Movie Review: The Lone Ranger
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, and William Fichtner
Plot: A Texas Ranger teams up with a Native American to take down the outlaw who left him for dead
I guess it makes sense that after my more anticipated summer releases ended up disappointments (Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel), that the summer release that I was convinced would be an absolute crapshoot would turn out to be a pretty awesome summer movie. Maybe it was the low expectation and all the anti-hype it was receiving, but I dug it. The trailers do it a disservice highlighting the goofier moments and the Jack Sparrow-lite version of Tonto, neither of which are as bad as you might think. Or maybe that’s just because they do a lot of work to earn the right to be a little goofy.
For instance, it has an unreliable narrator. It opens up in 1933 in San Francisco. You can see the Golden Gate bridge still being built in the background. A young boy dressed like the Lone Ranger is walking around a carnival and walks into an Old West exhibit. It is a collection of dioramas, one of which is of “The Noble Savage.” He stares at the elderly Native American mannequin until the mannequin moves and reveals itself to be Tonto, Johnny Depp under heavy HEAVY makeup. He seems quite senile at this point, even mistaking the young boy for his old friend in the first place, but he tells the boy the real story about the Lone Ranger. Between Tonto’s senility, eccentricity, and the young boy occasionally interrupting him to get Tonto back on track, it is clear that there is a farcical element to this retelling.
I really appreciate the amount of respect and attention Johnny Depp has shown for the Native American cultures and why he would want to make a movie that showed the Native Americans in a fairer light. I’m not sure that his passion for that culture exactly makes it on screen as the Native Americans play a very small role other than Tonto, who is often played for laughs. At least, he is more of a funny jokester than the butt of the jokes. It also seemed like Tonto was going to be just another version of Jack Sparrow, but I found the characters to be different enough not to seem overly familiar. Honestly, Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger is more like Jack Sparrow than Tonto is.
I’m sure that aspect might actually bug a lot of the fans of the old show. Armie Hammer plays John, a man raised in the West but educated on the East coast. He comes back to his hometown as a lawyer ready to bring justice to the Wild West as the new District Attorney. He is naively heroic, wanting outlaws to get arrested and tried, and he doesn’t believe in guns or “kill or be killed.” In the wild west, where pretty much everyone believes otherwise, John is able to stand his ground on these beliefs. At the same time, he is not a tough guy and a bit of a complainer. He has a low pain threshold, a myopic view of the justice system, and, his most Jack Sparrow-esque characteristic, a clumsy way of getting himself in and out of trouble that ends up looking like he is a really smooth hero.
Those aspects might also bug people who saw potential for an earnest and gritty reimagining of an old-fashioned hero much like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. It doesn’t help that Dynamite Entertainment recently brought The Lone Ranger to the comic medium in that exact way, but with every studio looking for an old-fashioned franchise to revive on screen using buzzwords like “gritty” and “dark,” I am happy that a movie did something with a far lighter and adventurous tone, at least one that isn’t made by Marvel Studios. Tonally, I think the movie has a lot in common with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. The humor comes in the form of deconstruction and subversion of the genre. It isn’t quite as vulgar or witty, but it balances the humor with enough appreciation that it resembles the sense of humor of director, Edgar Wright.
This version of The Lone Ranger is more of a western take on Don Quixote, a bumbling wanderer with delusions of heroism and an ethnic sidekick. It might be a hollow adventure, but it is a damn fun movie, one of the most fun trips to the movie theater I had all summer.
What Else to Watch: The incredibly underrated Galaxy Quest, which has a similar tone and balance of spoof and appreciation, subverting sci-fi adventure television in a more meta way.