As the credits rolled in Gore Verbinski's retelling of The Lone Ranger, one thought rambled incessantly in my head. Why, for the love of God, was this movie so long? There were many good scenes broken up needlessly by ass-numbing filler. Seriously folks, The Lone Ranger runs a whopping two hours and twenty-nine minutes. Somewhere in there is an entertaining film, but it stretches your patience mightily. The approach is a modern one, focusing on the story through the eyes of Tonto (Johnny Depp). Disney makes a calculated effort to make up for the hideous treatment this Native American character has endured in past incarnations. The line is straddled mightily between family film and brutal western. Comedic bits are peppered throughout a relatively violent movie. The mixture sort of works, but the astonishing length detracts. Editing is becoming a lost art in these supposed summer blockbusters.
The Lone Ranger opens with a boy (Mason Cook), dressed as a mask wearing cowboy, walking through a carnival in early 1900's San Francisco. He pauses to take in a recreation of 'the noble savage' in his surroundings. To the boy's surprise, the aged Indian at the centerpiece of the display comes to life. Tonto regales the boy with the story of how The Lone Ranger came to be. The story shifts back to 1869 Texas where a ruthless train baron (Tom Wilkinson) awaits a train with the infamous outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Slated to be hanged, Cavendish has Tonto for a cell mate. Tonto has been waiting years to exact his revenge on this man. As Cavendish's band of outlaws attack the train to free him, a scholarly lawyer on his way home, John Reid (Armie Hammer), attempts to stop the prison break. This event thrusts John and Tonto together. John is a pacifist, refusing to even carry a gun. But when his beloved brother (James Badge Dale) is hideously murdered by a flesh-eating Cavendish, Reid dons the iconic mask. His search for justice uncovers an evil conspiracy, and lifelong partner in the strange Comanche that accompanies him.
The Lone Ranger is a thoroughly modern update on the western classic. The biggest change is the story is told from Tonto's point of view. The film goes to great lengths to show how wronged the Native American's were by the expansion of the railroad to San Francisco. I was surprised by how violent these scenes were. There's one in particular where an entire tribe of Comanches is gunned down by Union soldiers. This unflinching look at the murder and misery of the old west is a strong point. I'm fairly sure that many of the children that see this film will be moved by the savagery exhibited here. The old west is painted as accurately as possible for a PG-13 film. The content swings completely in the opposite direction with the comedy. Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer are almost Abbott and Costello at points. They bumble about, yell zingers back and forth, and are seemingly witless. Director Gore Verbinski wants to hit historical notes and establish a humorous relationship between the leads. This jump from death to laughter and death again is a little peculiar.
Johnny Depp's mannerisms as Tonto looked very familiar. I felt like I was watching Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean at times. His vocal inflection is distinctively Comanche, but his antics are starting to look the same across films. Verbinsksi directed the Pirates franchise as well, so it could be he pulled a similar performance from Depp. It doesn't detract too much from the film, but it is noticeable. Armie Hammer is fantastic as The Lone Ranger. He's an excellent foil to John Depp, but also embodies the transformation from effete lawyer to gallant hero. His big reveal as The Lone Ranger, with the classic soundtrack blazing, brought a huge smile to my face. You find yourself rooting for his character. In that sense he saves the film from its faults.
The Lone Ranger has a climactic action scene that is really amazing. It ends the film on a high note after an inexcusably long run time. This film would have been so much better if thirty minutes of fluff were cut. At times it drags, and there's no reason for it. There's enough going on in the story to keep an audience engaged. It is mind boggling to have seemingly endless scenes of desert and trudging about in a movie that is ostensibly meant for children. Verbinski could have had a lean, action packed comedy, running briskly at two hours. Instead we get a film with intermittent highlights and lots of useless meandering. Still, Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer are good together. I sincerely hope the inevitable sequel will be less bloated.