After the success of the previous Pirates installments, Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp bring us another spectacular flick, this time in another equally believed dead genre. Rango is a gruff but gorgeous adventure replete with all the grandeur of the earlier Depp/Verbinski collaborations and delivers the fun we’ve come to expect from the pair. This time though their efforts yeild an epic tale that takes us on a great ride via a different medium. Enticing, creative and off the wall, this very funny tale gives a fresh yet vintage spin on the old and gritty spagetti westerns. As far as story goes it is a quasi remake of Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars where we find former pet (and strange as it sounds “aspiring actor”) Rango as our loner/unlikely hero. After the impressive opening (including a small Fear and Loathing reference that fans of Johnny Depp’s alter ego will enjoy) we find out newly homeless hero Rango happening upon the town of Dirt (yes, that’s the town’s real name). Like Dorothy’s freak arrival in OZ, Rango wipes out the town’s biggest threat and he proceeds to charm, lie and method act his way into becoming the bumbling new sheriff for this drought afflicted town. The townspeople, nearly out of hope due to the their unending water supply problems, put their desperate faith in the foreigner as he attempts to solve the crime at hand; the last of the water reserve has been robbed. Liken his demeanor to Jacques Clouseau’s aloofness and spiced with the randomness of Depp’s trademark Jack Sparrow and viola, Rango is the story’s titular hero…who has no clue what he’s doing.
Faced with balancing the down trodden townsfolk, the morally questionable Mayor and the feared hired gunman Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by other Pirates alum Bill Nighy) Rango begins a quest ever so much bigger than himself, the town and even the desert. Along the way, Rango makes his way out of his own missteps, survives jaw dropping action sequences and is even given some advice from the “Spirit of the West” (voiced by Timothy Olyphant who does a very spot on impersonation of the character depicted) which helps him put the pieces of this robbery puzzle together. You’ve never seen the West like this and it is just a treat to watch.
But while it’s obvious Johnny Depp and his performance is the main draw but personally speaking, the film’s heavy, Rattlesnake Jake, is probably one of the neatest villains in the past 10 years. I mean he’s a rattlesnake with a chain gun for a rattle…how cool is that?? He provides some very real danger and weight to the film as a very legitimate threat. It’s not that any of the characters seem flat or shallow, no they all have something compelling to them, but with so many characters it helps to have something weighty to bring focus back to the “good guy” and the “bad guy”. They play of each other so very well despite the limited screen time.
Now if computer animated films of late have taught us anything, it’s that just because it’s created in a box, doesn’t mean the story has to exits in a box. Rango is yet another amazing stunningly creative and ultra realistic looking CG epic. As with most Verbinski films there is a definite flair for the dramatic and he takes all the freedoms afforded in the digital playground to create one uber impressive chase/epic vista/action scene after another. In fact it even gives films like Avatar more than just a run for the money.
In the end, this quirky noir Western succeeds with some minimal pacing problems. Johnny Depp’s unique delivery and style fired on all cylinders as he was perfectly cast to play our timid and diminutive hero. This was a vehicle seemingly designed with him in mind and is another feather in his hat of zany characters which he seems so fit to wear these days. Not entirely aimed at kids but Rango is more than approachable to younger audiences thanks to the goofy animated stylings and plenty of slapstick gags. Although rated PG, this is a film that adults will find more enjoyable than the younger members of the audience. Especially since, considering the source material, few individuals under the age of 15 would know who “The Man With No Name” is.
So it takes a while to get started, has some lag points and while the beyond beautiful CG rendering may be off putting due to the film’s abundant brown palette, Rango really delivers. It’s a surprisingly action packed visual feast complimented by fine voice actors who actually are suited to their roles. Top that all off with some fantastically nostalgic sounding music (that would make Ennio Morricone happy) from the last of the Pirates alum Hans Zimmer and this is an easy recommendation. Now that’s no tall tale!