Looking back on Disney’s new western revival The Lone Ranger, I’m still under the firm belief that the movie could have just as easily been called Trains, Manes and More Trains, as most of the proceedings either takes place upon a trusty steed or the booming steel of the railroad.
In fact, the latest collaboration between megastar Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3/Rango director Gore Verbinski is a chugging locomotive of a movie – one that keeps up an effortlessly extravagant, businesslike pace.
The latest update on the masked avenger is almost “Pirates goes West”, hitting the same tonal marks of the monstrous at-sea franchise. We get plenty of high-stakes actions sequences, vile villains, playful banter between supporting players and stellar acting from Mr. Depp. But, The Lone Ranger might just weave a better yarn than the three Pirates films combined.
Story-wise, John Reid (the wide-eyed Armie Hammer), the goody two shoes district attorney, rides into town upon the budding railway system to visit his brother Dan and family when the train is ambushed by a wretched gang of outlaws looking to free their leader (William Fichtner’s slack-jawed smile Butch Cavendish). During the jaunt, John meets Tonto (Depp), a Native American who is in the same prison car as Butch. Tonto helps John fend off the bad guys, but makes haste as soon as the train derails in stunning fashion.
Inspired by his love of justice, John joins up with his brother’s posse to track down Cavendish once and for all and bring him to justice. After a ruthless betrayal, John and company are murdered by the Cavendish gang.
But, as fate would have it, the feistily driven Tonto is searching for an invincible spirit walker. After a wily white horse believed to have special powers signals John’s makeshift grave as one that holds a supernatural being, Tonto brings back our hero from the brink. As fate would also have it, Tonto has a personal vendetta against Butch for past crimes. With a common enemy in sight, John (now sporting a trademark mask and hat) and Tonto team up to exact justice upon Cavendish, embarking on an expertly crafted journey that rarely makes an unscheduled stop.
Verbinski already dipped his toes into the western genre with Rango, one of the finer animated movies of the past decade, and here, he doubles genre success. Much of The Lone Ranger gets by with stalwart western conventionalities. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad and the horse chases are a plenty. Even if The Lone Ranger borrows a few downs from the Pirates playbook, this self-assured adaptation has the spirit of a true western – an aura that helps set a perfect stage for the story.
Scripters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (the latter two were regulars on the Pirates movies, in case you were wondering) deserve high praise for wrangling together such an intricate story in a big set-piece driven movie like The Lone Ranger. The storytelling feels unusually epic, saddling both Dan and Tonto’s stories with hitting emotional hooks that tie together with the plot in ways I didn’t expect. I appreciated the quality of the narrative, melding beautifully the spectacle with the beating heart of the story.
Depp wisely plays Tonto with understated prowess. Unlike the rightly-flashy Captain Jack Sparrow, Tonto’s a man of few words. Depp has fun with the character, giving him fun little character beats that keep The Lone Ranger primarily concerned with its title character. Hammer looks like he’s having the time of his life with Dan. Fichtner might be the film’s secret weapon, giving Butch a snake-in-the-grass feel that keeps him constantly menacing. Tom Wilkinson also shows up with good notices as the regal Latham Cole, a major player in the success of the railway, as does Ruth Wilson as Dan’s widow Rebecca.
And what about that finale? The last 20 minutes of this movie might be the best use of the railway system since, well, it was first used to transport people across the country. It gives the phrase “nonstop train action sequence” a whole new meaning, for sure.
A small bane comes from the slightly-indulgent run-time. While I greatly commend the storytelling, I feel that a few minutes could be shaved off the final product. The Pirates movies always clocked in way ahead of what was necessary, so I suppose that that trait also carried over with this one as well.
Despite the slightly-bloated runtime, I found the The Lone Ranger to be immensely rewarding. If you choose to hop aboard, I guarantee you’ll be in for quite the ride.