The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger ★★★½

2013 Ranked

Championed by director Quentin Tarantino and noted film critic Matt Zoller Seitz as a prime candidate for re-evaluation, I must say that I agree. With an knack for being over-the-top, The Lone Ranger may drag in spots, but is a tremendous time with audacious action set pieces at every turn. The soon-to-be-famed train sequence at the end and the opening sequence on a different train are phenomenal. While the middle could be a bit better and the film does go on for far too long, The Lone Ranger is a fun film that feels like a throwback to the bombastic days of 1970s and 1980s blockbusters. Channeling childish energy and a sense of childlike wonder for the mystery of the film's hero, director Gore Verbinski creates a blockbuster movie that is out of place in year 2013.

Since the days of Steven Spielberg revolutionizing the blockbuster movie in the 1970s and 1980s with fun adventure films that more than satisfied adults and became nostalgia for kids of then and now, the blockbuster movie has changed. Now, the films are shot like television shows, have quips at every turn that distract from the action, and are easily digestable. They lack intrigue, a sense of adventure, and feel manufactured. Now, of course, a lot of this comes from the resurgence of the studio's power in the filmmaking and the death of the big budget auteur. Yet, director Gore Verbinski has shown an ability to operate with a big budget and still come out on top with his 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean. Though its sequels have slacked and been overly manufactured, the original is a fun, bombastic, action-packed, and guilt-free excursion across the oceans with Jack Sparrow. Taking that same energy and sense of adventure and applying it to The Lone Ranger, Verbinski's film was met with incredible levels of ridicule in the United States. As mentioned, some of his peers and noted critics such as Seitz or those in Britain found great value in the film. This is no mistake as the film seems to have escaped those entrusted to critique it. Accustomed to the new age blockbusters, critics could not stomach this throwback to old school blockbusters. While recognizing its action set pieces, its flaws and plotholes became the focus and, as such, were easily derided. The sooner folks realize that every film is flawed and has plot holes, the happier we will all become and all those plot holes do is distract from the fun that the film conjures up. There is no going through the motions or checking off boxes here. Rather, Verbinski sets up John Reid (Armie Hammer) and Tonto (Johnny Depp) to have an audacious adventure in order to stop Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), while saving Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). An old school premise and execution, The Lone Ranger is pure energy.

This energy really is infectious to watch. As said, the middle part of the film takes a bit too long to get through. This likely where the film loses people as the plotting is a bit much at times and can seem a bit convenient. Of course, the film never loses its sense of fun with Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp having incredible chemistry with one another. Occasionally making light of their situations, the jokes always land, as does the Native American mysticism delivered by Tonto. Really setting the scene and marking the film as one about avenging the death of the Comanche tribe that Tonto was apart of, The Lone Ranger is essentially a lesson in the horrors committed against the Natives in the name of "progress". However, adding in mythology regarding the Natives that Tonto has made up as a coping mechanism, the film often becomes quite sad when you learn how Tonto wound up where he did. Yet, he is not as crazy as he seems as many of his "made up elements to explain the world" actually do explain things and allow the film as a whole to make a lot more sense. Though hardly realistic and decidedly over-the-top, the film is told as a story from Tonto to a young boy in 1933. As such, elements are likely exaggerated and exist solely to extend the legend of The Lone Ranger. Plus, the banter that it creates between Tonto and the Lone Ranger is always rich and rewarding with some great humor to it, as a result of their chemistry together and comic delivery.

The film also adds in some solid supporting characters in the form of characters such as Red (Helena Bonham Carter). Though underutilized, Red is a madame in a brothel with an ivory leg that she hides a gun in. A little bit crazy and unafraid to use her leg as a weapon, Red has some great comedy to her, largely thanks to Carter's performance. As the villains, Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner are terrific. Wilkinson, portraying a cruel businessman after wealth, is calculating, smart, and unfeeling. As the brother of the businessman, Fichtner plays an outlaw wanted by the law. Brutal, cannibalistic, and truly evil, Fichtner plays a terrifically menacing bad guy that instills great fear in our hearts. All of these supporting characters are solidly written and really add great depth to the plot. As opposed to the characters in other blockbusters nowadays that are terrible villains, the ones in The Lone Ranger are worthy adversaries that Verbinski develops and explains thoroughly how Tonto and the Lone Ranger have come to fight them.

This solid character exposition continues for its heroes with Tonto, a former Comanche who is now without a tribe, constantly trying to avenge the loss of his tribe to the evil brothers. Seeking somebody to assist him in this journey, the spirit horse (who Tonto tries to figure out whether it is "stupid or just pretending to be stupid") leads him to John Reid. Portrayed as a serious man by Hammer, Reid is coming to Texas to be a district attorney and is more concerned with the law than anything else. In the beginning, he turns down a woman's offer to pray with them in order read a book about government by John Locke. Committed to law and order, Reid is a serious man who has little time for anything else, even Rebecca. However, when Butch Cavendish (Fichtner) kills his brother, Reid puts on the mask and becomes a new man. Calculating and determined to succeed, he is unknowingly helping Tonto and learning from Tonto. Through Tonto, he not only learns an appreciation for the Natives, but learns how to become less serious. Though he is committed to justice, he realizes that justice is not always found via the law and that people must sometimes take justice into their own hands when the law lets them down. For John, that time is now and he is there to assist Tonto in bringing down the men that tricked Tonto in giving up his people all those years ago.

As may be clear, this film is a little bit crazy. Fortunately, so were films such as Indiana Jones. Hardly based in reality and always on the look out for bombastic moments of action, The Lone Ranger is a film with terrific action and a knack for capturing it. Via the lens of Bojan Bazelli, the action in the film is exquisitely captured and whoever choreographed and blocked the action deserves an award because it is tremendous. Unrelentingly adventurous and action-packed, these bursts of thrills and colors are well thought out, explained, and executed. Though the film itself may have some plot hole issues, the action lacks any such issues with each element playing in perfectly to the conclusion of the film and the sequence itself. The brilliance of the action extends to the cinematography as a whole that is really terrific. There is one shot in the beginning of men riding into town where the men are completely silhouetted that is brilliant. There is another during one action set piece in which Tonto rescues John Reid from the railroad men that is equally well shot in which a train, billowing smoke, backs up at night. With the light from the train shining on everybody and the train itself, the scene is gorgeously captured. Heavily utilizing smoke effects at every turn, The Lone Ranger uses that smoke with great mystique and captures it brilliantly, but Verbinski also uses it to his advantage to keep some action mysterious and unpredictable, while adding to the legend of his heroes with them being adorned in smoke on more than a few occasions. Gorgeously captured and making the most of its desert setting, The Lone Ranger is a beautiful film.

Beautiful, well-acted, well directed, and action-packed, The Lone Ranger instills infectious fun wherever it goes. Undeserving of its poor critical reception, the film is a bombastic throwback to the days when blockbusters had heart and soul and still reflected the vision of the director. While Verbinski may not strictly be an auteur, this film is a product of himself and shows off his love of old westerns, the original series, and old school blockbusters. The latter really shines through with the film being relentlessly nostalgic in its plotting, characters, and dialogue, with fresh jokes and gags that complement the action and character arcs without distracting from them. Through this, Verbinski is able to craft a film that is enjoyable, adventurous, and that possesses a sense of childlike wonder that has long ago left the big studio blockbuster.

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