Over-the-Top Popcorn Entertainment.

I’ve been looking forward to the brand-new The Lone Ranger film longer than any blockbuster in recent memory. I tend to approach summer blockbusters with grand hesitation. As a critic (more importantly, an audience member), I hunger for character development, human interest, and a fulfilling amount of exposition to make an event worthy. Even the most naive, ignorant moviegoer will know that many summer movies do not supply those things, and tend to be the “turn your brain off” kind of films, a term I really, whole-heartedly despise. The Lone Ranger is a mixture of the two, combining exposition in its tolerable screenplay while simultaneously being very entertaining in its action sequences. This is a strong film that may unfortunately get shortchanged with the wealth of summer films sure to be alienating consumers.

With the current state of the theater-market, which is jam-packed and overblown, I can only hope that The Lone Ranger goes on to achieve the same sort of cult-appreciation films like Dredd and John Carter have gone on to receive. The film may have its share of disappointing elements and notable setbacks from being the true summer masterpiece it could’ve been, but in the very least it’s an admirable achievement that does go on record for being a damn-good slice of viable entertainment.

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The film stars Armie Hammer as the title character (known by his real name John Reid), a diligent, respectable ex-Texas Ranger who returns home to Colby, Texas to reconnect with his brother Dan (James Badge Dale). He is on-board a train, also carrying the ruthless outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), en-route to his hanging and Tonto (Johnny Depp in impressive Indian makeup), who was arrested for being Indian. In a series of events that are better to watch than explain, Butch escapes the train and kills Dan, leaving the scrupulous John to become The Lone Ranger and team up with Tonto, who is equipped with feathers, holsters, a robe, and a bird for a tiara. They venture out with the mindset to take down Butch and have wholesomeness prevail.

I criticized Man of Steel a few weeks ago for giving its title character little-to-know personality outside of being a stereotypical, bland good-guy. Granted The Lone Ranger doesn’t have a truly discernible personality but, personally, I find him more entertaining to watch, in the original program that dates back over fifty years and in this new film. There is little suspense in Superman’s line of work in the film because we know he is an astronomical figure with many tricks up his sleeve. It’s not about “will he get out alive?,” rather “how will he get out alive?” The Lone Ranger and Tonto are left to their own wits, in a world that replicates reality, only emphasizing more on the “close calls.”

Armie Hammer is a capable lead in this position, tall, lanky, and exerting both a state of power and nervousness. Johnny Depp takes on his never-ending, but brilliant line of quirky characters that are completely layered in makeup and require serious on-screen confidence and devotion. I’ve always regarded Depp as a fearless performer, who often takes roles that haven’t been portrayed on screen and demand Depp’s own personal take on them. It isn’t like he can go back and search up how a previous actor made the role work; he needs to put his own creative spin on it and he almost always succeeds.

There are two masterful action sequences in the film, both bookending the lengthy but often amusing hour-and-forty-minute middle-section of the film. Both sequences involve trains (my favorite over cars) and possess the element of unpredictability and grandscale graft that director Gore Verbinski illustrates intuitively. The final scene is enjoyable and climactic without being too overwrought and lengthy, which is a benefit coming from someone who has seen one too many overlong, monotonous superhero finales in the last three years.

Verbinski is best-known for manning the camera in all three Pirates of the Caribbean films and, most recently, the quick-witted and thoroughly amusing animated film Rango, which was great to look at and enthusiastically charming all around. Even in that film, Verbinski had a terrific sense of framing and scope. The Pirates series is known for having amazing visuals and a swashbuckling sense of excitement and fun just by the way the atmosphere is presented and the large-scale action scenes handled. The Lone Ranger doesn’t lack in that department, and puts its $250 million to great use. Even in the slower scenes, the film is fun to look at because Verbinski packs in so much detail and exquisite craft that it’s impossible to turn your head.

Besides its run time, which is about twenty minutes too long and really begins to drag in the aforementioned middle section, the film’s other drawback is its humor, which is often corny and slows the progress of scenes. I made it a priority to acquaint myself with the original TV serial before diving into the film, and while it wasn’t void of the fourth-wall, cheesy humor, it had a more subtle way of incorporating it. Its inclusion in the film appears that writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio cranked out a great screenplay but made it humorless, thus having to go back and incorporate tired jokes of horse defecation and movie references. It gets to be a bit overcompensating.

Nonetheless, The Lone Ranger manages to be often entertaining and bold without being too depressingly dark or ridiculously drab. Hammer and Depp often show surprising chemistry, especially during the train scenes when they are forced to help each other succeed when they don’t necessarily want to, and the level of entertainment surpasses the typical “popcorn” level thanks to its foray into the character’s lives in the middle. There’s enough here in this one-hundred and forty-nine minute film that allow it to exist in every genre of summer movies.

Grade: B


Reviewed by Steve Pulaski

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