"If we ride together, we ride for justice."
John Reid (Armie Hammer)
Budget setbacks, schedule changes, chickenpox outbreaks, the death of a stunt supervisor - Disney's The Lone Ranger has certainly had more than its fair share of troubles. Since the beginning of 2007, the rights to the radio series character bounced from studio to studio until producer Jerry Bruckheimer set the project up at Disney, only to see the project pushed back in favour of the last Pirates of the Caribbean film. When the shoot finally began last year under director Gore Verbinski, the difficult pre-production seemed a cakewalk compared to the troubles still to come. Naturally, the critics and media commentators have had their knives out in waiting and they have been unscrupulous in their attacks. This is a pity because the film, while by no means perfect, is a rather entertaining and exciting action comedy that manages to both stay loyal to its source material and update the legend for modern audiences.
The casting of Johnny Depp as the Lone Ranger's trusty sidekick Tonto has been one of the major avenues of attack, especially when early pictures from the set surfaced online. Depp and Costume Designer Penny Rose based the look on a painting by Kirby Sattler and, while it is certainly unusual, it works with Depp's interpretation of the character. With Depp in the role, Tonto has been put front and center of the movie and this has certainly shifted some of the focus from the title character (something that many critics were quick to jump on). It is not a complete power transfer and the weighting is considerably more balanced that early reports have suggested. Depp makes the character his own, a Comanche scout who may have fallen from the path, looking to avenge a terrible injustice to his people. The trademark pratfalls and quirky mannerisms are all present and correct, but they are relatively kept at acceptable levels. Up and coming Hollywood star Armie Hammer is the Man in the Mask and he fits the role well. Perhaps it is with Hammer that some of the slapstick elements in the script fall a little flat, but he succeeds in convincing the audience that his naïve attorney would stand up for truth and justice outside of the law. And with support from Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, William Fichtner and Helena Bonham Carter among others, the film benefits from a strong ensemble.
Narrative-wise, the film uses flashbacks to the Old West used superlatively by William Goldman in The Princess Bride - the elder telling a story to the younger. This is a textbook example of the untrustworthy narrator technique, which allows the audience a higher suspension of disbelief. It does disjoint the flow at times, but Verbinski has a firmer grip on the plot than previously shown in the Pirates… films. The action sequences, particularly the final runaway train set-piece, bristle with invention and energetic thrill as the heroes leap, bound and even horse-ride atop the out-of-control locomotive. Some may find the idea of a heart-eating villain distasteful in a family film and perhaps a few story strands leave the film feeling a little flabby (Bonham Carter's crocked brothel madam is fun but hardly essential to the storyline, for example), but when it hits it's stride, The Lone Ranger is solid action entertainment. Don't let the critics sway your decision - see it for yourself and decide.
While it may not receive All-time Classic status, The Lone Ranger is an enjoyable adventure that should bring new fans to the legend of the Man in the Mask, while satisfying fans of the classic radio and TV series of yesteryear. Hi-yo Silver, away!