Film Review: ‘The Lone Ranger’

“The Lone Ranger” (Disney)

No longer simply the sidekick, Tonto gets top billing in Disney’s extravagant but exhausting Lone Ranger reboot.

In classic Westerns, the hero rides off into the sunset, but in “The Lone Ranger,” it’s Tonto we see shambling off toward Monument Valley as the credits roll. No longer simply the sidekick, Tonto gets top billing in Disney’s extravagant but exhausting reboot, whose vaguely revisionist origin story partners a heavily face-painted Johnny Depp with the blandly handsome Armie Hammer. Directed by “Pirates of the Caribbean’s” Gore Verbinski, this over-the-top oater delivers all the energy and spectacle audiences have come to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production, but sucks out the fun in the process, ensuring sizable returns but denying the novelty value required to support an equivalent franchise.

SEE ALSO: Will ‘Lone Ranger’ Make Armie Hammer a Superstar?

It’s a testament to Depp’s Lon Chaney-like ability to reinvent himself from role to role that so much of Bruckheimer’s quarter-of-a-billion-dollar gamble rides on whether he can bring some of that Jack Sparrow mojo to Hollywood’s most iconic Injun. Certainly, Depp plays Tonto as no one else could, borrowing the look of the character from Kirby Sattler’s painting “I Am Crow” by interpreting a bird flying directly above the head of a noble Native American as a strange sort of headdress.

This odd hat proves to be Tonto’s only distinguishing feature when a 12-year-old Lone Ranger fan discovers him tucked away, half-forgotten in a San Francisco sideshow tent. The year is 1933, months after the radio series began its popular run (Tonto did not appear until the 11th episode), and the “noble savage” (Depp, virtually unrecognizable beneath heavy “Little Big Man”-style makeup) offers to set the record straight about John Reid’s legendary exploits some six decades earlier.

SEE ALSO: Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer See ‘Lone Ranger’ as New Genre-Bending Superhero

Tonto’s tale doesn’t alter the key elements of Lone Ranger mythology so much as it expands them, beginning with an unexpected memory of the masked lawman sticking up a bank. While this scene is certainly inconsistent with Reid’s goody-goody radio-show image, it assumes that audiences know or care enough about the character to wait nearly two-and-a-half hours to discover why the Old West’s ultimate white-hat hero would break the law.

Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe might have saved an entire reel’s worth of screentime by diving directly into the pic’s first setpiece, during which bandits manage to derail an inbound train carrying the dastardly Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to the gallows. Embellished by herds of virtual buffalo and other CG touches, this stunning, mostly practical sequence serves to introduce Tonto, Reid and the other key players — including railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), older brother/model ranger Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) and soon-to-be-widowed sister-in-law Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) — and helps to bookend an adventure that climaxes aboard another runaway train.

SEE ALSO: 1981 ‘Lone Ranger’ Pic Galloped Quickly Into Oblivion

In keeping with Elliott and Rosso’s “Pirates” formula, the intervening plot proves far more complicated than such archetypal material demands, and as such is likely to alienate younger viewers who may already be overwhelmed by the intensity of Verbinski’s vision. The Lone Ranger may refuse to fire a gun unless absolutely necessary, but the film hardly shares his pacifist philosophy, its abundant carnage ranging from scary carnivorous rabbits to an ambush in which Butch kills half a dozen Texas Rangers and finishes the job by eating Dan Reid’s heart.

Having proved his acting chops in “Billy: The Early Years” and “The Social Network,” Hammer offers a more uneven performance here. Alternating between silly and serious, Hammer verges on slapstick at times in his portrayal of an effete, Ivy League-educated lawyer (the only character here remotely concerned with dental hygiene) who requires Tonto’s coaching to unlock his inner heroism and exact revenge for his brother’s murder.

SEE ALSO: Consumers to Play Cowboys and Indians with ‘Lone Ranger’

As in “Pirates,” such a vanilla protag is typically the least compelling personality onscreen (which explains why Orlando Bloom was edged aside as the series went on), though Fichtner’s villain is no match for Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa or Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones. Likewise, Wilson displays nary an ounce of Keira Knightley’s empowerment, evidently content to play the damsel in distress, while it’s never quite clear what Helena Bonham Carter — looking as if she stumbled in from the nearest Tim Burton set — is doing here, playing a crimson-haired madam whose false leg conceals a double-barreled shotgun. As for the rest of this motley ensemble, Verbinski did a better job of distinguishing between scraggly Western henchmen in his 2011 animated neo-oater “Rango.”

Naturally, audiences will look to Depp to pick up the slack, though this time, the star’s eccentricities seem more calculated — and ultimately less amusing — than before. With his bone-white face separated by four vertical black streaks, Tonto certainly looks distinctive, though his very appearance is what disguises the inherently Depp-like appeal of the character. Whether offering birdseed to his crow-hat or conning gullible white men into unfair trades (an amusing reversal on history), the actor’s bow-legged, pidgin-speaking Tonto needs more dynamism to register through all that makeup.

Tonto and Reid are further dwarfed by the sheer scale of the unwieldy action unfolding around them. To see these two heroes framed against vistas made famous by the likes of John Ford brings a swell of all-American pride, though it’s easy to lose the characters amid the intricate, hyper-detailed production design that has become such a Verbinski-Bruckheimer signature. This team builds things just to blow them up, and by the film’s climax — which juggles several high-peril situations aboard two criss-crossing locomotives, including the sight of Reid riding his “spirit horse,” Silver, atop a train — what began as an elegantly epic, potentially realistic retelling of the Lone Ranger legend has devolved into Wile E. Coyote-style cartoon shenanigans.

Film Review: 'The Lone Ranger'

Reviewed at Disney Studios, Burbank, Calif., June 28, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 149 MIN.


A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release presented with Jerry Bruckheimer Films of a Blind Wink/Infinitum Nihil production. Produced by Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski. Executive producers, Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Johnny Depp, Eric Ellenbogen, Eric McLeod.


Directed by Gore Verbinski. Screenplay, Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio; story, Elliott, Rossio, Haythe. Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Bojan Bazelli; editors, Craig Wood, James Haygood; music, Hans Zimmer; production designers, Jess Gonchor, Crash McCreery; supervising art directors, Jon Billington, Brad Ricker; set decorator, Cheryl Carasik; costume designer, Penny Rose; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Lee Orloff; supervising sound editors, Addison Teague, Shanon Mills; re-recording mixers, Paul Massey, Christopher Boyes; sound designers, Teague, Mills, Boyes, Gary Rydstrom; special effects supervisor, John Frazier; special effects coordinators, Jim Schwalm, Jon G. Belyeu; visual effects supervisors, Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich; visual effects producer, Shari Hanson; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic, Base FX, MPC, lola|VFX, Smoke Donkey VFX, Atomic Fiction, Virtuos; ILM animation supervisor, Kevin Martel; MPC visual effects supervisor, Matt Middleton; special makeup effects, Joel Harlow; animal coordinator, Boone Narr; stunt coordinator, Thomas Robinson Harper; associate producers, Pat Sandston, Melissa Reid, Shari Hanson, Tom Engelman, Morgan Des Groseillers; assistant director, Simon Warnock; second unit director, Charles Gibson; second unit camera, Patrick Loungway; casting, Denis Chamian.


Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Cook.

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  1. Jax says:

    LOVED the film as well as my husband and 11 yr old Grandson. Would NOT take young children due to the violence. From the special effects to the comedy this film is entertainment in the true sense of the word and I’m beginning to think the critics don,t know what they are talking about..

  2. Sims says:

    My son and I liked the movie. We found it to have a well balanced bit of comedy with a more serious undertone. I felt it was done well. In fact, I would love to see a sequel. My son and I agree that it was well worth seeing. Parts of it were hilarious.

  3. Me says:

    That’s ridiculous! Bloom never was “edged aside” in Pirates and Will Turner is the most compelling character to many people. Why the heck those who like the anti-heroes and the “bad guy” personages think that everyone thinks and feels like them? I prefer good guys. Playing a CONVINCING good guy is way harder than run around the set in the tons of makeup, make faces and clown around. Sparrow was a comic relief character but by no way he had come close to do what Bloom does in POTC. Bloom is perfect for creating larger than life characters. And unlike Depp he makes them all DIFFERENT.

    On Stranger Tides was more horrendous than POTC 3 script and that’s says a lot. It got $$ on the previous glory of POTC franchise but it got less money than AWE and the ROI significantly went down because POTC3 was a mess script-wise but mostly because Will and Elizabeth’s fans were insulted by the Studio and by Bruckheimer’s attempts to bring the audience to the theaters at any cost and that included the pretending that POTC were always about the favorite actor of Jerry Bruckheimer. Why is he favorite of his it’s another story but the dirty games and the overly aggressive PR for Depp turned away many fans form spending their $$. I’m a fan of POTC because of Will Turner, not because of Sparrow. I prefer heroes to cowards.

    I suppose Mr. Depp has some hidden charms that I’m not aware about and there are many of his fan girls and fan boys who see them. However, the slogan “Everyone likes Sparrow” that the prods were pushing down our throats is a hypocritical lie. NOT everyone at all. I never liked Sparrow and I never will. I don’t find his selfishness and treacherous nature cute. I would be happy to see the movie about Will and Elizabeth without Jack but with some new villain and new catalyst. I would be happy to see Norrington again (there was no need to kill the guy just because the writers and the prods didn’t know what to do with him). I want the original main characters back. I really miss Will Turner.

    Now, I’m saying this not to make angry Depp’s fans but to show that the other opinion exists. As a fan of Will Turner and as a fan of POTC (the original trilogy) I’m sick and tired of hearing that the POTC success is owed to Depp only. That’s not true. He got lucky to work with a strong team that helped him a lot. The weak “On Stranger Tides” team only proved once again that Depp can’t carry the movie on his own. The Lone Ranger has the same problem. And the big paycheck for Mr. Depp can’t guarantee the big BO for a movie.

    Check out how much $$ Depp’s movies got before POTC (with Bloom in it!). Where were Depp’s fans and his “$$ mojo” powers? And how about the movies that he made after POTC? – The Tourist, The Dark Shadows, Rum Diary, etc. – all of them were failures and I’m not talking just about the BO. Alice got $$ but Alice is a movie that would’ve gotten $$ with or without Depp. It’s a family movie based on a great book. The audience digs that. The quality of the movie, however, was close to none. Including Depp’s performance. Mad Hatter is not Jack Sparrow in the book.

    Maybe the prods should consider that making the movies while thinking ONLY about the $$ can backfire badly. Sometimes the right thing is to think about the audience that brings those $$. And the audience doesn’t consist only of its pockets.

  4. Ron Mead says:

    Just got through seeing the Lone Ranger and thought it was excellent. It had its drama and its funny parts. The critics would not know a good movie if it bit them. People must go and see it. Cant wait till it comes out on DVD so I can buy it.

  5. Marilyn says:

    I loved the Lone Ranger and so did my grand kids. Hope there is a second movie. Once people see it they will live it. Wanted it to go on.

  6. John T. D'Alessandro says:

    No one can deny that the movie is monumental. It is so vast that the story line or whatever gets lost in all the explosions. Johnny Depp is a phenomena. The part of the little kid in the museum was unneeded and slowed down the story. I didn’t guess that they would make the Lone Ranger, Arni Hammer, into a buffoon. Worth seeing for its magnitude and its inclusion of historical events. it looks like the 250 million that Disney spent. .

  7. Theresa says:

    I was entertained watching The Lone Ranger, as I expected to be. I did not expect the same story line that I heard on radio and saw on TV.. It was fast moving and exciting. Come on guys, lighten up. It was better than other movies out. Which I wouldn’t go see once. The Lone Ranger, I’d watch again. And I’m not a real Johnny Depp fan.

  8. Tom says:

    Not the Tonto I remembered as a kid. Have no desire to ever see this movie.

    Just like when I went to see the first modern Sherlock Holmes movie. In the old days, Holmes dealt with brain power and logic. Only in the end, would ver branish a weapon.

    Yet the movie I went to was all about violence. I walked out on it.

  9. girlie says:

    Great movie, I loved it….Great action….And I loved both actors…..The ending was terrific!!
    Who doesn’t love Johnny Dep..

  10. Robert Clark says:

    Whenever one notes that the movie will have Johnny Depp playing a role, he can rest assured that there will be moments of laughter. The same holds true for The Lone Ranger. My only negative criticism relates to the Lone Ranger and his not wanting to fire his pistol when the conditions demand it. After all, one does not chase the bad guys into the badlands expecting to catch them all unarmed. This movie does hold true to the last of the Texas Rangers; namely, he does get shot albeit heals without any bullet being extracted and is told to wear the mask because the bad guys reckon they are all dead. But I found this movie very entertaining and was never reminded about the time element. I highly recommend it to any Johnny Depp fans and even western admirers. Money well spent.

  11. Bill Snardman says:

    Oater. Fun word. Used it twice, I see. Probably best left in 1946, where it belongs.

  12. Clint Kueker says:

    From the first I saw of this lone ranger (isn’t worth capitals) I was sure it would fail. Just as the 1981 mess, it did not follow the origin as the original Trendle-Striker creation. This guy is not a Texas Ranger to begin with, there were SIX Texas Rangers, not seven and a half, Tonto buried the dead Rangers and made one empty grave, not eight, no tribe that I ever heard of dressed in a Halloween outfit, certainly not with a dead crow on their head, the list goes on and on and there isn’t room enough here to list them all. If the producers had taken the time to consult someone even remotely familiar with the radio-TV-novels-pulp magazines (not a comic book, pulp) of the Lone Ranger they could have easily made a decent movie. And by the way Depp, Clayton Moore did not wear a “jump suit” simply a blue shirt and pants. Uhhh, do you know what a jump suit is? But then who am I, just someone considered a dumbbell by all you pockets full of money dudes that just can’t wait to totally destroy an American icon loved by millions for over a quarter century. I do have along with many others have one of the largest collections of LR memorabilia in the country along with newspaper articles and magazine articles I have written and had published concerning the true and fictional creation of the Lone Ranger. I can guarantee you I will not be adding anything to my collection concerning this DOA (that’s dead on arrival) movie. I’m sure you couldn’t care Two Hoots in Hell what I think and what I have written here. Uhhh, maybe that’s why this mess you all tried to call a movie has turned out so that there are plenty of empty seats that some people that got into the wrong theatre will have room to sit in. Cheers to the rest of the Butch Cavendish gang. You finally put down the sixth Ranger!

  13. Sheryl Hatchett says:

    We loved this movie! It was whimsical, creative, action-packed and had a strong values- laden message. We laughed at the satirical aspects and dialog and were stirred by the actions. The pair were great!

    • Vincent Caristo says:

      I’m with you. This movie is a disgrace to the legend of the Lone Ranger and to the memory and life’s work of Clayton Moore. Who was that masked man? Certainly not Mr. Hammer!

  14. nate says:

    the lone ranger was very good because nobody from the days here didn’t know the old lone ranger show so the other people don’t have a word of saying anything I do because was I was younger we had the lone ranger show but this 2013 lone ranger is not even close to the last one! I don’t give any stars to this movie!

  15. This has all the details you want in summer block buster. I grew up when you went to the Air Force Base movie house to get out of the heat in Florida. We wanted movies long! Above and beyond that, this was a gorgeous movie. The camera work, the cinematography, the panoramas, oh wow. It made me want to take a trip out west again. It appealed to nostalgia too. The young man at the beginning in the Lone Ranger.. man this was classic retro. And it connected will with the serials of the 1930s radio and 1960s television with a great, funny and ironic humour twist.

    Then the details unfurled, the drama of the betrayal and savage murder of the seven rangers and the intervention of the lone savage who interconnected between the native peoples and the white man.

    I cannot say enough good about the movie. I enjoyed it so much I told my teenage son I was going to see it again and he wanted to come along. My partner said we had to get it after it came out on DVD. However, the beautiful shots of the panoramas of the West can only be experience on wide screen and Sony 4k digital movie. Oh man this was fun movie.

  16. DWoodin says:

    I like this film and was pleasantly surprised that it was very good despite the negative reviews. I thought the movie was entertaining and the stunts were incredible. I liked Depp’s performance as the quirkly mystic Tonto and could understand the storyline since Tonto is the one telling the story. It’s also a spoof towards the end of the movie on the Lone Ranger TV series. Citics lighten up! You have forgotten that good triumphs over evil. If you like Westerns and want to be entertained, I recommend this movie.

  17. Ernest Hemple says:

    A yuck of a movie. Total waste of time. Well I did get a couple of good cat naps. Terrible writing. Marginal acting. Go see Star Trek, the best movie of the season.

  18. Andrew says:

    so you didn’t like it because it wasn’t “real” enough? WTF!? It’s a movie, get over yourself critic.

  19. todd says:

    Critics are dumb. Everytime I see a movie get low scores from critics, I know its going to be a good movie and vice versa.

  20. I loved the movie, as did my 10 year old son. Johnny Depp makes any movie worth watching! I will say it is good, but the last 30 minutes or so are fantastic!

  21. Mark Amo says:

    This may sound impossible, but I agree with the ore of this review but still recommend the movie. A little long, yes… but the last 30 minutes redeems the first two hours (which aren’t bad just loooong). Tonto’s repartee w/ the spirit horse is a real hoot!

  22. rfinley says:

    Revisionist? Did you see “Red tails”? At least this is supposed to be a fictional story! Fun! Its not supposed to be historical fact. Just Entertainment. Jeesesss!

  23. Flickmaster says:

    Tonto’s headress looks like something leftover from a Mad-Max movie

  24. The Kingslayer says:

    Johnny Depp is really becoming annoying now, I’ve grown tired of the quirky roles it’s time for Johnny to start looking for more Public Enemies type roles.

  25. newsscooper says:

    I haven’t seen the film yet but it’s going to be tough to like it after reading so many negative reviews of it. Haven’t seen one totally positive review yet. Todd bad for a quarter BILLION budget flick.

  26. Virginia says:

    Looks like the negative reviews are beginning to roll in, not just from Variety, and for me a lot of the “negative” comments are just making me wanting to see this more, and it was already on the must-see-in-theater list. Sounds like a jam-packed blast of fun with spectacular action sequences and a lot of quirky snarky humor – you know, what you go to a summer blockbuster for? And I can’t believe critics are actually complaining about the violence level – are you kidding? As opposed to what? It’s OK to poke fun at the iconic Lone Ranger and revere the character as well, which it sounds like this film does among other things. This review and others make this all sound really interesting, and sounds like I’ll be getting my money’s worth at the cinema!

  27. DShapiro says:

    I saw the screening Saturday, the audience of mostly producers reacted with lots of laugh breaks, and huge applause at the end. The makers did a great job, the cinematography was spectacular. And Variety did an outstanding job reviewing it. Thank.

  28. Zorro’s horse reared up in THE LEGEND OF ZORRO, atop a moving rail car, and film critics lampooned the action as over-the-top unrealistic. Given the laws of physics (windage and balance) and all things considered, the horse standing on its hind legs blatantly reminded the audience that here is a movie not taking itself seriously at all.

    When the picture failed to repeat the box office success of its predescessor, that promptly ended the franchise.

    Between the movie trailer and this review, what spoils the movie is not “the spoilers” as much as making a parody of the legend.

  29. George Valentin says:

    The villain, Butch, eats the heart of the Lone Ranger’s brother, Dan Reid, and this movie gets away with a PG-13 rating?

  30. Pete Moss says:

    If he’s ‘Lone’ why does he have a sidekick?

    Also, why do these movies have to drag out their run times? I know ticket prices are expensive but I’d rather be entertained for 90 minutes then be looking at my watch for 2 and half hours. Your dumb movie is not more epic because it runs on and on and on.

    • cadavra says:

      He’s “lone” because he was the sole survivor of the ambush.

    • Lea says:

      That’s how it is these days, people who make the movie want the audience to be entertained. Obviously, you’re too grumpy and clueless to understand that. Go back watching your old, outdated movies because trust me, you’re going to have a hard time watching the movies made here in the 21st century. Have fun being disliked by the many people who actually comprehend and adapt to the world now.

      • blip says:

        Gee, Lea, we’re “outdated” because we appreciate films that have competent editors and storylines, and that have the good sense to know when they’re nothing more than entertaining, B-grade fluff? Have fun with your “modern” rambling pomposities, honey. I prefer movies– and youngsters– that know when they should shut the hell up. Oh, and have fun not comprehending an entire century of filmmaking, dear. I bet black-and-white just blows your tiny mind– when you’re not busy crying about how “boring” it is….

  31. Eh says:

    Way too many spoilers in this review!

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