The Lone Ranger

tlrSo, it looks like The Lone Ranger is just about as big a bomb as you can imagine. Reviews have been terrible. There’s been a certain amount of controversy about putting a guy who is, despite what his Ancestry.com information might say, pretty much a white guy in the role of Tonto. And the opening weekend grosses have been terrible. Like, John Carter terrible.

Personally, I thought it was fine. Certainly not terrible. There was one action sequence too many. (The native Americans attacking the mine in the dark was a waste of my time.) There were some plot inconsistencies. (Why did Tonto happen upon the valley where John was “killed”?) And the final moments of the film made no sense. (There was no reason for John to think he needed to keep being the Lone Ranger… except that Disney wants a franchise, not a standalone film.)

But, all in all, those are some relatively minor concerns. What did I like?

  • Armie Hammer as an out-of-his-element fop who has to become a hero, rather than being thrust into the action already being a super bad-ass.
  • Johnny Depp’s characterization of Tonto as a guy with some serious mental problems.
  • The fact that these two are almost constantly at odds, not just because the screenplay needs them to be (like Hellboy and Johan in Hellboy II), but because they have very specific agendas which at times coincide, and at others do not. You know, the way real people are.
  • The action sequences which strain believability… but have just enough inner logic that you can kind of suspend your disbelief. The final sequence with two trains running on separate but nearby tracks makes exactly zero sense… but the filmmakers went out of their way to make the choreography as realistic as possible, within an unrealistic scenario. (If that makes any sense.)

Notice how every one of these things can be attributed to Pirates of the Caribbean. Which isn’t a big surprise, what with the star, the director and the studio all the same. Still, those similarities didn’t bother me.

One of the things that’s quite specifically different is that here there is a hint of the supernatural. It’s not an in-your-face fantasty the way POTC was. Tonto (in his addled way) is convinced there are evil spirits, and magical horses, and cursed silver, etc, etc. The movie largely remains agnostic on the merits of these beliefs. The Lone Ranger could be interpreted as a story about the supernatural, or it could be interpreted as all in Tonto’s fevered mind. That’s a fun construction.

Adding another layer of questionability is the fact that the film is almost entirely told as a story by an old Tonto to a kid in 1933. So not only do we not know if these things are really supernatural in nature, we don’t even know if they really happened. Or if they happened in quite the way Tonto is telling us. That means a certain amount of magical realism is allowable.

I should highlight a couple of other performances. Tom Wilkinson as a railroad baron does some nice work. Barry Pepper has a small but interesting role as a conflicted military officer. William “No, really, I am always awesome” Fichtner’s portrayal of a sadistic outlaw is so dark, he’s almost performing in another movie. And a special mention has to go to James Badge Dale, this being his third performance in a huge summer film this year. (He was already in Iron Man 3 and World War Z.)

It’s entirely possible that this film will be forgotten (except in the annals of film misfires) in five years, but I think it’s entertaining popcorn stuff.

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