Summer blockbuster season wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t see a re-adaptation of something, and this year Hollywood has chosen the iconic 1950’s western TV show The Lone Ranger. After almost a year of marketing and hype, the finished product has finally arrived in theaters, and has garnered the critics’ scorn and some audience’s praise. So is this film as bad as the critics say? Does the film come off as racist as some claim, or is it another harmless Disney production?
Let’s take a look at The Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger is about John Reid, lawyer turned Texas Ranger, who much defeat heinous murderer and cannibal Butch Cavendish. He is helped by a mystical spirit horse named Silver, and Tonto, a lone Comanche out for revenge. Cavendish has friends in high places, however, and his actions are directly tied to the growing railroad system reaching west. It is essentially the same cut-and-dry origin story with convoluted mystery pushed to the extreme by which I mean it is two and a half hours long, an hour longer than it needs to be. The plot drags on with needless dialogue, failed attempts at a buddy comedy, and a mystery, which if you were paying attention at the beginning of the film, is obvious by the middle.
The acting is pretty decent overall. Our dark villain Cavendish, played by William Fichtner, is menacing and has the best screen presence of the entire cast. Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole plays the slimy railroad official, and plays it a little too over-the-top to pull off the charm the role demands. I have no idea why Helena Boham Carter gets top billing over Ruth Wilson when the former get only two scenes, but both do well as, apparently, the only women in the wild west.
Armie Hammer plays the Lone Ranger, doing so with the traditional good guy naiveté before toughening up. I’ll talk about Depp performance next, but what’s really distracting is that Hammer and Depp have absolutely no chemistry. I don’t believe these two are becoming friends because they never once act as though they actually like each other. If it weren’t for the 1930’s Tonto narrating the story we wouldn’t know that Tonto held any affection for our title character at all. The majority of their interactions are as follows: the Lone Ranger does something and Tonto mocks him for it. These two are supposed to be a dynamic duo, but it feels more like they were the un-charming version of the Odd Couple, where they both hate each other and never want to see each other’s faces again.
On the subject of whether this film is racist or not, or specifically if Depp’s performance was racist, I would recommend reading opinions from Native Americans about the film (like this one.) I have read a variety of things, including that Johnny Depp is part Native American, that there were officials and activists from Native American organizations on set and gave their blessing, and Disney paid off certain parties so that there wouldn’t be a big stink about it. Whether or not all of this is true is difficult to say, as these reports and claims are hard to verify that they were more than just publicity stunts. There’s even a part in the movie where other Comanche explain that Tonto is insane and none of his actions or manner of speaking are actually how they, as a tribe, act or speak as if to say “We get that he’s over-the-top, and by acknowledging it, it’s no longer racist”.
Still, watching it Depp’s over-the-top performance, which made use of several stereotypes made me feel uncomfortable. Depp has said he wanted to make Tonto a stronger character and to remove the stereotypes often associated with the part but if that was his goal, he failed miserably. Just making a character sarcastic doesn’t make them stronger or more complex. Even the costume was more stereotypical than the one from the original TV show. Tonto is entirely played up for comedic effect, and because of that he feels more like a walking joke than a character in his own right.
That’s not to say the movie was all bad. The film is well shot overall, with great on-location shots of the majestic southwest, and makes great use of said shots to keep the film visually interesting in an attempt to hide some screenwriting flaws. The costume design works well, it has strong cinematography, and has a great aesthetic overall. It looks very much like a western, even down to the costuming. The actions scenes are always well choreographed and shot, with the two major action scenes taking place on a train. I will say though, the CGI bunnies were a bit obvious, but props for pulling off such difficult scenes.
In the end, The Lone Ranger is neither a good or a bad movie. It is, in all honesty, bland and harmless. If you wanted a less exciting version of Pirates of the Caribbean than this film might be suited to you. If you are a fan of the original, definitely don’t see it as they basically mock the show throughout the film to try and seem “edgy” and “gritty.” Otherwise, it’s a long film that goes nowhere and leaves a very small impression. I would honestly encourage you not to see it until they air it on television – if only because it is best enjoyed for free in a comfortable chair and with multiple bathroom breaks.
– Great cinematography.
– Well put together action scenes.
– Decent acting.
– Long running time.
– Cliche plot.
– Tonto’s portrayal. (Yes, I am putting it in the cons, it is a very distracting element)