The combination of Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer struck cinematic gold with the re-invention of the pirate movie, Pirates of the Caribbean. The movie spawned a franchise for Disney, so it’s easy to see why the studio would be eager to team up with the trio again.
This time around, they’re trying to re-invent the Western and establish a new franchise for Depp in the form of The Lone Ranger.
Unfortunately, it appears that the trio isn’t quite as successful at capturing lightning in a bottle the second time around.
The Lone Ranger has its enjoyable moments, most of them confined to the last half hour of the film when it fully embraces its over-the-top, summer action blockbuster status. But between an opening action sequence and the Ranger fully accepting his calling and his destiny, the film lacks focus and runs on too long. At close to two and a half hours, The Lone Ranger definitely overstays its welcome, regardless of how much fun Depp appears to be having playing Tonto in the film.
The story is told in a framing device with Depp as an older Tonto relating the legend of the Lone Ranger to a young man. The framing device is revisited on occasion, delightfully pointing out some of the plot-holes in the film (for example, the kid is quick to note that Tonto gives no explanation for how he gets from a jail cell to free to help the Lone Ranger find his true path). The Ranger in question is John Reid, who is returning to his frontier home after getting his degree. John has lived in the shadow of his brother, who stayed at home and got the girl they both apparently had feelings for. She apparently still has feelings for him as well.
When gang leader Butch Cavendish is sprung while on the way to face justice, John insists on being part of the part that goes along to recapture him. The group is ambushed and everyone is apparently killed – except John. With Tonto helping him, Reid assumes the mantle of the Lone Ranger, putting on a mask that was created by the two bullets that were meant for him.
There’s also an entire plotline about the coming of the railroad and the connection of a ruthless railroad baron to the Cavendish gang that helps propel the plot of the film. The problem with the plotline is that it’s fairly apparent who the bad guys are long before the movie reveals each character’s motivations and plots. We also find out that Tonto’s backstory is tied to this nefarious scheme as well, making the entire course of events feel a bit too coincidental for its own good.
At times, the Lone Ranger is clearly trying to evoke the spirit of the classic John Ford Westerns. There are several shots in the film that feel like they’re lifted directly from Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers as well as some thematic similarities. The thread of a love triangle involving brothers and the kidnapping of settlers by Native Americans feel like an attempt to pay homage to that classic film. And while there are some stunning new shots of Monument Valley in the film, if you want a great Western, you would probably be better served to hunt up a copy of The Searchers.
If you want Depp channeling Captain Jack Sparrow as Tonto and Armie Hammer doing his best to be the stoic but conflicted Ranger, then The Lone Ranger may work. As a summer action movie, it has its moments but as I said before the movie definitely overstays its welcome with the middle third of the film feeling like its treading a lot of water to get to the inevitable showdown between our heroes and the forces of evil in the film