Scott, the latest incarnation of The Lone Ranger is in theaters. Is the legend of the Lone Ranger still relevant to today’s young people?
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Hard to say until we get a look at the box office figures.
Pithy. The story opens with a youngster in 1933 meeting an old Tonto (Johnny Depp) who relates the post-civil-war story of the origin of the Lone Ranger. We’re introduced to a very straight-laced John Reid (Armie Hammer) who is a district attorney on a train bound for Colby, Texas. Outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner) is on the same train and bound for the gallows for his crimes.
Another prisoner sitting next to Cavendish is Tonto, who watches as Cavendish escapes with help from an unknown accomplice hidden among the Rangers. Reid is then recruited by the Rangers to hunt down Cavendish but the Rangers are ambushed and seemingly all of them are killed. Tonto finds the bodies, discovers Reid has come back from the dead, and concludes that Reid is an immortal spirit who is destined to work with Tonto to seek justice.
Reid is the most reluctant of heroes. He refuses to use a gun and insists on bringing Cavendish and his cohorts in live to face justice. He wears the mask only as way to hide his identity and strike fear into the hearts of the men he is chasing down. Meanwhile, the railroad is coming to Colby and railroad honcho Cole (Tom Wilkinson) is trying to bring a new era to the West.
Scott, this was a very long movie that tried its darndest to bring all the elements of the classic Lone Ranger legend (created by Fran Striker for radio in 1933) to a modern audience. This was tried before in 1981 and failed miserably. This incarnation was a full treatment with lots of action and special effects. And a lead actor in Johnny Depp as Tonto. I was concerned that Depp would be too quirky for the role, but I was pleasantly surprised by the sensitive approach he took which was seasoned with a tinge of whimsy. In fact the whole film was a bit whimsical. I’m still trying to decide if I’m okay with this directorial choice.
Greg, I truly enjoyed the set-up of the movie, with an elderly Tonto relating the story to a young boy a half century later. From the get-go, we’re drawn in and placed on the edge of our seats, waiting in eager anticipation as Tonto’s story unfolds. The film’s opening scene, featuring a little boy losing a small helium balloon as it floats just out of his reach, is extremely prophetic of the key themes of lost dreams and unexpected flight into the unknown.
Overall, The Lone Ranger is a visually stunning film, with great attention to detail that deftly places you in the dusty, scorpion-filled old west. Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp are cast perfectly in the roles of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and the supporting cast of helpers, lovers, and villains is also outstanding. Your question about whether this film has appeal to younger audiences, who have had limited exposure to the western genre, is an excellent one. Only time will tell.
When I look at the current flock of heroes in the movies this summer, I see Kirk, Spock, Iron Man, Superman, (and soon) Wolverine. These are all products of technology or future worlds. Real flesh-and-blood heroes are hard to find in today’s pantheon. When I was a kid, I remember playing cowboys and indians. Some of my heroes were Bat Masterson, Wyatt Erp, The Rifleman, and the Lone Ranger. My “superhero” weapon of choice was a cap gun. With the coming of the atomic age and the space race heroes took on a more technological bent. In my later years I looked to the stars for my role models.
It’s refreshing to see heroism portrayed in less futuristic terms and with less reliance on high-tech gadgets and techno-babble. It’s also a joy to see a classic buddy-hero story that depicts Native-Americans so favorably and in stark contrast to the elder-Tonto’s role as a zoo-like specimen in 1933. The title of the film belies the equality of the contributions of the two men. Tonto takes as much, if not more, lead here than the Lone Ranger himself. In fact, speaking personally, if my life were in danger I’d rather have Tonto save me than the Lone Ranger, who comes across as more naïve and less clever than Tonto.
I agree with you there Scott. This film clocks in at two and a half hours, which was a little long for my tastes. But we’ve seen this with other origin stories (witness Man of Steel). The first half of the film is devoted to telling us the story of how the main character becomes a hero. Then the second half is filled with his first adventure. It just takes a while to tell both stories adequately.
Another problem I had with this telling was how long it took John Reid to fully accept his new role as the Lone Ranger. While he wears the mask from early in the story, he does it hesitatingly and even discards it at some point. It’s only after his adventure is nearly over that he willingly wears it as part of his new persona as a western crime fighter. I felt it took too long for this transformation to take place.
Greg, it’s weirding me out that we concur almost 100% here. The Lone Ranger is a visually impressive film that capably fleshes out the origin stories of both the Ranger and his sidekick Tonto. Although the action scenes are riveting, once again we have a movie that makes the mistake of assuming that more thrilling death-defying scenes are always better. I grew fatigued watching the Lone Ranger and Tonto cheat death over and over again. Earlier this summer, we reviewed the movie Mud, which proved that in good storytelling, less is often more.
For a rock-solid western story of heroism and developing mutual respect between two unlikely buddy heroes, I give The Lone Ranger 3 Reels out of 5. I came close to awarding this film a 4th Reel, but once again poor editing decisions led to an overly long film that exhausted me as much as it entertained me. The hero story is outstanding and contains all the elements we look for: A call to adventure, missing inner qualities that are filled, characters encountered who fill important roles, and a satisfying transformation. I give the Lone Ranger and Tonto 4 out of 5 Heroes.
I agree again, Scott. I liked the device of “old Tonto” telling the story to a youngster so as to perpetuate the legend. I also liked the respect American Indians were dealt in this film. But I missed the things that made the original Clayton Moore Lone Ranger different from other western heroes: intelligence over force. TV’s Lone Ranger was much more interested in thinking his way out of a situation than in shooting his way out. While Armie Hammer’s Ranger never shot anyone in this film, he came across as a weak-minded pacifist.
I didn’t come close to giving this film anything more than 3 Reels. It was too long and, as you say, spent way too much time creating impossible situations. As a PG-13 film, this was clearly aimed at younger audiences. I’m OK with that because I’d like to see this venerable legend become a modern hero again. But it just lagged on too long. The Lone Ranger’s hero’s transformation took the entire film to accomplish and I would have preferred a stronger turn. I award him just 3 out of 5 Heroes.