‘Lone Ranger’ Review : A love letter to escapist Saturday Matinee Cinema


Most won’t be expecting Disney’s film adaptation of the archaic ’50s TV (and before that, radio) hit ”Lone Ranger” to leave the station, let alone progressively gather steam and maintain a brisk, fun pace throughout, but colour you purple, this local does indeed run well! (I’ve opened with a train analogy because the flick’s got a big ol’ crush on the steam engines of yesteryear!)

Unless you’ve had your head caught in a post satchel for the past twelve months (scissors work better, don’t just rip it open with your teeth!), you’ll be well aware of the problems this one’s suffered throughout production (budget blow-outs, script issues, the controversy surrounding the hiring of “white man” to play a Native Indian) and as such, you’re likely expecting the Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) directed film to play like an unsalvageable Disney theme park ride that’s bits break off the more it spins, right!?

You’ll be surprised to hear nothing breaks off, nothing comes loose, and the $250m spent on the flick is all on the screen.

“The Lone Ranger” is like being forced to visit that god-awful friend of your mothers and being pleasantly surprised to discover her pretty young niece is staying with her at the time.

The scenario : Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp playing both the younger and older incarnations of the characters), complete with white and black paint smeared on his face and a dead Crow atop of his head, retells the story of how he and John Reid aka The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) joined forces.

Like most buddy-team movies, especially contemporary cop capers, one of these guys (Tonto) is the craftier but more dangerous of the duo, while the other (Reid) is the naive, violence-opposing law-man who slowly and surely begins to change his ways as a result of the situations he’s put in throughout the piece.

And, of course, the mismatched duo are after the bad guy of the piece – Butch Cavendish (a scene-stealing William Fichtner) – for their own personal and dissimilar reasons; both also have different forms of judgement in mind for the scoundrel, too.

At the very least, “Lone Ranger” plays like a fun “Pirates of the Caribbean” twin holidaying in the Wild West – complete with that film’s director, producer, writer, and star, Johnny Depp. It keeps the energized blend of adventure and comedy that that “Caribbean” films had, anchors itself with in an almost epic storyline usually unheard of for popcorn movie fare, and runs amok with some of the most dazzling visual and special effect action and adventure scenes that producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s catalogue thrives on.

At its best, the film is just a darn hootin’ good time getaway – the kind of inexorable, large-scale fun factory the likes of Spielberg and Buford Tannen (one for you “Back to the Future III” fans) were renowned for back in the Reagan-era. Yes, it’s definitely a different beast to the original TV show, but it almost has to be – something as squeaky-clean, wholesome and golly-see standard wouldn’t play today. Instead, Verbinski and writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have crafted something much grander – a film more in the vein of say, Richard Donner’s “Maverick” or “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, a rare tent pole that brilliantly balances silliness, special-effects and story (and like it’s comparison titles, it’s of a chunky length, so you get your money’s worth and then some.)

“The Lone Ranger”, seemingly aware of the preconceptions most will have about it (and I too will admit to not being much interested in the film from the outset), strives to be the best it can be and gallops away with gold-dripped hoofs beaming. With its classic western escapism tone, combined with the welcome camp gags and old-school adventure feel of the “Pirates” series (particularly the first and the best), Bojan Bazelli’s beautiful cinematography, and predominately, a surprisingly effective duo playing the two classic heroes, this one worked out more than fine.

The film isn’t without its faults – the addition of ‘old Tonto’ (standing about in a museum exhibit) telling a young boy the story of his adventures isn’t just unnecessary, it’s a little hokey and a tad confusing (is he telling the boy a tall tale? is Tonto even really there? And if so, how did Tonto even get into the exhibit – and how was the boy the first to notice him!?), there’s also quite a bit of padding throughout the picture which could’ve been trimmed, thus knocking a few minutes off that lengthy running-time, and let’s not get started on those few incredulous plot touches spread throughout.

What’s good? A lot, lot more than what’s not!

As the Ranger and his sidekick (or is the other way around?) up-and-comer Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”) and Johnny Depp – who most feared would simply be doing a indolent impression of his Jack Sparrow character – are good fun, bouncing lines off one-another like an old-hat adventure movie couple, while the supports have been finely selected – particularly character actor Fichtner (“Drive Angry”, “Prison Break”), who almost steals the show as the disfigured, spit-heaving villain.

Verbinski’s direction is expansive and slick and he captures the people and places of the film as if he were turning in an old-school cowboy movie of the ’40s.

Best though, and not surprisingly considering this group’s previous efforts together, the actions sequences aren’t just huge … they’re hugely entertaining. Two runaway train sequences that bookend the film will go down as cinema’s most impressively-choreographed and captured stunt sequences in recent times; they look a treat.

Like our museum-squatting Tonto, the story “Lone Ranger” tells might be an old one, and one you’ve likely heard before, but the twist the “Pirates” gang apply to it is irresistible.
And while it offers up a little bit of everything, the film mostly serves as a love letter to escapist Saturday Matinee Cinema.

Ha. Whoever thought the ‘Lone Ranger’ would fly higher than Superman this Summer!?