The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger has had a lot of poor reviews. Time Out described it as frustrating, lazy and lifeless. Peter Travers in Rolling Stone said “Your expectations of how bad The Lone Ranger is can’t trump the reality” and in The Daily Mail Christopher Tookey wrote “If I’d had anything to do with it, I’d be wearing a balaclava and writing under an assumed name” which interestingly is exactly what I think when I read most of Christopher Tookey’s reviews. (The one he did for Kick Ass was particularly embarrassing but more on that next week.)

As it is the bashing the film got from the critics just made me want to see it more in the same way that you would want to go and talk to the kid in the playground who has just been pushed around by bullies. To be fair, The Lone Ranger has a budget well north of $200 million so is big enough to look after itself but nonetheless I saw it as a victim, feeling more sympathetic towards it than I ever would with some clanking behemoth like Transformers.

Perhaps it is because it is a western which alongside science fiction has always been one of my favourite genres (imagine my love for Back to the Future Part 3). I am very interested in the past and that period of time in America has a romanticism that the primness or squalor of British history does not. I get that it was vicious and lawless era but there is something so appealing about that vast landscape and dusty wooden towns dotted around it. Also, the reviews haven’t all been bad. Angie Errigo in Empire Magazine said the film displayed “real story telling, well thought out and beautifully, at times insanely, executed, with excitement, laughs and fun to make you feel seven years old again.”

Star Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have both publicly blamed the negative reviews for the death of their movie stateside (its failure is expected to lose Disney around $150 million). I’m not sure critics actually have that much sway over audiences and I suspect people just didn’t fancy seeing a Cowboys of the Caribbean movie but certainly the drubbing it got in the press did nothing to change their minds. Either way I wondered if most of the critics had got a posse together and gone unjustly gunning for it.

Another blogger I follow has written some interesting stuff about this so if you want to read more on the subject head over to http://lovepirate77.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-lone-ranger-critics-and-the-box-office/ (there is also a very interesting post on Ender’s Game and whether you can like art if you don’t like the artist.) The simple question I want to answer is the same one I had with A Good Day to Die Hard; is this film really as bad as they’re saying it is?

Well, this time the answer is no, it really isn’t. Despite the big budget The Lone Ranger isn’t an overly ambitious movie. It aims to entertain and it wants to look good doing so and it succeeds on both counts. It obviously isn’t perfect but it doesn’t have the glaring plot holes and nonsensical character motivations of Prometheus or the boring overblown action of Man of Steel. It is also a thousand times better than Avatar but let’s not go there again. Certainly there are plenty of worse films that have been given more forgiving reviews and subsequently raked in the cash.

Let’s get the problems out of the way first. At two hours and thirty minutes it is lengthy. Harry Potter showed us that kids will happily sit still for this amount of time but The Long Ranger could easily lose half an hour. The set up takes a full sixty minutes and again this isn’t a problem in itself but unlike Iron Man, this isn’t the most interesting part of the film. Even then it is not as bloated as this years other big ‘western’ Django Unchained.

Secondly Johnny Depp displays exactly the same quirks and ticks as he did in The Pirates of the Caribbean films but with none of the charm. It is interesting having the A-lister as the side kick but if Depp had taken the title role rather than playing Captain Jack Tonto we might have had something a little different. Considering that he is effectively ‘blacking up’, he needed to be better to justify not giving the part to someone of the correct ethnicity.

In the same way that Johnny Depp is tapping into past performances, so is Armie Hammer as the man who does wear the mask. He is essentially essaying the same heroic blunderer he gave us in Mirror Mirror which can’t be a deliberate commercial decision. Hammer promised a lot in The Social Network but he has yet to capitalise on this.

Also, while the gags are plentiful and do raise a snigger they are a little obvious. The comedy horse is a little broad and as such is slightly at odds with the tone of other parts of the film. Still, this
jarring of the silly and the serious has been a feature of Jerry Bruckheimer films for several decades so we should know what to expect by now. (Think of the machine gunning of the Special Forces squadron amidst the fun escapades of The Rock.)

Finally the script is at best serviceable and at worst clunky. My ‘favourite’ line is: “A man can’t choose his brother, it is almost like he chooses him.”

Having jotted these things down they look like substantial flaws but the fact is that none of them mattered too much while I was watching the film. To obsess over the imperfections is to obtusely refuse to take the film in the spirit in which it is intended. The Lone Ranger is actually quite a lot of fun, especially in the last fifteen minutes but we’ll get to that in a second.

The story that carries us toward the film’s glorious conclusion is good. This is one of the things the movie has been criticised for with The Sun Newspaper saying that the development of the railroad here is about as interesting to children as the blocking of trade routes in The Phantom Menace. This is pretty patronising to preteens who are quite capable of appreciating a bit of political context and it gives the characters far more interesting motivations than if it everything had been centred around some flimsy revenge or manhunt plot. There are also some pretty shots of trains, plains and gunslingers silhouetted against the desert sun.

The tale is told using the Princess Bride/Interview with a Vampire method with an aged player relaying events to a wide eyed greenhorn which works well and the depiction of a idealist hero committed to the law in a lawless world is nicely reminiscent of one of the greatest westerns of all time, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. There is a similar play on the waiting at the station scene from High Noon so the film knows its pedigree.

We also have Helena Bonham Carter giving one of her beautifully dry and affectionately acerbic performances in a glorified cameo, and although Depp’s Native American character would have been better played by a Native American his portrayal does suggest wisdom and determination hidden behind a flawed persona like some kind of Comanche Keyser Soze.

Then we get to the end which is quite possibly the most joyously fun conclusion to an adventure film since the first Star Wars. So many modern action movies play their cards too early but The Lone Ranger saves the best until last in a beautifully choreographed and designed train chase sequence that is all the better for having it play under the famous Lone Ranger music. I don’t think there is a single chase scene in over a hundred years of cinema, be it though the trenches on the surface of a space station or over the hills of San Francisco, that wouldn’t be infinitely better if it were accompanied by Rossini’s William Tell Overture.

I’m sure my largely positive reaction to the film is partly due to the uncharitable reviews but I enjoyed The Lone Ranger and if you have preadolescent children or an open mind or both then I say see it.

Oh and it isn’t in 3D either which scores it a few extra points.

Is this one for the kids?

The press has made something of the bad guy’s poor taste habit of removing his victims hearts and eating them but we handled this in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom so I think most kids could stomach it here too. You don’t actually see anything so it is nothing worse than you’d get in Horrible Histories.

Alongside all the other Western tropes this town also has a whore house but the ladies within are deliberately never referred to as prostitutes as if this is something the preview audiences and moral advisers were quite clear on. Instead they are referred to as ‘professionals’ or ‘entertainers’ allowing the journey home from the cinema to be clear of interesting questions.

All in all there is nothing that exceeds the standard level of sex and violence of a 12A certificate.

Bechdel Test Score = 1

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5 thoughts on “The Lone Ranger

  1. Great review/analysis (and thanks for linking to me)! I loved the comparisons to High Noon and Liberty Valence. And if you’re a western and sci-fi fan I hope you’ve seen Firefly and Serenity. I agree with you about feeling like the film was bullied (even though it can take care of itself). And you’re totally right about how almost every action scene would be better with William Tell. I’d love to see the Bullitt car chase set to that.

    1. Thanks, I am glad you liked the post although we don’t agree on absolutely everything. I had more of an issue with Johnny Depp than you did although I think you are right that it was a positive portrayal of Native Americans, particularly when considered alongside the other Comanches. Firefly/Serenity is probably the best thing I think Joss Whedon has done and as you know I consider that the highest praise.

      1. I completely agree about Firefly/Serenity being Whedon’s best work. Yeah, I realize we don’t agree on everything, but that’s the best part about blogging, all of the different viewpoints!

      2. Agreed and at least I liked the film. There is bound to be something we fundamentally disagree on sooner or later and I look forward to the debate. What is the film that has been so bad it has made you cross? It tends to be dislike of something that gets the most passionate response from me. That isn’t to say I’m a negative person but if someone didn’t get Inception like I did that is just their opinion, if someone declares unequivocal love for Avatar though I just couldn’t let that go.

      3. Ugh, Avatar. Don’t get me wrong, gorgeous visuals, but beyond the visual thrill…
        As for the film that was so bad it makes me cross, it has to be Borat. I’ve never walked out of a film before, but I drove an hour to another city to see Borat and was so insulted by it that I seriously considered leaving. And I was so angry on the drive home that I think I cried most of the way out of pure anger. Other than that, there hasn’t been a film that made me angry over its badness. I don’t get much enjoyment out of trashing a movie, what gets the most passionate response from me are the movies that I love. I like that other people enjoy passionately sharing their dislike of movies, because negative criticism (that’s well written) is fun to read. But it’s not generally my style.

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