Film Review: The Lone Ranger

Cracking the code of how to present a 'Lone Ranger' for the 2010s, Gore Verbinski's heroic adventure is a whip-cracking thrill—an Old West superhero movie, essentially—with a climactic train sequence of unparalleled craft.

If you like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you'll like The Lone Ranger. There, I said it, and fanboys be damned with their complaints that this isn't the radio Lone Ranger or the 1950s TV Lone Ranger…just as Pirates of the Caribbean isn't Errol Flynn in Captain Blood. This isn't to suggest that producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski's high-action take on the venerable Old West crusader copies those filmmakers' earlier collaborations. In fact, despite the period setting, The Lone Ranger is essentially a superhero movie, hitting that hard target where larger-than-life meets the real thing. And given a choice between this buoyantly kinetic, full-of-heart adventure and recent actual superhero movies (the dour, leaden Man of Steel), I'd go it a Lone.

As revealed long before the movie opened, "full of heart" has two meanings. At one point in this PG-13 film, seriously evil bad guy Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), obscured in shadow, cuts out of the heart of a fallen Texas Ranger and takes a chomp. It's less graphic that the heart-removal scene in 1984's PG-rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which spurred the creation of PG-13). But the question of whether that Cavendish canapé is too much for kids misses the point. This may be a Disney movie, but it's for older kids. Every child is different, obviously, but given what they see in videogames, and given the zombie-chomping graphicness of the equally PG-13 World War Z, I'd say anyone objecting to this, ahem, heart-felt moment doth protest too much.

I'd say the same to those who gripe about the odd, mystical doings of the spirit horse, because the movie is told in flashback from the perspective of a wizened, quite eccentric character—the working definition of the film-school trope, "the unreliable narrator." As another Western movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, put it, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Or film it, in this case. Whatever really happened out on the frontier, this is the story as Tonto (Johnny Depp) remembers it, animist mysticism and all.

Tonto, you'll recall, and as decades of pop lore have instilled, is the Native American who rescues Ranger John Reid (Armie Hammer) from near death after a Cavendish ambush and spurs him to become the titular hero. His ascendance from sidekick to reluctant partner reframes the white-imperialist/noble-savage image of the duo and, really, how else could you present Tonto today? Depp dependably creates a fully realized, flawed human being, as does Hammer with John Reid.

And Hammer is, really is, John Reid through and through, not a self-conscious archetype. A son of Colby, Texas, who goes East to become a lawyer, Reid returns to help bring the rule of law to the West. His older brother, Capt. Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), deputizes the John into a group of Rangers who chase the escaped Cavendish until meeting an end worthy of Bruce Wayne's parents. Lone survivor Reid, teamed with Tonto, goes after Cavendish and unravels a conspiracy involving railroad mogul Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a silver mine, the years-ago slaughter of a native village and an Army captain (Barry Pepper) all too willing to do what the oligarchs demand.

The picaresque adventure culminates in an extended set piece involving runaway trains, old-school stunts, clockwork timing and genuine spectacle. Fun but not campy, heroic without being corny, and with a protagonist more appealing and interesting than the guy with "that's-not-an-S" on his chest, The Lone Ranger deserves to be a hit, if there's any justice—frontier or otherwise.