There are two important things you should keep in mind when seeing “The Lone Ranger”:
1. It’s a comical look at the Western hero.
2. The film’s so weighted toward The Masked Man’s sidekick, it should have been called “Tonto.”
Unlike the dramatic approach used in past big-screen and TV versions of the Lone Ranger story, director Gore Verbinski takes a comedic approach similar to that used in his “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
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Even more important, this new “Lone Ranger” has Johnny Depp playing Tonto. No one is going to cast Depp in a film and reduce his presence to a supporting role.
Neither of these points creates any major problem, unless you want the Lone Ranger to be the classic hero. This version — played by Armie Hammer — is a bit of a dolt who prefers to battle bad guys with the letter of the law. From the decision to wear a mask to hide his identity to his horse, Silver, every aspect of the character is the punch line for a joke.
The story is a standard Western tale, with the Lone Ranger and Tonto trying to catch the evil Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who is in cahoots with some dastardly businessmen. Their battles play out against the backdrop of the completion of the first intercontinental railway.
Hammer’s likable enough, both as attorney John Reid and as the Masked Man. But he’s closer to the homespun nature of Sheriff Andy Taylor in “The Andy Griffith Show” than the heroic character played by Clayton Moore in the 1950s TV series or written by Fran Striker in the original radio plays and books.
Past Tontos have been stoic characters, but that was before Depp came along. The most obvious sign Depp’s Tonto is a few buffalo short of a herd is his constant feeding of the dead bird that rests upon his head. Instead of Tonto, the character should be called Capt. Jack Crow.
Verbinski was smart enough to keep some of the elements from the TV series, including the use of Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” as the theme music. The most exciting moments come in the last third of the film when The Lone Ranger and Tonto save the day against the musical backdrop of the driving music.
Verbinski’s movies have a bloated feeling, as shown in each “Pirates” movie. The action sequences in “The Lone Ranger” would have been even more exciting if Verbinski had cut at least 30 minutes.
If you can accept this film is not your father’s — or even grandfather’s — “Lone Ranger,” then this latest adventure has a few fun moments. If not, you and your “kemosabe” should ride off into the sunset of other summer movies.