If you go into "The Lone Ranger" expecting a beautifully photographed Western with some great stunts and lots of action, you will be very pleased.
However, if you are expecting a tight, well-told story about a man who finds his true calling – bringing justice to a lawless land while hiding his true identity – you're going to be disappointed.
Basically, what I'm saying is this film is an OK ride as far as popcorn movies go, but it ain't the classic Lone Ranger. Many remember the 1949-1957 TV show starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his "faithful Indian companion," Tonto as the definitive telling of the Lone Ranger tale.
True, the storylines were much the same, the acting alternated between wooden and over the top and it was pretty obvious many of the outdoor scenes were shot on a California soundstage, but still it was entertaining.
Back then, any villain staring into the Lone Ranger's masked face knew he was not to be trifled with.
This one seems to be an alternate universe version of the Masked Man. Most of the bad guys encountering this Ranger would have to wonder, "Who the heck is this guy?"
A lot has been made of the fact that this film stars Johnny Depp as Tonto; indeed, Depp's name appears in the end credits all by itself, before the title even flashes onto the screen.
Armie Hammer, who plays the fellow this film is supposedly about, pretty much is second fiddle to Depp. You tend to forget about Hammer's version of the Ranger every once in a while since there doesn't seem to be much substance behind the mask or under the white hat.
Because this is a Disney-produced film, it carries an almost de rigueur touch of Magic Kingdom-style fantasy. About halfway through the film, we learn from a Comanche chieftain that Tonto is "not right in the head," owing to a childhood trauma. Since we see the story through Tonto's eyes, told years later when he's been reduced to a sideshow attraction, we're sold a bill of goods by a slightly dotty old mystic who seems to have spent a little too much time in the sun.
But that's an excuse I've provided to try to make sense of a classic American tale that's been warped into something else entirely. Even the classic Lone Ranger theme, taken from the "William Tell Overture," doesn't seem to fit this film. You can't help but associate Rossini's work with the tales of the Masked Avenger of the West, but here it's used as little more than background music.
The storyline had promise. Before he dons the mask, the Ranger is John Reid, a district attorney and brother to Texas Ranger Dan Reid. Dan has been awaiting the arrival of notorious outlaw – and apparent cannibal – Butch Cavendish, who is being brought to town for execution.
Page 2 of 2 - Cavendish – and Tonto, for some reason – are aboard a prison train when the outlaw escapes. The first meeting between Tonto and John does not go well, as John tosses Tonto in jail after a miraculous escape from a train wreck. Dan deputizes John and eight Rangers set off in search of Cavendish. They're betrayed and shot down; John, fading in and out of consciousness witnesses Cavendish having a bloody meal that's just a little too much for a Disney film.
Tonto, who has somehow broken out of jail, reluctantly decides to rescue the barely-alive John Reid after a white "spirit horse" shows up to indicate he actually is a great warrior.
Because much of what we see in this film is through Tonto's eyes, we also see it through Tonto's own beliefs in the spirit world. Depp and director Gore Verbinski must have felt this touch of mysticism could explain some odd coincidences and gloss over some of the plot holes in the story, but it's just an excuse for sloppy storytelling and uneven pacing.
Depp's portrayal of a slightly unbalanced Tonto is OK although Hammer plays Reid as hopelessly naïve throughout most of the film. Even by the time the movie ends and Reid has begun to see what his role will be, Hammer just does not click as the Lone Ranger.
Maybe that's why when he rides off into the sunset, no one voices the character's familiar catchphrase, "Who was that masked man?"
It's not because no one knows, it's because no one cares.