The 371st film I have seen in theaters…
Disney ressurects the classic hero of yesteryear in The Lone Ranger. It was a massive flop at the Box office, being compared to John Carter. Here’s the thing, I actually really enjoyed John Carter, same goes for Lone Ranger.
The film starts in 1933, the year the Lone Ranger premiered on Radio. A young boy is at a San Francisco Carnival, and he enters an “Old West” Sideshow. There are stuffed Buffalo, desert landscapes, Bears, and an Old Indian who we learn is a very ancient Tonto. He tells the young boy his story, and the story of John Reid, the Lone Ranger.
The film then bounces back and forth as he tells the tale, smashing the young boy’s illusions of the Old West. We see Reid come west, chase a bandit with his Brother Dan, who is then murdered. He joins up with Tonto as they hunt the murderer down. This leads to a conspiracy with the Transcontinental railroad and a heist to steal some Silver from a sacred Indian mountain.
As it is told by “Old Tonto”, who in this version is also a bit crazy, there is a hint of suspicion in the story he tells. Is it real? Did it happen that way? Is it just a story? It is a clever way to approach the material.
The film, of course, ends with a shoot em up battle on a train to save the Damsel, and beat th Bad Guys, all to the William Tell Overture.
Johnny Depp was actually a pretty good Tonto. Part Native American, he is can look the part. As for the insane bird on his head…his Tonto is crazy. The weirdness of Tonto is explained in the film. The calls that the character is racist is absurd. The other Natives in the film clearly state that Tonto has a broken mind, due to his involvement in the central plot. I also list Depp first because in truth HE is top billed, and he is the narrator of our tale. It is all seen through his memories.
Armie Hammer was a good Lone Ranger. The role as written does not offer much to work with. He needs to be the good and upstanding hero in the White Hat. He does that, well.
Helena Bonham Carter has a small role in the film. I think Depp has some secret clause that forces her to appear in everything with him. She’s her usual self as the one legged cathouse mistress.
Tom Wilkinson plays Latham Cole, the Railroad executive. He’s a good actor, used well here.
William Fitchtner plays Butch Cavendish, murderer and part cannibal villain of the movie. A greatly underrated performer, Fitchtner is a great bad guy.
Barry Pepper is the US Cavalry Captain who works with the bad guys. He tries to show some apprehension at the slaughter of the native Americans, but the script never really gives him a chance to delve into it. Minor role.
This movie was clearly gonna bomb. No doubt about it. I think Disney secretly knew it, as well as the cast. What is sad is that its not worthy of being a massive bomb. Like John Carter, it missed the primary audience. This is a movie, like Pirates of the Caribbean, that is aimed at families. The filmmakers, instead of going full popcorn flick, actually threw in some subversive stuff to de-mythesize the old west and show the cruelty by which is was actually won. We, the White Man, wanted what the Indians had. They needed to die. The Ranger and Tonto stood opposed to that, but still it happened. They saved the day, the damsel, and beat the bad guys, but the West was lost. Tonto was just a sideshow attraction “The Noble Savage”. Audiences wanted a simple shoot em up action movie, this aimed higher and failed.
Now, as for the action? Some of the best of the summer. The final train battle is one of the best staged action sequences of the year. Models, CGI, Stuntwork all came together for a thrilling finish, all to the familiar music of the William Tell Overture. You’d be surprised how much that added to the experience. All too often, the “classic” themes of these remade tv shows use the themes as Easter Eggs, or jokes, or even during the end credits (cough cough Bond). This movies uses it proudly.
My advice is to take your kids, most likely sons, to go see it before it vanishes. History will be kinder to this movie than current critics and audiences are.