Starring : Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter
Director : Gore Verbinski
Release Date : 4 Jul 2013
LET’S get one thing straight: updating The Lone Ranger for a modern audience was always going to be problematic.
The straight-laced hero facing villains with a trusty sidekick by his side is hardly appetising to viewers fed on a steady diet of gritty, complex and morally-ambiguous (caped) crusaders – not to mention the problematic racial implications of Tonto, the Ranger’s subservient Native American sidekick.
So director Gore Verbinski and the screenwriters approach the story in the same way he did the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies: tell a serious story, but with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
In fact, many things about the The Lone Ranger are vaguely reminiscent of the Pirates movies, right down to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto, who often seems just a hat and a bottle of rum away from Jack Sparrow.
The movie opens with a young boy in 1930s San Francisco stumbling upon an aged Tonto at a Wild West show, and listening to him recount how the legendary Lone Ranger came to be.
From here, the scene shifts to 1869, in the Wild West, and a storyline inspired by the classic Lone Ranger origin story. Lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns to his hometown of Colby, Texas to visit his brother, a Texas Ranger, where he is drawn into a manhunt for the vicious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner).
After their entire posse is massacred by Cavendish’s gang, Reid is rescued by Tonto, who is also on the outlaw’s trail. Tonto convinces him that the only way to bring the bloodthirsty Cavendish to justice is to don a mask and operate outside the law.
Now, The Lone Ranger is nowhere near the league of Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (which will always be the definitive one of the franchise), but it is a funny, thrilling, and action-packed ride nonetheless – and one that even manages to be quite clever about handling some of the source material’s issues.
Turning the character of the Lone Ranger into a bit of a buffoon may seem sacrilegious to some, but within the context of this story, it works. Hammer, for all his dreamy good looks, has a real knack for comedy, and manages to walk the line between heroism and humour very well.
It also pays to remember that we are hearing Tonto’s version of events, which quite neatly justifies the more fantastical and ludicrous elements of the plot.
Depp, meanwhile, is engaging as always as Tonto, who is certainly not a sidekick in this version of events (though this isn’t likely to go down as one of the eclectic actor’s most memorable roles).
Instead, the movie is as much about Tonto’s story as it is the Ranger’s.
And despite the dangers of treading on potentially offensive territory with the character’s portrayal, the movie establishes Tonto in a way that has less to do with cultural stereotyping and more to do with his personality and experiences – a very deft move, in my opinion.
The movie also does a great job of evoking the classic Western, with excellent cinematography and, for a Disney film, disturbingly dark depictions of what life at the time was like.
Fans of the Lone Ranger character will also enjoy the many nods to the original, such as the inclusion of his silver bullets (and if, like me, you can’t wait to hear him yell out “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!”, you can rest assured that he does).
The problem with Verbinski’s reimagining of The Lone Ranger is not a lack of ambition, but instead, too much of it.
He tries to squeeze in too many things: an origin story, a buddy comedy, a Western, an action adventure, a treatise on the treatment of the Native Americans ... these are just some of the elements that are jumbled together.
The tone often veers abruptly from slapstick humour to intensely emotional, which makes you feel like you’re watching a few different movies at the same time.
It is when he keeps things simple, however, that the movie really works.
Like when the Lone Ranger and Tonto finally execute an ambush with THAT theme music; now that is a gloriously fun sequence, made by a director who understands how to pay homage to an iconic character.