The Lone Ranger had a good, long run fighting for justice in the Old West, going at it on radio, television and in movie serials from 1933 to 1957. To producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who’s currently trying to flog another two films out of a dying horse called “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a character with such proven staying power must have looked mighty appealing.
With “The Lone Ranger,” Bruckheimer aims to launch a new franchise by deploying original “Pirates” director Gore Verbinski and that series’ lifeblood, Johnny Depp, to revive tales of the masked Texas lawman. But this lighthearted return to those thrilling days of yesteryear doesn’t thrill like it should.
Told in flashback from the point of view of Depp’s Tonto, the story introduces the title character (Armie Hammer) before he dons the white hat and mask, when he is simply John Reid, a comically earnest county prosecutor traveling from the big city by railroad to the badlands of his childhood.
On that same train, in a separate car under lock and key, are the two men who’ll change John’s fate: Tonto and notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, made up to exude creepiness). The latter escapes and ambushes the party of Texas rangers that comes looking for him, killing John’s brother. The former begrudgingly saves John, the sole survivor of the ambush, and hands him the black mask.
The escape scene is the first of several action-packed episodes involving speeding trains, but when no one’s being chased, “The Lone Ranger” is in no hurry to go anywhere.
Drawn out to two-and-a-half hours, it slogs along with a plot that holds little mystery or tension, held together by moments in which characters inexplicably show up at just the right moment to save the day.
Ever the visual stylist, Verbinski does fill the extended running time with some pretty fancy shooting. And in front of the camera, Depp unsurprisingly stands out as the funniest, most watchable character. But outside of all the big explosions, his screen presence is the film’s only spark.