In the pantheon of American lore, there are a handful of iconic heroes. Superman and Batman come to mind; perhaps Audie Murphy, the all-American soldier and the original G.I. Joe. Lurking in this shared national memory are tales from days of yesteryear when The Lone Ranger rode the old west in the name of justice. Yeah, written like that it sounds pretty corny. However, The Lone Ranger recognizes its source material’s inherent corniness and plays it for fun (Unlike The Legend of The Lone Ranger, which took itself way too seriously when it galloped into theaters in 1981, went through the screen, out the back door and on to cinematic oblivion). This latest incarnation allows us to forgive and forget the old-fashioned cornball and enjoy seeing the masked man ride again.
The tale of The Lone Ranger begins with John Reid (Armie Hammer) returning to his Texan hometown; a lawyer hoping to bring civilized law to a lawless land. Reid accompanies his Texas Ranger brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), in a posse to apprehend psychotic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). The lawmen are ambushed, leaving John Reid the sole-survivor. Reid is rescued and resuscitated by Tonto, and the two partner up to bring Cavendish to justice. Reid and Tonto have very different reasons for seeking justice, and very different ideas on its execution. If the Lone Ranger’s trail is one of holy vengeance, then Tonto’s is one of redemption. Reid wants Cavendish for the murder of his brother. Tonto sees in Cavendish a profound evil, born from the lust for silver that brought about the destruction of his village - which Tonto unwittingly aided as a child. Reid does capture Cavendish, but when he brings the villain back to town, he discovers a level of corruption for which law school had failed to prepare him.
There is some recognition in The Lone Ranger of the treachery experienced by Native Americans at the hands of progressing “white” civilization. An Indian War is manufactured to poach silver-laden Indian land. Also, during a raid, a Captain Fuller (Barry Pepper) is aghast by the blood on his hands. Only then does he realize that his mission has been a product of lies, not the noble advancement of the United States’ manifest destiny. These themes, while present, are displayed subtly so as not to drag down the film’s entertainment value.
It is probably common knowledge by now that Johnny Depp’s Tonto virtually carries this film, like Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp’s larger-than-life character and performance are the real draws here. Tonto is cool, mysterious, somber yet comical, and yet accessible; a bridge to the audience as he regales this film’s story to a young boy in 1933. Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger, on the other hand, is a prim dweeb and a goody-two-shoes. In school yards, backyards and playgrounds, children will probably now argue over who gets to play Tonto in their imaginative adventures.
Depp has once again teamed with director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer for this picture. Together, this trio created the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The Lone Ranger certainly feels like the opening installment of a new franchise. Sadly, I’m afraid it lacks the same magic that made the Pirates films so popular. Combined with flawed timing and genre, I just don’t see this picture faring as well as its makers had hoped (It already lost its opening night battle with Despicable Me 2). In the past month, we’ve seen five other big budget/big action releases; there just might not be enough adrenalin left in moviegoers this weekend. Also, the Western genre is, frankly, all but dead. There have been exceptions - Django Unchained and True Grit were critical and commercial successes - but they were just that: exceptions. The genre no longer speaks to us as it did 40 or 50 years ago. I may be wrong, but only time, and this holiday weekend’s box-office receipts, will tell if The Lone Ranger spawns another franchise.
There is no denying that The Lone Ranger is pure fun! It plays off the cornball brilliantly, as when John Reid first dons his big white hat and his brother asks if they didn’t have a bigger one. Filmed in New Mexico and Utah, this film also boasts some of the most scenic locations the American West has to offer. It delivers an edge-of-your-seat, climactic chase sequence (complete with the William Tell Overture) and – in true Depp, Verbinski & Bruckheimer form – ludicrous, Harold Lloyd-like stunts. I left the theater smiling and I do hope to see another Lone Ranger film. So, as John Reid declares at the end: “Hi-Ho Silver, Away!” Corny? I know, but it’s all good. Tonto immediately orders him to “Never do that again!”