The Lone Ranger
Starring Johnny Depp & Armie Hammer
Directed by Gore Verbinski
PG-13, 149 min.
In the opening of Disney’s rollicking reinvention of pop culture’s 80-year-old masked-man saga, a little boy stands in front of a Wild West carnival diorama in 1933, the year “The Lone Ranger” debuted as a radio show. The kid watches in wide-eyed amazement one of the still-life scenes comes to life just for him.
That nifty little kickoff sets the stage, and the narrative framework, for this wildly entertaining recreation of the fable of the Lone Ranger and his loyal Native American sidekick, Tonto.
In this version, though, “sidekick” Tonto gets much more of the spotlight, the story and the glory—mainly because he’s played by the eminently watchable Johnny Depp. One of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Depp is certainly capable of traditional roles, but really seems to prefer burying himself deep into unconventional characters…like this mysterious Comanche with little to say, a fascination with watches, white paint on his face and a dead bird on his head.
But Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger is no slouch, either. Most viewers will remember Hammer from his dual roles as both of the indignant Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network” (2010), but here he strikes just right wronged notes as John Reid, the idealistic young frontier prosecutor driven by tragic circumstance to seek justice beyond the boundaries of late-1800s Texas law.
Director Gore Verbinski, who worked previously with Depp on the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, seems invigorated by the switch from ocean tropics to desert air. He weaves a rousing, captivating tale that incorporates back stories for both the Ranger and Tonto, explaining how each came with haunting personal motives to the quest that ultimately unites them against a monstrous outlaw (William Fichter) with a literal taste for blood and a greedy expansionist railroad baron (Tom Wilkinson).
Verbinski stages some absolutely stunning action pieces, which are not only tremendous fun to watch, but also complete knockouts in terms of execution. For anyone jaded with special-effect superheroes and space aliens, it’s an exhilarating, almost jaw-dropping treat to watch what modern moviemaking can do with an “old-fashioned” action sequence, orchestrated to “The William Tell Overture,” the Lone Ranger’s iconic theme music, with all the characters and plot pieces come coursing together for an absolutely rip-roaring finale.
There’s plenty of humor, too; often, it’s almost campy, as when the Lone Ranger and Tonto, attempting to get information from a brothel owner (Helena Bonham Carter), threaten to bust her establishment on health code violations. “Well, it IS a house of sin,” she says.
And it’s sometimes violent. Bullets fly, bodies fall, and one particularly unsettling—though dramatically important—scene caused a mother and her preteen daughter to get up and leave the screening I attended. So moms and dads, you’ve been warned.
But stay through the credits and you’ll hear the Lone Ranger say his character’s famous catchphrase, “Hi-Ho, Silver! Away!” What Tonto dryly tells him in response gets a chuckle, but it also reminds us that yesteryear’s Lone Ranger was many, many years ago—that was then. And this is now, with a new movie, a new Ranger and a new Tonto, saddling up an old story to bring it to exciting, reinvigorated new life once again for a whole new audience.