The Lone Ranger stars Johnny Depp as Tonto. Whether or not that statement makes you want to see the movie more or less probably depends on a few things, the biggest of which being how much you love Johnny Depp when he’s in what I think we can now all call his Captain Jack Mode (CJM), or whether or not you cherish the Lone Ranger in some way.
I, personally, like Depp’s CJM, and I also enjoyed the fact that he’s not wearing a shirt for 75% of the movie. But I’m shallow that way. And while I have fond memories of the Lone Ranger, as my review for Star Trek: Into Darkness will tell you, I’m not a slave to “canon” in this kind of popular entertainment. The Lone Ranger’s been around for a LONG time, and I’ve met Jay Silverheels personally (and he was a lovely gentleman, I must add, and quite proud of playing Tonto alongside Clayton Moore’s Ranger), but I have no emotion attached to anyone altering the story. As long as the Ranger and Tonto aren’t bloodthirsty, evil men and are still heroic, I’m good with whatever someone wants to do, as long as it entertains me.
As with the first collaboration between Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski, and Johnny Depp, I noted two distinct reactions in the screening I attended. The Critical Row was, for the most part, not entertained, and the rest of the theater freaking loved the movie. The hubs was firmly with the rest of our fellows in Critical Row. I, on the other hand, was with the rest of the theater.
When Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl released, critics slammed it. I think it earned C’s across the board. Then it became a huge commercial hit and, voila, when the DVD came out, suddenly those critics loved it and had always loved it. I’m not saying the same will happen with The Lone Ranger, but it won’t surprise me at all if it does.
In the interest of fairness, let me share what I heard others say they didn’t like, and what the hubs didn’t like. They didn’t like that Depp was in CJM They didn’t like that the Lone Ranger was, essentially, the second lead, ergo, they didn’t enjoy that this was an origin story. They expected more from this movie. More Lone Ranger, and, I think, a more serious take.
I, on the other hand, expected nothing from this movie. I go to movies to be entertained. Period. If I get to learn something along the way, or have a horizon opened, so much the better, but I want to be taken away and I want to be kept in the world being created.
So, did I love The Lone Ranger? Kinda. The movie is framed exactly like The Princess Bride. Yes, I mean EXACTLY. As in, there’s an old man telling a story to a young boy, and our movie keeps getting interrupted by them. It’s a conceit that can ruin a movie, but while I found it distracting, it didn’t pull me out of the movie. And I got what the filmmakers were going for — this story is a fable, and you can BE the Ranger, if you want to be.
This is a Disney picture, meaning that it’s intended for families, meaning that it’s intended to play to kids as well as, or better, than it plays to adults. And there were kids in the audience and they loved it.
It’s also a buddy picture, so there’s the expected bantering between the leads. Armie Hammer is beautiful to behold, and since this is indeed the origin story for the Lone Ranger, he’s in that “bumbling, unwilling hero learning how to actually serve justice in the way it has to be served out here” mode. Hammer does a good job with it — from what little I’ve seen of him, this is Hammer working within his wheelhouse — and he and Depp play off each other well.
This is also a Western, in a big way, so there’s a lot of violence. Full disclosure: I love, nay adore, Westerns. So, I enjoyed all the scenes the hubs felt could have been cut out of the movie. To me, they made the movie fuller, richer, and better. But back to the violence — for me, it fit the movie, but if you have a limited tolerance for violence, then you’ll want to enter carefully — people die and we see some of them killed, ugly. It’s not Judge Dredd violent (really, what is?) (seriously, what? I want to check it out), but still, there’s a lot of killing. There’s also a Madame and a whorehouse and while our heroes don’t actually do anything in there other than talk, be prepared to explain why those ladies are dressed so differently from the other ladies in the movie. (Or don’t. Most kids these days are probably a lot clearer on this distinction than any adult wants to contemplate.)
My biggest concern going in was the usual representation of Native Americans, especially since Depp’s entire look is based on the work of a white painter who pretty much never bothered to actually go and visit the people he was portraying. He made it all up. And I was concerned that the Native Americans were going to be just like that — all made up with no basis for how they actually were or lived. However, the movie explains Tonto’s costuming very well, and the Comanche (yes, in this version, Tonto’s a Comanche, not an Apache… just go with it) are otherwise represented as intelligent people who are destroyed by superior weapons and bloodthirsty greed. So, essentially, it’s incredibly accurate for American history. The movie definitely makes use of the “savages” idea, but mostly to show that they were not. There are savages in this movie, and they’re all white men.
A word about the horse. I loved the horse. I though the horse was da bomb. I basically spent the film wanting that horse for myself AND feeling that it was the actual brains of the operation. Coolest. Horse. EVER. The hubs, on the other hand, felt the horse was ridiculous and impossible and hated the horse. We managed not to fight about the horse on the way home, but only because we’ve been married long enough that both of us know how that argument would end. (With me buying the horse.)
But let me get back to what I think is the key for this movie, and it’s related to the horse. This story is a fable, an American fairytale. And like all fairytales, it gets retold, and changed a bit in the retelling. There are evil monsters to overcome and a pretty woman and a young boy to save who also do a bit of saving themselves. There are mystical and magical animals who help our heroes along the way. The hero has to find out who the real perpetrators of evil are and find it within himself to overcome them. And he has a guide along the way, who also gets to be a hero, not just a sidekick, who doesn’t coddle him but forces him to come to grips with reality. While at the same time, the guide learns a thing or two. Horrible tragedies are avenged, justice is served, evil gets its comeuppance, and there’s a little romance within all that action. And some truly awesome stunt work, especially on a train, with the horse. (The horse RULES!)
Will the team that brought you Pirates of the Caribbean hit another home run with The Lone Ranger? I don’t know, but the odds are on their side — they’ve got that horse.