[Review] The Lone Ranger

On the 237th anniversary of American Independence, my wife (who I lovingly refer to as the Princess Bride) and I saw The Lone Ranger.  I had very high hopes for this film, based on the articles I had read and the trailers and other promotional items available.  There were a couple of things I wasn't crazy about prior to the film (like the scene with Silver in a tree wearing the Lone Ranger's hat, and Tonto saying "Something very wrong with that horse"), but for the most part, I was excited.

In a previous post, I discussed the idea of the Western as an "American Fantasy genre," (an idea I credit to the guys at the Strangers and Aliens podcast) and I consider the Lone Ranger character as a highly venerated member of that pantheon.  

A little history is in order at this point. The Lone Ranger began life on the radio. in 1933, on radio station WXYZ in Detroit, The Lone Ranger debuted. It was part of a trio of radio adventure series developed by Fran Striker and George Trendle (Challenge of the Yukon (later, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon) and The Green Hornet, being the other two). It ran on radio for over 20 years and was spun off into other media, including film, television and comics.  In 1981, a disastrous attempt to resurrect the character premiered to dismal reviews and box office failure, and is now only barely remembered.

The bare bones of the story is that a company of Texas Rangers were in pursuit of the notorious Butch Cavendish and his gang, when they were ambushed in a blind canyon, betrayed by one of their own.  Nearly all were killed, including the leader of the group, Captain Dan Reid, who is the Lone Ranger's brother. The only survivor was John Reid. He was rescued and nursed back to health by Tonto, a member of the Pottawatamie nation.  Tonto recognized John Reid as the same person who rescued him at the time his tribe was massacred when they were both children.

What I liked:
  • Storytelling framing device - It was a fun way to tell the story from Tonto's point of view. It initially reminded me of one of favorite movies of all time, The Princess Bride. I had hoped that the young boy in the frame would be revealed to have other connections to the story, but I was wrong.
  • Humor - I loved the funny lines. I thought it made for a fun popcorn experience, but there were times that the humor didn't work or made things pretty confusing from a storytelling point of view.
  • Costuming/makeup - I loved the costuming, and the Lone Ranger's outfit looked better in this film than even in the TV series, which I grew up on. I know some folks were not crazy about Johnny Depp's makeup or headdress, but I think the film explained it pretty well.
  • The villain casting - James Fichtner was perfect as Butch Cavendish. For all of the knocks against Johnny Depp as Tonto, I loved his performance.  I thought it worked well.
  • The use of the William Tell Overture - You HAD to have the William Tell Overture in this film. If its not written into Federal Law that any portrayal of The Lone Ranger on radio, TV or Film must utilize the William Tell Overture, it should be. In this film, it was written into the score in just the right places.
  • Using most of the canon, while parts they didn't use made sense to me - For example, I never understood that Tonto is part of the Pottawatamie nation. In my research, I learned that the Pottawatamie lived in areas that are now within the states of Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. This is not within territory where you would find Texas Rangers normally. However, it makes more sense that Tonto would be a Comanche, which lived in the plains states, including Texas. Also, as the name Tonto in Spanish means "Stupid," it fits in with the character arc in this film (apparently, according to Wikipedia, the name in Pottawatamie means "Wild One."). I also like the "origin story for Tonto." I did appreciate them sticking to the canon for the origin of the Lone Ranger's Mask.
  • Same actor in Lone Ranger and Green Hornet - Tom Wilkinson played Britt Reid's father James in the 2011 movie and was the railroad industrialist Cole in the Lone Ranger.
  • The look of the film is gorgeous - it is a wonderful homage to John Ford-directed Westerns.

What I didn't like:
  • Anachronistic dialogue -  There were two that I recall that completely took me out of the film. The first, and possibly most egregious, was the scene where the Lone Ranger and Tonto are in Red's office trying to get her to tell them if she's seen the Ranger traitor that led the company of Rangers to their death. Really  They had to threaten her with health code violations???
  • Portrayal of all Christians as narrow minded bigots - In fairness, there were a lot of caricatures present (except that, on reflection, it appears that the other Comanches were portrayed much more deeply and sympathetically), so I guess I should just get over that. 
  • John Reid rejecting religion in favor of the "laws of man" - I find it especially problematic that he seeks justice while rejecting the God of justice (see the Lone Ranger Creed)
  • The kid in the framing device wasn't named Britt Reid - I really think that would have made a nice tie in to The Green Hornet. In the Green Hornet radio series, it is revealed that Britt Reid is the nephew of the Lone Ranger.
  • No tie in to Green Hornet - However, Green Hornet did have tie in to the Lone Ranger. Don't recall it? In Britt Reid's apartment there is a Lone Ranger poster on the wall.
  • Johnny Depp as Tonto meant that they couldn't get a stronger actor to play Lone Ranger - Armie Hammer was likable, but played John Reid too milquetoast to be believable. 
  • They didn't really explain why silver bullets - In the original canon, it was a reminder that every life is precious. If they changed the explanation to reflect the Macguffin in the film, then Tonto melting the Ranger star to make the first bullet doesn't make sense.
  • The tag scene during the credits was confusing - Tonto walking away in silence seems to indicate that this is the end of the story. It anticipates nothing, or sets up any possibility of a sequel.
Please don't get me wrong. I didn't hate the Lone Ranger. I actually enjoyed it. But the above list are the problems I had with it. There were times it really didn't seem to know what it wanted to be.  Some are calling it a "Pirates of the Caribbean in the Old West," or a kind of "The Lone Ranger Begins". I think it should have picked one and gone with it.

All in all, I would give it a grade of a B-.

As a bonus, here's a neat, short video review from a couple of other guys.


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