The best of the Pirates of the Caribbean series meets Little Big Man in The Lone Ranger, Gore Verbinski’s magnificent take on the legendary masked man. Told as recollections by an ancient, droopy-faced Tonto (Johnny Depp) from his Wild West display case in 1933 San Francisco to a young boy in Ranger garb, the film adopts a potent mix of humor and adventure similar to that of the first (and best) Pirates film. Granted an ambiguous tall-tale tone from its amusing but potentially unreliable narrator, these entertaining elements assume a loose grandiose feel and a polished fun missing from much of its summer competition. The result is as surprising as it is welcome and a treat in this so-so blockbuster season.
The unquestioned star despite being absent from the film’s title, Depp is a delight as Tonto, a character creation as fresh here as it was a decade ago with Captain Jack Sparrow. For better or worse, The Lone Ranger’s success hinges on one’s appreciation for the Comanche’s deadpan humor and general tragicomic mystique that establishes itself early on. Unless the Depp fatigue mysteriously sweeping the nation has rendered one immune to his charms, the effect has the power to elicit vintage appeal even for those somewhat sour on the actor’s recent work. Combined with the straight-man style of his lawman-turned-partner John Reed (Armie Hammer), the duo play well off one another as they seek justice on the evil Butch Cavendish (an unsettling William Fichtner), peppering Verbinski’s clean and energetic action with winning one-liners.
While a near perfect two-hour action/adventurer is hiding in the final cut, even at 2.5 hours the film could stand to lose merely a few minutes. Following a steady flow of heroics and humor, the pace lulls in the requisite “I never want to see you again” scene, followed by some soul-searching and reevaluation on Reed’s part. Though the turn provides a respite before the big finale, a sufficient rise and fall of the action renders such an extended breath superfluous, a troubling sign for events yet to come. In a stunning turn of events, however, The Lone Ranger separates itself from other recent blockbusters by pulling itself out of that funk and recapturing, if not surpassing, the preceding winning formula.
Key to this success is a rousing final set piece of death-defying feats aboard a locomotive that deftly employs the “William Tell Overture,” the television show’s original theme (only slightly altered), matching the onscreen excitement with its old-fashioned giddy-up. As opposed to relying on more manipulating, calculated orchestration that attempts to persuade viewers that the action is more thrilling than it may actually be, here the action itself legitimately is thrilling, the pairing of visuals and audio stunning in its simplicity and brilliantly relaying the fullness of the fun at hand. Confident and well-constructed, the set piece recalls the film’s best elements while expanding them to their greatest unified potential. For such unexpected highs from a mainstream feature, The Lone Ranger towers above its marquee brethren, showing just what $250 million can do when in the proper creative hands.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.
The Lone Ranger is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.