Movie Review: ‘The Lone Ranger’ (Minor Spoilers)

The Lone Ranger_PosterThe Lone Ranger

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by Justin Haythe and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Starring: Armie Hammer (John Reid/The Lone Ranger), Johnny Depp (Tonto), William Fichtner (Butch Cavendish), Tom Wilkinson (Cole), Ruth Wilson (Rebecca Reid), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Harrington), James Badge Dale (Dan Reid), & Barry Pepper (Fuller)

To say that, as a long time fan of The Lone Ranger and Tonto, I was nervous going into this film would be an understatement. But I needn’t have been worried. The team of director Gore Verbinksi and star Johnny Depp have recaptured the rollicking summer movie magic that made the first Pirates of the Caribbean so much fun and, as it turns out, I haven’t had this much fun at the movies since seeing Marvel’s The Avengers. I really haven’t.

The primary reason I was nervous going into The Lone Ranger was that Hollywood seems to be, for whatever reason, averse to the traditional western genre, which is bizarre because it’s a staple of American cinema. Hollywood seems especially averse to the traditional western when it comes to big time summer blockbusters and as exhibit A, I present Jonah Hex. That was an opportunity to tell a gritty western starring a quintessential anti-hero and someone somewhere along the line decided that since it was based on a comic book that it needed to have fantastical supernatural elements added to it.

And we all know how Jonah Hex turned out.

I was really worried that some development executive at Disney had demanded that The Lone Ranger now possess psychic powers or that he fight a demon or something equally horrible. Instead what I got was a straight-up western story that cleverly played with my fears and turned them on their head. (That’s not to say that there haven’t been fantastical elements involved in the traditional story of The Lone Ranger, and that there aren’t still elements of that in this film, but they play much more along the lines of traditional Hollywood American Indian mysticism, rather than supernatural, that is so often prevalent in these kind of stories.)

The story of The Lone Ranger is a familiar one. A group of Texas Rangers goes out to hunt down a bad man named Butch Cavendish, only to be betrayed and ambushed and viciously gunned down. The only survivor of the massacre, John Reid (who wasn’t even a Ranger to begin with, he was only tagging along with his brother) is found and saved by Tonto and emerges from death to bring justice to the west as the mysteriously masked man known as The Lone Ranger. Wisely, the story remains the same here, the only difference being that William Fichtner’s Cavendish is slightly badder than you might remember him, especially if you only remember him being played by Christopher Lloyd in The Legend of The Lone Ranger in 1981.

The main difference between this film and all other filmic interpretations of these characters in the past is Johnny Depp’s Tonto. No mere sidekick, here Tonto is much more complex and interesting than he has ever been before, and while he may not be the titular star of the film he is certainly the main driving force of the story. It is Tonto’s tragedy and backstory that the entire film’s plot is hung on, and it is a Tonto that is exceptionally layered and full of pathos that we find in The Lone Ranger. Sure, this Tonto is an extreme bad ass who can do anything from track bad guys in the unforgiving desert to commit unbelievable acts of derring-do while fighting those same bad guys on two different trains simultaneously, all while serving as the comic relief. But in that sense he is no different than fan-favorite characters like Snake Eyes or Kato in The Green Hornet. The entire film is framed from Tonto’s point of view, and the device used to tell the story is equally funny and heartbreaking, almost shockingly so.

Armie Hammer’s The Lone Ranger is, for the most part, the straight man in the picture. His character arc is familiar—he starts off as the pacifist dandy district attorney who would rather use the law to bring criminals to justice than the six guns favored by the Texas Rangers—but by the end of the film, when John Reid fully becomes The Lone Ranger during the film’s breathless climactic train sequence, Hammer truly shines. His role is less showy than Depp’s but he is equally adept and compelling, convincingly portraying Reid’s innate heroism and decency while also generating laughs as he comes to grips with his new lot in life.

 The Lone Ranger_Still

With The Lone Ranger we have an earnest hero from a (sadly, seemingly) by-gone age. He’s not full of angst or pathos (that’s Tonto) he’s just doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. He puts his life on the line to save people because that’s what heroes do and that’s who he is. The Lone Ranger is a throw-back; he’s someone who will save the day and then tussle the hair of the little boy in town while tipping his hat and calling the boy’s mother “ma’am” before riding off into the sunset. I really hate to bring up Man of Steel here but The Lone Ranger threw into stark relief my problems with the tone of the former film.

(That’s not to say that this film doesn’t play the more traditional tropes of The Lone Ranger for laughs; it does at points, but you never get the sense that it’s not done with affection and heart.)

The Lone Ranger is also a surprisingly complicated film in what it has to say about America. It doesn’t shy away from the dark and complicated parts of history, albeit in the subtle way of the summer blockbuster. The Indians did bad things to the settlers, the U.S. army did even worse things to the Indians, and robber barons built the railroads through exploitation and greed, while also connecting the nation from coast to coast. All of these elements are either hinted at or explicitly dealt with in a way that shows the old west to be, in some ways, as complexly grey as we’d like to think it was black and white.

The Lone Ranger is not a perfect movie. There are characters that are completely extraneous to the plot and elements in the story that I’m still scratching my head over. But the film is so much fun and the characters are so great to be around that I totally bought into the world and (just about) everything that was happening in it and was having a great time doing so. That’s the most important thing in a film like this—the audience needs to go along for the ride and be happy about it.

And when the William Tell Overture kicked in during the climax of the film—after a very clever musical feint in one of the first scenes—I was all in. I believed in heroes again.

4.5 Stars

(Out of 5)


  1. Wow, that is quite the review! I was actually going to pass on this, as I didn’t care for the Pirates of the Carribbean movies, but I do like the Lone Ranger. I loved the Dynamite comic series from a few years back. With this kind of praise from Conor, I will need to check it out now. Whenever he loves a movie/TV show this much, I usually do, too.


    What a great review. Can’t wait to watch it now. Thanks, Hunter!

  3. I managed to win tickets to an advance screening last week. I too was expecting the worst…but…HOLY CRAP this Movie was fun!! I’m going to see it again, and I don’t see Movies twice on the big screen ever.

  4. Wow wasn’t expecting that. My son really wants to see it. Looks like I have a reason to take him now.

  5. Saw it in an advance screening. For me, it was dull, mindless, factory made crap that truly represents the worst Hollywood has to offer. Yeah, I am serious. Its basically Pirates of the Texas!
    But to further explain my point of view I should point out that I also HATED the Pirates movies (only saw 1+2) for the same reasons, so if you liked those you will like this. Why you would do that, however, is a mistery to me.
    I rewatch MoS again this week, for the 4th time. To me, THAT was great blockbuster filmmaking, but I like m movies to be somewhat serious and present dire situations and a hero who has to overcome a lot of bleakness.

    • This pretty much sums up exactly how I felt about Iron Man 3.

    • Oh, I should also say I’m a little tired of “serious and dire” being automatically equated with “good.” Making a humorless, grey, dire film like Man of Steel is not really, for lack of a better word, more difficult than making a film that is mindless fun like the Pirates films. The real challenge, and real success when done right, is striking a balance between humorous and dire situations. The first Iron Man, Avengers, and both new Star Trek films are perfect examples of this. Being able to balance the lighter moments with the darker, and give proper gravitas to both, is what makes a film great. If a film is just pure darkness and direness (is that even a word?) then it loses its impact for a lack of balance. It is the humorous moments that give the dark their impact and vice versa.

    • I’m going wednesday to see MoS for a second time with some friends, best movie I’ve seen this summer (but i expect Pacific Rim to make it a real contest).

    • I’m not sure what my favorite is so far this summer. My wife and I saw World War Z last night and REALLY enjoyed it.

    • @Uspunx, the summer’s not over yet but surely you have some inkling of your favorite? Personally I’ve only been to the movies twice this summer but then again most of the stuff I want to see isn’t out yet.

    • Hmmm…If pressed I’d probably say World War Z (though it is the most recent I’ve seen). It certainly had a few plot holes but in terms of pulse pounding action sequences it was by far my favorite. Star Trek was more visually impressive but World War Z was just more thrilling. I have read/seen/enjoyed a lot of zombie fiction but this was the first, including the book it was based upon, to truly capture a realistic feel of what a global zombie apocalypse would look like.

      I am REALLY excited to still see Man of Steel, Lone Ranger, and Pacific Rim. (MoS and LR I plan to see this holiday weekend) I think all three of those could contend for my favorite of the summer! But right now, it’s World War Z.

  6. Conor’s a great reviewer, and I’m glad he gave an honest opinion, but between this, 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 6.8 on IMDB, I don’t know what to think! Guess I’ll have to go see it myself…!

  7. I was gonna pass on this, but maybe I’ll take my nephew.

    @Conor: Safe for a five year old?

    • Weeeell… it’s surprisingly scary and dark in parts. There were a lot of little kids at the screening I went to and I heard some minor grumbling in the lobby afterward from some parents that it was a little too much for their kids. I guess it’s going to depend on the kid. If you need some specific, somewhat spoiler-y examples, shoot me an email.

    • I might just do that. Thanks.

    • The profanity is pretty extreme. Not sure why the writers feel the need to you so much foul language. It all depends on what you feel is best for your own kid, but I wouldn’t let my 10 year old see it. Great movie for older teens to adults.

    • I would also say this movie isn’t appropriate for most kids. It has scenes of extreme violence and cruelty, even though they don’t show the most graphic aspects on the screen, the intent is clear, and for younger viewers this could be pretty disturbing stuff.

  8. I have had little doubt that this movie could be good. Depp is a hell of an actor and a risk taker. Who thought his look in this movie would go over well with people and yet there his is. Verbinski has proven time and again that he can make something out of nothing. The Ring anyone? I’m excited about see it.

    So far, its 2 for 2 with the movies I’ve seen. Loved Star Trek and Man of Steel. I hope Lone Ranger makes it 3 for 3.

  9. Great review! I was going to see this anyway because my Dad was a HUGE Lone Ranger fan growing up, but this review really racheted up my excitement!

  10. Haven’t seen this yet, and feel very disinclined to. I’m not a Lone Ranger fan, or even a Disney fan (not to say I don’t watch their movies, but some of them are just… pointless. Tron:Legacy, Alice in Wonderland). I love westerns but I’m very doubtful that Disney could deliver one to me. I forget what Jeremy Jahns give this on Youtube but he had some funny comments on it.

    ” I really hate to bring up Man of Steel here but The Lone Ranger threw into stark relief my problems with the tone of the former film.”

    “But the film is so much fun and the characters are so great to be around that I totally bought into the world and (just about) everything that was happening in it and was having a great time doing so. That’s the most important thing in a film like this—the audience needs to go along for the ride and be happy about it.”

    Funny, that’s almost how I felt about MoS. Oh well, good review Conor. If anything it makes me consider renting it in the future.

  11. I don’t mind this being a spectacle because I’ve never cared much for the character but I hope we don’t start getting westerns that have this much CGI and craziness. I just want more stuff like Django Unchained

    • I’m a big western fan AND a big Tarantino fan (and a big fan of the original Django!) but I really didn’t care for Django Unchained. In it’s own way it was just as stylized and over the top as I imagine Lone Ranger will be.

      Give me more westerns like True Grit, Appaloosa, The Proposition, and The Assassination of Jesse James.

    • Yeah, I wouldn’t call DJANGO UNCHAINED any more or less “realistic” than THE LONE RANGER. They’re both stylized. Neither of them is UNFORGIVEN.

    • Thanks Conor. Just out of curiosity…what wold you give Django Unchained out of 5?

    • Hmm… good question. I really enjoyed but I also don’t have any real desire to see it again, kind of like THE SOCIAL NETWORK… 4?

    • Social Network is the PERFECT analogy. I feel te exact same way about that and Django, glad I saw them but don’t feel the need to see them again.

      Just another “out of curiosity” and in reference to a conversation I’m having above…did you guys review World War Z?

    • I Know Django is stylized but it doesn’t have any CGI runaway trains and i really don’t want that kinda thing in my westerns. The scene in the trailer where the train derails and that one huge piece of metal lands right next to them nearly killing them and they both breathe a sigh of relief. That kinda stuff seems too cartoony for a western. I want gunfifghts and dudes jumping off horses to grab onto carriages and getting dragged a few feet before finally climbing up. I want stunts like they had in Raiders of the Lost Ark not in the Pirates movies. Not that i want the lone ranger to be grim like Django and True Grit but i don’t want it to be as over the top as Pirates.

  12. I’ll be watching this weekend with the wife. Very excited. Loved most of the Pirate movies, so I have very high hopes. Glad to read such a positive movie review.

  13. Wow, I’m shocked. I kind of dismissed this film when it seemed like Johnny Depp was channelling Rob Schneider from “Bedtime Stories”. I don’t mind having laughs in the movie, but it seemed like Tonto was being played as a joke. Apparently this is not the case. Very interested at this point!

  14. Sorry if this takes things too far off-topic.

    @Conner: Do you read the Dynamite Lone Ranger series?

    If so, what do you think of it.

    If not, how come?

    (Just curious, seeing as you are a Lone Ranger fan, and I have only recently gotten into the Dynamite line of books.)

    • I read it for the first couple of years and I enjoyed it but didn’t love it so I ended up dropping off the book. I read the recent Lone Ranger/Zorro crossover which was fun.

    • mgriffith, thanks for asking Conor, I always wondered what he thought about the books, and was pleasantly surprised when he described himself as a fan…but it makes sense, I think LR is at the intersection of Superman and Jonah Hex.

      I’ve really been enjoying the Dynamite series since it started, particularly the artists, who always seem to submit top-notch work. Sometimes the stories are a little decompressed, but when you read the Matthews book from start to finish, it really holds together nicely.

      When you think about it, the idea of Tonto is just great, so the difficult character is LR. I wish he didn’t have the mask, and was just a more heroic version of the Man with No Name.

    • You have to go back about five years but I used to talk about the Lone Ranger books with some regularity on the show:

  15. JML ( says:

    It’s funny. The Tomatometer is crapping all over this, but some of the critics I trust (Conor, Matt Zoller Seitz from really liked it. Hmmmm.

  16. PymSlap PymSlap (@alaska_nebraska) says:

    Hey Ho Lets go, Silver

  17. Please tell me there aren’t any gigantic metal spider mecha in this western.

  18. I totally agree with you. The reviews for this movie have been completely outrageous and pretty much cynical as all hell.

  19. I’ve been looking forward to this and am now borderline excited. Glad to hear it’s the rollicking ride I hope(d) it is!

  20. Glad to get an iFanboy perspective, was surprised with the amount of negative reviews from the aggregator sites…

  21. Sweet christmas, that poster is horrible.

  22. My friend had the quote that i feel best captured this movie.

    “it was an awful movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it. i will forget about to tomorrow and will never see it again.”

  23. totally hating myself for not posting

    “it was an awful movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it. i will forget about it tomorrow and will never see it again.”

  24. It’s good that they kept the fact that he is related to the Green Hornet intact.

  25. We’ll never see a sequel.

  26. I had no expectations. I only went because of this review, and… you know? Not bad!

    I do wish it had settled on a tone. Are we doing “horse wearing a hat,” or are we doing “Comanche genocide”? I’m not sure we can do both in one movie.

    They were also a little scared of committing to the corniness. They used “hi ho, Silver!” but also poked fun at it, and I thought, “Okay, guys. Are we doing this or aren’t we?”

  27. This movie was great! It had action, humor, great characterization (for an action/comedy summer block buster). The best part of this movie – hands down – was Depp. Without him this movie would have been utterly terrible. I don’t get why this movie is receiving the kind of flack it’s been getting. I mean, the only time the CGI was thrown in your face was with the rabbits. The movie ran a little long but I have no idea what you’d cut to save time. The only bad part of this movie was the actress they got to play the love interest. She just didn’t seem to be the raving beauty that men would fight over (at least not in a Hollywood film).

    4/5 stars.

    Really sad to think that this movie could be an even bigger flop than John Carter…

    General audiences seem to be in more of a Sci-Fi or Modern mood, Westerns just don’t seem to be selling well these days. Give it a few years and they may come back into vogue.