Movie Review – The Lone Ranger (2013)

“Hi-Yo, Silver!  Away!”

Since first appearing in a radio show in 1933, the Lone Ranger has stood as a figure of justice against evil doers and villains.  Team with Tonto, an American Indian, the Lone Ranger has been a classic American icon and a symbol of the Old West.  After first appearing in a radio series, the Lone Ranger skyrocketed in popularity when Clayton Moore portrayed the character during a television series from 1949 to 1957.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - movie poster

The Lone Ranger returned to the big screen in 2013’s big budget film, The Lone Ranger.  The film was directed by Gore Verbinski, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and scored by Hans Zimmer.  This version of The Lone Ranger is an origin story starring Armie Hammer as John Reid / the Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp as Tonto.  Supporting them are a cast of actors and actresses including William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper.

The Lone Ranger begins in San Francisco in 1933.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Will visits an Old West exhibit at a carnival.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A young boy, Will (Mason Cook), is dressed as the Lone Ranger while walking through a carnival.  He’s intrigued when he spots an Old West exhibit, so he pays the small fee and enters the museum.  One of the displays shows “the noble savage,” an American Indian standing and holding a tomahawk.  To the boy’s shock the Indian suddenly comes to life.

At first the Indian seems to recognize the boy’s disguise, then he realizes that it’s just a child and not his companion from years ago.  The elderly Indian is Tonto (Johnny Depp).  After Will asks Tonto who he thought that he was, Tonto tells him the story of the Lone Ranger in a series of flashbacks.

The film goes back to March 18, 1869.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Butch and Tonto are prisoners on the train.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

On board a steam train travelling to Colby, Texas, an outlaw named Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) is being held prisoner.  He’s scheduled to be executed by hanging once they reach Colby.  Sitting next to him and also being held prisoner is Tonto, a somewhat crazy Comanche Indian who constantly carries a dead bird on top of his head.  Also on board the train is John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawyer from New England heading back home to Colby, Texas.

As the train crosses the open countryside, a band of outlaws keeps watch of it.  Once it reaches a certain position they charge after and finally board the train.  While some of the outlaws rob some of the riders, other outlaws kill the train’s engineer and disable the controls.  As this is taking place, Butch finds a pistol that was planted in his jail cell.  He tricks the guard into freeing him to use the bathroom, and then Butch shoots and kills both guards.

Just as Butch is about to be a free man, John Reid arrives in the car and holds Butch at gunpoint.  This causes a distraction and at one point Tonto has a pistol and wants to kill Butch.  John won’t allow Tonto to kill the man.  He insists that Butch be transported to Colby so that the sheriff can deal with the problem.  At that moment the outlaws arrive in the car and free Butch.  John is locked in irons and let in the train car along with Tonto.

The steam train races through the Colby train station, and it keeps steaming down the tracks.  Tonto manages to free himself, but his chains are connected to John’s shackles.  He frees John and the two of them climb to the top of the train cars.  On top of the train John notices that the tracks aren’t complete.  There’s a construction team building more train tracks a few miles away.  Tonto wants to jump off the train, but John insists that they try to find a way to save the passengers first.  That means reaching the engine and finding a way to stop the train.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - The runaway train crashes through the construction site.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The two of them run along the top of the cars, but they run into some of the outlaws still on the train.  When the second outlaw is about to shoot him, Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) disables the outlaw.  Tonto helps Dan separate the passenger cars from the locomotive, but the engine itself is still speeding away.  John and Tonto are forced to keep riding the steam engine as it rams through the construction crew, derails, and has a spectacular wreck at the construction site.

Since Tonto was originally discovered being held prisoner in the jail car, John Reid insists that Tonto be placed back in custody.  When Dan asks Tonto what crime he committed, Tonto merely replies that he’s an Indian, indicating racial profiling and political bias.  He’s taken away and placed in the town’s prison.

In Colby, John Reid reunites with Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson), Dan’s wife.  She had heard about the train crash and thought that her husband was injured, but it was John instead, though he only has minor scrapes and bruises.  John then meets Danny Reid (Bryant Prince), Dan and Rebecca’s young son and John’s nephew.  John remarks about how much Danny looks like his father.

There’s not much time for a family reunion with Butch Cavendish and his band of outlaws on the loose.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - The Texas Rangers form a posse.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Dan Reid forms a posse of Texas Rangers, and he deputizes John as a Texas Ranger.  The eight of them ride out in search of Butch and his gang.  After tracking the criminals through the desert, one of the Rangers, a man named Collins, spots the criminals’ tracks leading into a canyon.

But it’s a trap!

Cavendish’s gang ambushes and kills all of the Texas Rangers.  Dan Reid is only mortally wounded when Butch Cavendish uses a knife to cut into him and remove and eat his heart.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - The spirit white horse chooses to awaken John Reid.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Tonto had successfully escaped from jail and discovered the site of the massacre.  He decides to bury the dead bodies in a series of graves.  Before he handles the remains of John Reid, a white spirit horse walks to John’s body and reawakens John to become a “spirit walker,” somebody who cannot be killed in battle.  Tonto would have preferred it if the horse had chosen Dan Reid as he thought he was a more superior fighter, but the horse chooses to awaken John.

The Indian further explains that he is a wendigo hunter, the last of his tribe.  Tonto believes that Butch Cavendish is a wendigo, a man who has taste for human flesh. He was about to kill him on the train and finally seek his vengeance, but John Reid interfered with his actions.  As a result Butch is still alive and well, and now he’s claimed another victim, John’s brother.

When John gets frustrated and wants to go to town to form a posse, Tonto stops him.  He informs John that there was a gun waiting for Butch on the train.  He also tells John that while eight men rode into the canyon, he only dug seven graves.  One of the Rangers had betrayed Dan and led them straight into the ambush.  If he finds Collins, the man who led them into the ambush, then they’ll find Butch.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - It looks just like a mask.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Tonto gives John the vest that Dan wore.  He notices that one of the straps has holes in it from the gunshots.  When he places the strap across his face it becomes a mask.  Tonto encourages him to wear the mask and conceal his true identity.  Cavendish’s gang thinks that John is dead.  They’ll be terrified when they see him return as a ghost.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Red Harrington gives them information about Collins and Butch.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In town, John and Tonto visit a brothel that Collins is known to visit.  Inside of the seedy establishment they meet Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter), the madam of the house.  When Reid shows his Texas Ranger badge, Red cooperates and tells him about Collins.  Red tells John that Collins was recently arguing with Dan about a silver rock, but Tonto calls it a “cursed rock.”  The silver is worthless there in town, but out in San Francisco it’s worth a fortune.

A posse arrives after word gets out that Tonto is there.  When John asks why, Red tells him that Comanches have broken the treaty and been raiding the local settlements.  The two of them sneak outside the building and then make a getaway on horseback.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Rebecca tries to defend her home from the attackers.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Not too far away, Rebecca Reid’s settlement is attacked by a band of Comanche Indians.  The only problem is that they’re not really Indians.  It’s Butch Cavendish’s gang disguised as Indians.  They’re trying to provoke the settlers into going to war with the Indians.  They ultimately kidnap Rebecca and her young son Danny.  By the time that John and Tonto arrive at the settlement, the house is a smoking ruin with no sign of Rebecca or Danny.

The two of them hear a scream from Rebecca’s barn and discover one of the “Indian” raiders.  He doesn’t reveal any information about the whereabouts of Rebecca or Danny.  Outside of the barn are three more of the raiders.  The light the barn on fire and try to shoot at John and Tonto.  The duo climb up a chimney and use their white horse to make it back down to the ground.  How the horse got up onto the roof is anybody’s guess.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - John and Tonto try to get some answers.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Back on the ground, John tries to interrogate two of the raiders.  The two bandits fight back and John fires a shot that ricochets and causes a chain reaction ending with a large beam of wood decapitating the two bandits.  So how are they going to track the raiders and find Rebecca and Danny?  Tonto’s idea is to let one of the raiders’ horses loose and simply follow it through the desert and back to the raiders’ camp.

Out in the desert, Butch decides that it’s time to kill Rebecca and Danny.  He orders Collins to carry out the task.  Instead of shooting them, Collins fires a few shots into the air and tells them to run.  They do so.  On the horizon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), an aggressive railroad tycoon, appears.  He shoots Collins and rescues Rebecca and Danny.

Meanwhile, the horse that John and Tonto are following stops walking.  The horse simply falls over and dies, leaving them lost in the middle of the desert.  Tonto examines the ground and discovers a track.  The track is made of iron and is partially buried under some shifting sands.  So what is railroad track doing out in the middle of Indian country?

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Construction continues on the bridge over the river.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Over at the Comanche Border, Cole’s railroad workers are building a massive wooden bridge across a ravine and river.  He delivers a speech to a crowd of reporters.  Since the Comanches have been raiding the settlements, Cole declares that all treaties with the Indians are null and void.  He’ll build his railroad line straight through their territory.  He uses United States Cavalry Captain Jay Fuller (Barry Pepper) to exterminate the rest of the Comanches.

While John and Tonto were examining the railroad line, they were ambushed by a Comanche tribe.  Chief Big Bear (Saginaw Grant), leader of the Comanche tribe, allows John Reid to visit with him in his teepee.  The chief tells John about Tonto’s history as an Indian who was literally crazy.  It turns out that Cole and Cavendish encountered Tonto many years ago.  They had found a chunk of silver in the local area, and they traded Tonto a pocket watch for information on where to find more of the stones.  He agrees and leads the two men up a river to the source of the rocks.  Cole and Cavendish want to keep the source of silver a secret, so they kill all of Tonto’s tribe.  The boy survives but the rest of his fellow Indians are dead, leaving Tonto with great guilt and a quest for vengeance.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - The Comanches leave John and Tonto buried to their heads.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

After telling the story of Tonto, the Comanches prepare to wage war against the cavalry.  They leave John and Tonto behind, but they’re buried up to their necks in the ground.  The U.S. Cavalry races past them in pursuit of the Indians, but none of them pay any attention to John or Tonto.  The white horse returns and helps pull John out of the ground.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Butch is finally captured.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The railroad workers are busy digging a tunnel for the train right through a mountain.  John and Tonto arrive and use dynamite to ambush Butch Cavendish and some of his men.  The ambush works and they capture Butch.  Tonto wants John to use a silver bullet made from melted Texas Ranger badges to kill Butch, whom he still believes is a wendigo, but John refuses.  He removes his mask and reveals his identity as an honest man.  Tonto is about to execute Butch when John hits him on the head with a shovel.  John then binds Butch’s hands with rope and takes him to town to face his crimes.

Meanwhile, Rebecca awakens on board one of Latham Cole’s railroad cars.  Her son and Cole are also there.  Danny is quite fascinated by the railroad and Cole teaches him what it really means to be in control of such an important industry.

Just then John Reid arrives with Butch Cavendish in custody.  Cole has Butch placed in irons and then treats John to a meal.  When Cole asks John how he can be paid for his services, all John asks is that he stops the war with the Comanches.  The Comanche Indians are innocent.  John produces a chunk of silver as proof of what the war is really about.

As Cole is telling John about how his brother was one of those people who failed to see things his way, John notices that both Rebecca and Danny were in that train car a few moments before he arrived.  The evidence is still there on the table.  Cole then reveals that he and Butch are symbolically brothers even though they’re not connected by blood.  John surmises that Cole had Dan killed because Dan knew about the silver in the desert and Cole’s plan of extracting it, even though it would cause a war with the Indians.

Cole is taken prisoner at gunpoint.  John leads him back through the moving train and discovers Danny.  Butch then arrives in the same car while holding Rebecca at gunpoint.  Captain Fuller then arrives and suddenly there’s a standoff in the train car.  Fearing that he may be tried as a war criminal, Fuller takes sides with Cole and the railroad industry.  John is then taken prisoner and scheduled to be executed.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - John Reid is about to be executed by the U.S. Cavalry.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The steam train slows and stops outside of the tunnel that’s still under construction.  John is led off the train by the cavalry and prepared to be executed by firing squad.  It’s then revealed that Latham Cole has a series of train cars full of silver, destined for San Francisco.

Tonto infiltrates the railroad camp disguised as a Chinese worker.  He scares the train people into thinking that there’s gas in the tunnel.  This makes them reverse the engine and quickly retreat.  The engine backs into some train cars and moves them between the cavalry soldiers and John Reid just as they’re about to shoot and kill him.

Suddenly the Comanche Indians launch an attack against the cavalry and railroad workers.  They assault the camp with hundreds of arrows.  Tonto uses the distraction to use a hand cart to help him and John Reid escape from the camp.  The Indians then make their ground assault, but they’re slaughtered when the cavalry uses a couple of Gatling guns (Civil War-era machine guns) against them.  Butch follows John and Tonto into the train tunnel, and he tries to kill them with some dynamite.  He barely misses though and the duo escapes out a side tunnel.

After almost being killed while trying to do the right thing, John Reid decides to stop Cole he’s going to have to become an outlaw.  He puts on his mask again and becomes the Lone Ranger.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Celebration of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The railroad construction finishes and there’s a celebration at the union ceremony of the Transcontinental Railroad.  An explosion is noticed off in the distance.  Latham Cole says that the explosion was just the tunneling of new supply routes.  It’s normal and nothing to be concerned about.  When meeting with other railroad owners in a building, Cole reveals his true plan of controlling the entire Transcontinental line.  He does a hostile takeover and seizes control of the industry.

The ceremony ends with the singing of the national anthem.  Red Harrington and some of her brothel women are there in the crowd.  After distracting Captain Fuller with her wooden leg, Red carefully aims the rifle concealed in her leg and fires at a wagon full of explosives.  The explosives detonate and cause a tremendous explosion that frees the cavalry’s horses.  At the same time Tonto hijacks the steam train carrying cars full of silver.  He reverses out of the ceremony at high speed and tries to make a getaway.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - The locomotive chase begins.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It’s chaotic as people are running and Captain Fuller tries to get the cavalry organized to stop the train hijacking.  Some of the soldiers begin firing with the Gatling gun.  Suddenly the Lone Ranger is spotted on top of a building.  He uses his lasso to grab the Gatling gun and point it at other targets instead.

Rebecca is taken hostage again as Butch Cavendish, Latham Cole and Captain Fuller all board the second train and give chase to the first one.  Cue the Finale of the William Tell Overture.  John Reid races on horseback across the tops of the buildings and jumps onto the second train.

What follows next is a ten-minute-long action sequence with John Reid and Tonto battling Cavendish, Cole and Fuller for control of the steam trains.  A switchtrack puts the two trains on similar but different tracks during their high-speed chase through the mountains and wilderness.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - The Ranger faces off against Butch Cavendish.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

At one point several of the train cars are detached and running free along the train tracks.  Butch Cavendish and Captain Fuller are both killed when Butch’s car derails and Fuller’s car plows right into it in a massive wreck.  Later, Latham Cole has Tonto at gunpoint and is about to shoot him.  John Reid uses his silver bullet to shoot and disarm Cole.  Tonto then takes Cole’s gun and instead of shooting Cole, he shoots and detaches the cars and the engine from the cars carrying the silver.  Remember the explosion off in the distance during the union ceremony of the Transcontinental Railroad?  That was really John and Tonto using explosives to destroy the newly constructed railroad bridge.  The railroad cars carrying silver and Latham Cole plunge into the gaping hole in the bridge and fall to the bottom of the ravine.  Both Rebecca and Danny are rescued from danger.

Back in town, the chairman of the Transcontinental Railroad recognizes John Reid (who is still wearing his mask as the Lone Ranger) and presents him with a token of appreciation.  He remarks about how nice it would be to have a lawman such as the Lone Ranger on the side of “progress,” hinting that he wants to hire him as a law enforcement officer in favor of the railroads.  He also asks the Lone Ranger to remove his mask.  John declines the chairman’s offer and chooses to remain as the Lone Ranger.

On his way out of town, John stops by Rebecca and Danny to see them one last time.  He tells them that he cannot stay, and Rebecca offers him a place to stay should he decide to no longer be the Lone Ranger.  Outside of town, John meets up with Tonto and tells him that he’s naming his white horse Silver.  The two of them ride out into the desert as outlaws.

The Lone Ranger (2013) - Hi-Yo, Silver!  Away!

The Lone Ranger (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Lone Ranger ends in 1933 as Will asks the elder Tonto if the stories were really true.  Tonto gives him a silver bullet and tells him to decide for himself.

So is The Lone Ranger a good movie?

Not really.

The Lone Ranger is a classic symbol of not only America but the Old West as well.  He’s a vigilante who stands up for what’s right and chooses to take his enemies to justice rather than killing them.  He shoots to disarm, not to kill.

While most of that was still conveyed into the 2013 film, The Lone Ranger, the film fails as a whole to tell a good story with convincing actors.

For starters, having Johnny Depp playing the role of Tanto was a huge mistake.  From his mannerisms to his speaking style to his facial expressions, his version of Tanto is very similar to Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  In fact, it’s too similar.  Tanto has too much screen time and he’s a major distraction from the film.  And that’s for a sidekick, too.

Who in the world is Armie Hammer?

I probably wasn’t the only person who asked that question when this film’s trailers were first released.  A film of this caliber really needs a famous face in the lead role.  That’s not what happened here.  In The Lone Ranger we have basically a nobody for the starring role and a major celebrity playing the role of the sidekick.  How did that happen?

Is that really William Fitchner in the role of Butch Cavendish, the main villain in the movie?  Really?  Couldn’t the producers have found somebody a little more famous to play that role?  While Fitchner isn’t that well know, he’s one of those semi-famous faces that you normally associate with good characters.  Having him cast as the primary villain seemed like an odd choice.

Obviously this film had some questionable choices for the lead actors.  On top of that the story itself is somewhat confusing and overwhelming.

The storyline here in The Lone Ranger includes everything from Native American mythology to revenge to corruption to betrayal to plain ol’ greed.  There’s so much happening here that you might need a second or third viewing to understand all of the plot.  It felt that there were so many distractions that the film glossed over some interesting details (such as John Reid’s resurrection from the dead), and it completely missed including information about key characters such as Butch Cavendish or Dan Reid.

By the way, who is in charge of the duo?  John Reid / Lone Ranger or Tanto?  I could have sworn that Tanto was supposed to be the sidekick, but in this film most of his actions and wisdom make him into the leader.  That and all of his screen time.

The steam trains looked great, the scenery was fantastic, and many of the action sequences were fun and thrilling.  Apart from the obvious use of CGI in some sequences, some of the action scenes were simply too over-the-top and exaggerated.  Is it really necessary for John Reid and Tanto to pull off impossible stunts to make for an exciting action scene?  No, but it happens several times in The Lone Ranger.  Unfortunately, this further ruins the film because not only are some scenes CGI, but they’re unrealistic as well.

It’s really a shame that Hollywood screwed up trying to recreate the Lone Ranger, a classic American icon.  This could have been a major blockbuster film that spawned a series of sequels and possible spin-offs.  Since the film bombed in the theaters, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see another attempt at the Lone Ranger again any time soon.

The Lone Ranger (2013) – movie trailer

Is it a coincidence that The Lone Ranger is being released on DVD a week before Christmas?  Nope.  Remember that this film bombed in the theaters when it was released in early July.  It should have been released on DVD a month or two ago.  What Disney is hoping is that people have forgotten just how badly the film was panned by critics, and the fact that very few people chose to see it in the theaters.

two stars

Tonto – “Horse says you are a spirit walker. A man who’s been to the other side and returned. A man who cannot be killed in battle.”


Tonto – “People think you are dead. Better you stay that way.”
John Reid – “You want me to wear a mask?”
Tonto – “There come a time, when good man must wear mask.”


Tonto – [to Will, the boy dressed as The Lone Ranger] “Never take off the mask.”