The Lone Ranger is a grab bag of hilarity, epic action sequences, forced PC moments, great costumes, entertaining nods to westerns, flat moments where the humor doesn’t work, confusing bits, and gorgeous camera work that will leave you wondering….what?
The film opens with a young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger wandering through fair grounds. He enters an exhibit about the Wild West and encounters a display featuring an aged Indian, who turns out to be Tonto (Johnny Depp) in his old age. Tonto begins a story about himself and the Lone Ranger. The opening framework with Tonto as an elderly storyteller allows for unreliable narrating that gives the film tall tale flair.
From there, the viewer is taken back to the old West where we meet Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), a Texas Ranger, his brother John (Armie Hammer), a likeable but dopey and pretentious lawyer who’s fresh out of college, Dan Reid’s tough but pretty wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), and the couple’s son Danny (Bryant Prince). More characters are quickly introduced, like Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) the wealthy railroad tycoon, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) the evil outlaw, and, of course, Tonto as a younger man.
A tale of betrayal unfolds, and Dan and his rangers, including little brother John, are ambushed by Butch Cavendish and his gang. All of them are killed. However, thanks to a Spirit Horse’s choice, John is brought back from the dead with Tonto’s reluctant help. John becomes the Lone Ranger, and Tonto becomes his partner on a quest for justice. The story improves on the original Lone Ranger in that Tonto is no longer a servant. Instead Tonto is clever, resourceful, and while he seems a little “out there”, he is the one calling the shots.
Together, Tonto and the Lone Ranger go after Butch Cavendish and his gang because as it turns out, Butch Cavendish not only killed John’s brother, he killed off Tonto’s tribe when he was a boy. What follows is a dizzying, sometimes confusing whirlwind of action and hit or miss comedy as the duo tries to exact vengeance for Cavendish’s crimes.
Something appealing about The Lone Ranger is the way it treats action. Frequently, action films take themselves very seriously and try to create believable sequences by maintaining cliches like if you throw your hands over your head and jump away from an explosion, you can survive it. By contrast, The Lone Ranger is lighthearted. Action sequences happen first and foremost because they are entertaining. This opens the door for creative moments like the Lone Ranger riding his horse at full gallop across rooftops, or engaging in gunfights with someone on another train that happens to be running parallel to the train the Lone Ranger is on. The only real downside is sometimes the action sequences go too far, leaving the viewer with questions. What just happened? Who is on that train? How did everybody get there?
The Lone Ranger also offers a lot of fun comedic moments. There’s the scene where the Lone Ranger’s horse is standing on a tree branch to graze on some leaves. Or the scene where a group of rabbits reveal they have giant fangs and tear apart a chunk of rabbit meat Tonto throws them. In the mix are comedic moments that take away from the story line. For example when Tonto and the Lone Ranger visit Red’s whorehouse. It is not clear why Tonto needs to put a birdcage over the dead bird on his head and say “afraid of cats” for any reason except a forced joke. Moments like these detract from the entertaining flow of the film, leading one to believe the movie may have been a lot better if it were shorter. A shorter film means some of the more lackluster moments can be pulled out.
There is also the big controversy to consider, which is Depp’s portrayal of a Native American character. His stated goal is to portray Native Americans with more depth and sensitivity, which is supposedly shown by Tonto’s high intelligence, ability to speak good English, and strong fighting skills. The other Native Americans in the film are also depicted as smart and more than just stereotypical noble savages. However, the film glosses over the death of two Comanche tribes that occur during the story. Additionally, Tonto’s outfit is not representative of Comanche culture; the look of the character is inspired by fantasy Native American paintings created by a white artist. So at the end of the day, it is still white people trying to be more sensitive about other cultures instead of letting those cultures portray themselves.
All in all, The Lone Ranger is a mixed bag. If you like creative action sequences, visually interesting camera work, good acting, funny moments, and are also okay sitting through spots where you are confused, annoyed with a joke that fell flat, or wondering whether what you just saw was racist, then you should check it out.