empty grave marking the spot where he alone survived. Donning a mask and joined by the possibly crazy Indian Tonto (Johnny Depp), who has his own reasons for wanting Cavendish dead, he sets out to establish justice from behind an outlaw’s mask.

Verbinski piles a lot of superfluous plot on top of that, complete with tertiary characters, overarching railroad schemes and a one-legged hooker played by Helena Bonham Carter. (And let’s face it, if you’re gonna have a hooker in your movie, you may as well make her one legged.) It makes for a lot of frantic activity as our heroic duo rides to and fro in search of their quarry, dealing with bandits, Indians, comely widows and the expected cocktail of western clichés.

Trains make up a big part of it. Verbinski has a peculiar fascination with the vehicles and arranges for all kinds of CGI-laden wackiness centered around them. The opening and closing set pieces both feature spectacular train wrecks of the sort that wouldn’t be possible the last time a Lone Ranger movie was made. The best of them involves Reid and his scene-stealing horse Silver performing impossible feats on the roof, through the passenger car and occasionally at the entrance of inconvenient tunnel or two. The Lone Ranger revels in the clockwork apparatus that creates the threat in these sequences: how one event leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to a giant piece of engine flying right at our protagonists’ heads. It’s loud and exhilarating, and occasionally way, way too much, but it doesn’t look like anything else, which gives The Lone Ranger a lot of its juice.

On the other hand, the sound and fury doesn’t necessarily add up to much. The bombast grows deafening more than once and while Hammer’s revisionist Ranger carries plenty of charm, he doesn’t spring into action like he should until late in the game. Then there’s the question of Depp whose Tonto is unique, strangely respectful… and still a failure. We never sense the character here – supposedly a crazy-like-a-fox partner for the Ranger who uses the monosyllabic racial caricature as a rope-a-dope for stupid white men. Instead, it’s just Johnny being Johnny, trying a little too hard to make us laugh and winking a little too hard through his whiteface make-up. The Lone Ranger makes clever use of a framing device, with Depp as an old man speaking to a young fan of the radio Ranger. (Note to Man of Steel: this is how you do flashbacks.)  It’s a nice bit of nostalgia, but it also smacks of actor vanity, with Depp’s old age make-up supposedly showing us his range. The performance never clicks on any level (though admittedly he has some funny moments) and indeed comes perilously close to derailing everything.

In the end, it may just be the overall tone that saves The Lone Ranger from itself. This is an upbeat movie, one that eschews gritty reality in favor of the kind of romp that summer used to specialize in. Every time its noisiness threatens to overwhelm us, it counters with a friendly wave and a “lighten up” grin. In other summers, that might not be enough, but this one has been so sour faced and grim that any levity at all comes as a refreshing surprise. Verbinski supplies it with plenty of baggage to be sure, but I confess that when the William Tell Overture kicked in during the finale, it made me feel like a little kid again. Don’t mistake this for quality entertainment. Instead look at it as the kind of movie that summers used to be for: the kind that makes you forget your troubles instead of repackaging them in a more colorful form. Thank you masked man; we really needed this. 


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marcd30319 7/1/2013 5:00:19 AM

 In other words, this a your typical Summer popcorm movie courtesy of Gore Verbinski and not Michael Bey.

'nuff said.  

goirish83 7/1/2013 5:15:13 AM

Gee, I saw MOS 4 times and I thought the flashback scenes were great.  And, while I am posting, I'm a tad confused.......explain how a movie which Rob's opening line of the review is " I cannot, in good conscience, call The Lone Ranger a good movie", and yet it receives a grade of B- ?  WOW.

DarthBob 7/1/2013 5:29:23 AM

Redbox worthy; I'm thinking the B- is generous considering the trailers have been meh for me and the buzz mediocre at best.

LoneRanger 7/1/2013 5:50:58 AM

As the creator of the Lone Ranger Fan Club and one who has watched development of this movie closely for years, I have to say that I loved it! Yes, some of it is a bit corny, but it has great humor, lots of action and plot twists, and good character-building moments. I think this is going to surprise a lot of people ... that is, if the minions don't hijack it first.

ElBaz13 7/1/2013 6:14:16 AM

 Don't care what people say. I still intend on seeing this. This is what summer movies are about.

monkeyfoot 7/1/2013 6:37:34 AM

It looks like fun but it is not a movie I have intended to see in theaters. That might change. I have a long holiday weekend and if somebody wants to see it I won't mind.

Knowing that the same radio writers created both the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet (Hornet is supposed to be decended from Ranger) I wonder what would have happened if the casts were switched and Rogen and Choi did Ranger and Hammer and Depp did Hornet.

Wiseguy 7/1/2013 6:41:21 AM

Whoa this review is kind of early isn't it?

I haven't been won by anything so far from this movie and Depp sort of turned me off too but I still had planned on seeing it.

Sometimes when you least expected you get the best surprises

redvector 7/1/2013 7:54:23 AM

I just can't get past that dead bird on Depp's head. It looks stupid. At some point you've got to put the make up away and just act. I thought the Jack Sparrow shtick wore thin after the first movie but now there's fifth one in the works. Thank God Dark Shadows bombed they'd be into the second installment of that pukefest by now. 

mike10 7/1/2013 7:59:09 AM

Well at least they got the William Tell Overture in, good movie or bad it wouldn't be the Lone Ranger without it.

flyinroo 7/1/2013 8:56:14 AM

 I couldn't be any less interested in a movie. I'd rather pour gas in my eyes and light them than see it.

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