Entire family: No
2013, 149 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence and some suggestive material
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Bonus features: C-
Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski conspired to reinvent the pirate movie, so why would it surprise anyone that they’d give a complete makeover to the legend of The Lone Ranger?
According to the legend that radio series and ‘50s TV show were based on, the Lone Ranger was John Reid, who rode into a box canyon with his brother and other Texas Rangers in pursuit of the Butch Cavendish gang—who lay in wait and ambushed them, killing everyone and leaving Reid for dead. Enter Tonto, who helps him recover, and soon the masked man dedicated to avenging those Rangers by fighting for truth, justice, and the American way is riding across the West with his faithful Indian companion, rounding up bad guys in every episode.
When Verbinski and a trio of screenwriters (including Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) begin with the premise that John Reid is a lawyer and anti-gun crusader and brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is a man’s man kind of Ranger, it serves as the set-up to a punch line. Tonto later finds the dead Rangers, John included, and puts them in open graves, after which a white spirit horse thought to be able to bring someone back from the dead focuses on John, despite Tonto’s efforts to flag him over to brother Dan instead. After John is fully recovered and their reluctant partnership begins, Tonto keeps calling him Ke-mo-sah-be until John finally asks what it means. “Wrong brother,” Depp-as-Tonto deadpans.
That pretty much sets the tone and narrative approach for this big-screen reboot. As in Pirates, there are supernatural elements, super-sinister villains, eyebrow-raising stunts, and two heroes that, together, do what Depp did as Capt. Jack Sparrow—calmly blundering through the mayhem and coming out at the end of each scrape or skirmish with a kind of befuddled confidence. So parents, if you’re fine with your children watching Pirates of the Caribbean, this film has more of the same. But the violence is every bit PG-13, and that’s the audience. Is it any worse than the Pirates films? Not really. It has the same blend of action, stylized violence, and humor.
William Fichtner makes for a pretty darned scary and fiendish Butch Cavendish, and Helena Bonham Carter is as quirky as a madam with an ivory leg that shoots as she was playing Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables or the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.
The rest of the cast is totally convincing, and Jess Gonchor’s production design, Cheryl Carasik’s set decoration, and Penny Rose’s costume design bring to life a Wild West that’s just a little wilder than usual . . . and just a little bolder, both in color and in pushing the traditional historical envelope. Traditionalists might wince, but it really does invigorate the story. And as we saw in the Pirates movies, here too are outlandish stunts that deliberately push the limits of credibility. That too will be perceived as a strength by some and a weakness by others.
While there is much good to say about this outrageous reboot of The Lone Ranger, there are also flaws that keep it from being totally successful, starting with a frame story that just doesn’t make sense. Tonto comes to life in a museum diorama and tells the true story of the Lone Ranger to a small boy dressed like the Masked Man? Come on! Everyone gathered around the TV set pronounced it stupid, and if I hadn’t coaxed my son to give the film a chance he would have been long gone. I also think that it was ill-advised to take a page from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and have John be such an anti-gun guy, because at least Jimmy Stewart stuck by his (anti)guns and remained true to his principles, while the Lone Ranger is pushed into an unreasonably quick turnaround because of this plot device.
Likewise, a very un-heroic side plot about John coveting his brother’s wife (and vice versa) isn’t developed enough, so why have it in the first place? Just to humanize the guy? Tonto has enough jokes at his expense to accomplish that, so it’s really unnecessary. In my book these things take a film that could have been an A- or B+ and knock it down to a B—not the bomb that many critics labeled it.
My guess is that critics who grew up with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels and had it fixed in their brains exactly what The Lone Ranger and Tonto should look like were outraged that Depp and Hammer dressed and acted nothing like them. And they punished the filmmakers for it. But younger audiences coming to it with fresh eyes and no baggage will respond to it differently, and it’s a zestful Western that might reveal the secrets of what future filmmakers are going to have to do to preserve the genre.