Runaway trains. Damsels in distress. Quick draw shootouts. It’s the Wild, untamed West where the only law of the land are men with six shooters, that is until The Lone Ranger moseys into town. We know the name, we know his horse (Silver) and we certainly know his faithful sidekick, Tonto … but does this 1933 radio classic turned big screen blockbuster hit it’s mark with audiences or come up short?
The year is 1869, and thanks to the railroad boom, our great nation is about to be united. But at what cost? Mass slaughter of Native American villages, slave labor camps, unchecked business practices; evil is out there and turning a quick profit.
Amidst it all, we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer), a city-educated, district attorney and all-around nice guy. On his way back to his Texas hometown, Reid’s train gets ambushed by bandits looking to free their gang’s leader, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). To bring him to justice, Reid vows to team up with his Texas Ranger brother. Soon we witness Reid’s transformation into the Lone Ranger, and learn who Tonto (Johnny Depp) really is.
On the surface, this Gore Verbinksi (Pirates of the Caribbean) directed flick is the epitome of an action-packed Hollywood spectacle, teeming with sweeping landscapes, stunning costumes and over-the-top special effects. But what the Lone Ranger fails to wrangle is any clear-cut sense of identity — with a confusing tone and unnecessary plot points.
My biggest beef with this cowboy remake is with Hammer, who fails to fill the boots of his Ranger’s predecessors. Uncomfortable from the start, we get a sense that Reid is a bit of a bumbling do-gooder, which is fine … but two hours in, fifteen shootouts later and three runaway trains; you’d think he’d figure out how to work a gun. Part of the charm and nostalgic homage to the original Lone Ranger is the fact that he (spoiler alert) never shoots anybody dead. Sure he fires his gun, but in the name of the law, he aims to disarm his opponents. So why would he leave his faithful sidekick Tonto for dead … twice?! It just doesn’t make sense.
Of course, Johnny Depp is the main attraction, embracing his inner Jack Sparrow with everything from his physical walk to dead pan one-liners … but in the end, it seems like the Lone Ranger was really Tonto’s sidekick.
Toss in interrupting narration cut-scenes, gruesome violence and Hollywood’s obvious attempt to tip-toe around the old “cowboy versus Indian” thematic staple… and you’ve got a wild mess of the wild west.
Listen, I know it seems like I’m shooting the Ranger down … but it’s still worth a ticket! The effects are stand out, the costumes cool, and the action non-stop. Sure, there’s some sensitivity when remaking an American hero and for die-hard cowboy fans looking for that next great western are going to be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a fun holiday flick this weekend, saddle up, kemo sabe.