I feel like I’ve been waiting for The Lone Ranger for years. And considering both the filming and the release date were delayed at least once each, that may not be an unreasonable estimate! I finally saw the movie on the Fourth of July and happily, it was worth the wait.
Johnny Depp as Tonto is the most obvious reason I was excited by this movie, but there’s more to it than that. I’m a rather passionate fan of Pirates of the Caribbean, and this was made by pretty much all the same people. It’s a Disney movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, with a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and, of course, Johnny Depp in a wild and weird role. Plus Lone Ranger has Helena Bonham Carter and the quite attractive Armie Hammer thrown in for good measure.
Lone Ranger is not Pirates of the Caribbean (what is?) but it’s a similarly fun ride, and some of those parallels most definitely show. They stole some fight choreography out of Pirates, there are similar character arcs, and there are over-the-top, improbable (well, probably impossible) action sequences.
The movie is an origin story for the Lone Ranger, Texas vigilante in the Old West. John Reed is the sole survivor of a massacre of Rangers. Rescued by renegade Comanche Tonto, who has his own reasons for hunting the outlaws at fault, the two join forces to seek justice. There follows a tangle of searches for information, hunts, missteps and near misses, and reveals of backstory and conspiracies. It’s all really a vehicle for funny moments and insane action sequences (like galloping a horse along the top of a moving train…to the William Tell Overture, of course).
Tonto seems to have received a lot more attention in the lead-up to the movie than the Lone Ranger–partially because it’s Johnny Depp, and partially because of the controversy around portraying a Native American character. To me, Tonto felt much less like any attempt to make a racial comment and much more like another in a long line of wacky and weird Depp characters. Depp’s Tonto is plainly unbalanced. He’s also the comedic center of the story, and easily the show-stealer of the whole movie. Trading with dead men, talking to horses or scattering cracked corn everywhere he goes, he’s endlessly entertaining. The bird on his head is not just a fashion statement but something he frequently interacts with (and it turns out to have a surprisingly dramatic backstory).
Tonto is effectively played for laughs, although in some ways I feel like they never quite nailed down his character. To paraphrase Captain Jack, it’s funny how often madness and genius coincide. While Jack usually comes across as genius (if twitchy and eccentric genius), with Tonto it’s more often madness. It’s much harder to tell which side of the line he falls on, and the movie fell off a few times trying to walk on it. I was hoping for something to ultimately reveal whether his, um, unusual way of looking at the world really is valid, or really is madness…and it never quite came.
Even though the Lone Ranger was the title character and arguably the impetus to the plot, he fulfilled a Will Turner-type role in the movie, as the handsome friend to the eccentric show-stealer. He undergoes a similar arc too, from the uptight, straight-laced fish out of water, to finding confidence and competence under the rather shaky mentorship of Depp’s character. I’m not sure why he’s quite so incapable of coping with the Wild West, considering he’s a native son of the frontier town, but he comes back from years away as the intellectual cityite with no real understanding. And it is quite hilariously funny when he accuses the Madame of the brothel of breaking numerous health codes, including having a suspicious jar of pickles on the bar…
This was mostly a man’s movie, but Helena Bonham Carter does do a very entertaining turn as said-Madame, typically eccentric as well. There’s also a love interest, who has her moments although she’s no Elizabeth Swann, and is definitely secondary to the quest for vengeance.
Representing the animal contingent, Silver is a truly weird horse. Tonto takes him to be a spirit animal, and he’s certainly an, erm, independent spirit. The horse gets a lot of laughs, and it’s fun just to have the faithful steed as an actual character with his own quirks.
I enjoyed this hugely, but my biggest criticism of the movie is the level of violence. It’s not graphic, but it is obvious and frequently brutal. One of the opening sequences features a group of outlaws taking a train, and the casual shooting of anyone in their way is shocking in its callousness. The death of walk-on characters (or redshirts) is a usual convention in this kind of story, but there was something about this that felt a notch higher in violence. The massacre of the Rangers is also pretty horrific, and while the facts of the scene are plot-necessary, the details could easily have been toned down. John’s brother doesn’t just die; he dies in a horrible way, and while it’s below the edge of the screen, there’s still no question about what happens. There are also shots lingering on each of the dead bodies of the Rangers.
The second half of the movie is in some ways better on that front. The action sequences become less brutal, bigger and more absurd, transcending to the level of cartoon. Without any element of reality, they become less disturbing–although that’s problematic in its own way, on the level of desensitization. On a similar note, as is also typical in this type of movie, the Lone Ranger and Tonto both take enough falls and general pummeling to be dead several times over. I’ll accept the absurd falls, and the crazy stunts–but it does bother me that there are quite a few moments where the violence level felt gratuitous. This has been marketed as (and for the most part is) a family-friendly, comedy-adventure, and it’s disappointing that they couldn’t rein back the violence to a more appropriate level.
I’ve seen the objection to the violence made elsewhere too, and hopefully Disney will listen (I’m not that hopeful, but it’s possible). If this movie does well at the Box Office, I’ve no doubt they’ll have the opportunity to try again. The movie is complete in itself, but it has every marking of the first of a series…and if Johnny Depp signs up again, you can bet I’ll go see it.
Movie site: http://disney.go.com/the-lone-ranger/