The Lone Ranger (2013)

Sometimes, movies take big risks. Resurrecting an old hero in a new franchise, adding strange mystical and almost sci-fi elements to it, and trying to launch a multi-movie franchise is a big risk. It failed and this movie went on to lose millions of dollars at the box office. It's not hard to see why: it tries too hard to incorporate too many angles, and fails to find secure footing.


A little kid in a mask wanders into a western side show for a gander at the exhibits. The stuffed buffalo. The stuffed grizzly bear. But the Indian is real. His name is Tonto, and he has a story to tell: the real story behind the legend of the Lone Ranger...


John Reid (Armie Hammer) believes in the legal system. It's what he studied in school. It's what he intends to uphold in the west. He carries around a law book as his "Bible" and would much rather handcuff a man and return him to the proper authorities than shoot him on sight. In fact, he believes so firmly in his convictions that he refuses to carry around his own gun -- a fact that earns him no end of mockery among the various cowboys he encounters. So, there's not much he can do when notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) breaks free of his chains and rejoins his band of renegades. He rides off into the sunset, leaving John chained to a disreputable looking Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp). After handing said Indian over to the authorities, John sets out with his Texas Ranger brother to track down Cavendish and return him to stand trial.


Everything goes wrong and all the Rangers wind up dead. Tonto assumes John is too, until a beautiful white horse proves otherwise. Believing the great spirit has chosen this "idiot" to do something wonderful and help right the wrongs of the world, Tonto reluctantly decides to help him kill Cavendish. Little does "the Lone Ranger" know that Tonto has his own reasons for wanting the outlaw dead... or that before the end, everyone John loves, including his brother's wife (Ruth Wilson), will be put in danger.


I have never been so baffled by a movie. It wants to be funny but it really isn't. It wants to be a serious western, yet then breaks out total unexplained absurdities that defy logic and made me wonder if it was meant to be some kind of "magical tale." I'm talking cannibalistic bunnies (they eat meat) and Hi Ho Silver climbing trees and winding up on rooftops. There's the saloon matron (Helena Bonham-Carter) with the fake leg that just happens to have a rifle in it, Tonto's creepy dead bird that changes positions every once in awhile, and enough strange mysticism to raise a few brows. I got the feeling the irrational stuff was meant to be funny but it just baffled me, because in every other respect this is a hardcore western with violence that borders an R-rating. Plot threads are introduced and then dropped, while other elements go unexplained. An entire storyline is woven around the idea of the villain being a "Wendigo," a mythical creature who feeds on the living... and then dismissed as nonsense (... yet, there are still flesh-eating bunnies out there)! I feel that if they intended to make a totally slapstick and absurd fairy tale western, they should have committed to it and followed through on the mystical elements, while toning down the horror element (including a massacre, and a villain who eats the hearts of his enemies... raw and on the spot); if a serious western was intended, abandon the mysticism entirely and stay serious.


Although I'm hard on the film, elements of it do work, which makes my ambivalent feelings about it somewhat frustrating. The cast is terrific and for once, I didn't feel that Depp stole the entire show. Hammer is an entertaining, likable Lone Ranger although he does get into quite a few scrapes along the way. He dials down Tonto while making him a totally different personality than ... well, we know who. The costuming is lovely and the scenery gorgeous. It's very evocative of the grand scale of the traditional western, with all the high thrills, narrow escapes, and winks at the traditional clichés (the whore with a heart of gold, Chinamen digging tunnels, etc). The framing of the narration is truly unique and even quite moving in its own way. And, it has a truly epic climax aboard a train that made me think that had the rest of the film been as fantastic as the last twenty odd minutes, it would have been the best western in decades. Alas, it isn't, and I can see why so many people shun it. I was entertained but also confused. If you go in expecting nothing, you'll be pleasantly surprised, but if you want a faithful rendition of your father's favorite childhood hero... this isn't it.

Sexual Content:
Characters tramp through a whorehouse.
A few mild profanities and abuses of deity.
Lots of violence, some of it stretching the PG13 rating. Indians are mowed down with gunfire, as are Rangers. One has his heart cut from his chest and consumed by the villain (off-screen, implied). Many action scenes with mass destruction, trains derailing, and other accident-related incidents. A woman and child are threatened with physical punishment.

Indian spiritualism is heavily present, with Tonto predicting things, talking about great spirits, etc. Silver is believed to be a spirit from the other side and possesses strange supernatural abilities (like levitation, apparently). Conversation about curses, Wendigos, etc. Christianity is only present in the form of Bible-thumpers screaming about the End Times.


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