It's clear that The Lone Ranger was a passion project on the part of director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp. This film, a revamp of the classic television and radio program, frames the adventures of John Reid - who becomes the masked Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer), and his sidekick-turned-headliner Tonto (Depp), in the middle of two bookend pieces of story between an elderly Tonto, ambiguously employed as part of a Wild Western exhibit at an amusement park, and a young boy dressed in a Lone Ranger costume who is shocked when the figure of Tonto comes to life and begins telling the tale of how he met Reid and convinced him to take up the mask of justice.
I will be honest. I anticipated this movie more than any other this summer. A huge fan of Gore Verbinski and Depp as a team, I salivated over every teaser and theatrical trailer released for this film. Westerns have been a tough sell the past decade, and this film will have a lot of work to do in order to get the audience it deserves. Lone Ranger is a philosophical hero's journey disguised as an action movie. Hammer is wonderful as the astute "learned man," coming back home to see his brother Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), who is married to his old love, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). From there, the train is hijacked and Hammer becomes shackled to Depp, and their journey together begins.
Don't let the action overwhelm you, however. For all the train sequences, with cars becoming derailed with Reid and Tonto flying all over the place, this film also showcases a touching and grounded performance by Depp as an outcast Comanche native. I have a fascination for Native American culture, and Depp brings a sense of loss and inner wound to Tonto - albeit accentuated by his typical character eccentricities. We see that Tonto was tricked as a child into trading his entire village for a cheap pocket watch, and it's that idea of trading that pushes Tonto to trade back vengeance with the villain of the film, a menacing Butch Cavendish (played amazingly by William Fichtner). Of course, there are more villains than just Cavendish in this crowded Western world.
Admittedly this film has a tone that is all over the place at times. I would consider this picture akin to World War Z in that large cuts from the script were made and alterations were done to lower the production budget before shooting could commence. I remember reading that some of the actors took pay cuts just to ensure that this story was told, and their performances show dedication and verve. For those who say that the film lacks heart, I say that they weren't looking in the right places. The heart of the picture is Depp, despite all the nay sayers that wanted the central character from previous tellings, the Lone Ranger himself, to take center stage. As it is, this is not possible with today's audience. It is Tonto's role to convince the Ranger to fight for justice, to pick up the gun he is so opposed to at the beginning of the film, and defend those he loves from not only those who wish to do them physical harm, but also from the greed of those in power who are willing to put entire towns and tribes of people into poverty to fatten their own wallets.
As the film pummeled forward, through set piece after set piece, I had to marvel that such a crucial piece of character in Tonto was the constant to keep the trademark Jerry Bruckheimer action meaningful. Yes, the train sequences and explosions are unrealistic escapism, but the film is trying to revitalize a dead genre in Hollywood. Lone Ranger is also trying to correct one of the great tragedies of American history by giving Tonto the limelight that he deserves after his people had their homes and their lives taken away by the very railroad tycoons that the characters in the film face off against. There are tears in elderly Tonto's eyes, and it was at that moment that I realized it all mattered. With new technology on the side of the white men, Tonto needed the help of the Lone Ranger, someone who could act as a bridge between the disadvantaged natives and the settlers, to fight back and defend a way of life that was being taken away by ruthless men. If the Ranger cared about Tonto's plight, then perhaps other settlers and fortune seekers would as well. Reid was chosen to be Tonto's partner by none other than the white spirit horse, after all. They may not agree one hundred percent, but they both bring unique things to the table that create a whole when fighting as a team. Reid brings his knowledge. On the flip side, Tonto knows how to handle a barrel of explosives. Again, to the nay sayers, I ask: since when did the movies have to be so serious? I'll take some dual train fighting on horseback any day of the week.