Tuesday, July 2, 2013

“The Lone Ranger” – This isn’t your dad’s Lone Ranger, but it is close.

As my friend and I were giving our opinions to the organizers of a screening of The Lone Ranger, this guy walked up and inserted himself into the conversation by proclaiming the film was too politically correct. As we stood there in confusion, he took our silence as his cue to continue by saying (and I’m paraphrasing here because, in my stunned state, I couldn’t believe the words were coming out of his mouth), “The movie blamed all of the bad things that happened to the Indians on white people and, yeah, white people did a lot of bad things, but the movie made it look a lot worse than it really was.” Now, the correct response to that (after closing your gaping mouth) is “I forgot – I’m supposed to meet someone somewhere else.” I know there are people out there who believe crazy things, but I had never met someone who said them out loud. Had this guy never heard of The Trail of Tears, the Sand Creek Massacre (or other massacres), or how we systematically displaced and murdered tens of millions of Native Americans over the span of a few decades? This man was either so ignorant as to redefine the word ‘ignorant’ or so delusional that I expected men in lab coats to run up and apologize for letting this man out of their sights. My point is that people see different things in movies and sometimes they scare the bejeezus out of me. Think about it for a moment – this guy gets to vote.

If the guy was right about the point of the movie being a commentary on what was done to the Native Americans (he wasn’t), then the movie didn’t go nearly far enough. What I took out of it was another attempt by Disney, Johnny Depp, and Gore Verbinski to recreate the lightning in bottle they had with the first Pirates of the Caribbean. At least, I hope that’s what they were doing because the alternative seemed to be a naked attempt to create another notable character for the theme parks in the form of Depp’s Tonto.

The movie begins with a boy walking into a carnival tent to view exhibits of the Wild West and coming across what appears to be a wax figure of a really old Indian. As he’s looking at it, the figure’s eyes move and it turns out to be none other than Tonto himself. The boy doesn’t believe it is Tonto at first, but that is rectified as Tonto tells him the story of his first adventure with the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer). The point of doing this is to make sure that the audience knows that Tonto is just as important as the Lone Ranger rather than being just a dumb sidekick as he was sometimes depicted in the past.

The plot of the movie is basic Disney, or James Bond if you prefer, where a mysterious bad guy is executing his evil plot to make tons of money, become very powerful, and take control of the land (city, state, country, world, etc. – it doesn’t matter). He also has an evil henchman, Butch (William Fichtner), with a disfigurement who starts off as THE bad guy, but is really a red herring for our heroes and the audience. It’s also an origin story for how the Lone Ranger became lone and a ranger, as well as how Tonto and the Lone Ranger became a team. It’s a very straight-forward movie following the formula that nearly every Disney movie incorporates, complete with quirky characters that kids will remember. And, like almost every Disney movie, one of the characters is an animal – this time Silver, the Lone Ranger’s horse.

The problem with the movie is that while being titled The Lone Ranger, the Long Ranger is arguably the least memorable of the characters. For starters, just the way the film begins let’s you know that Tonto is more important than the Lone Ranger and that doesn’t change throughout the film. While the Lone Ranger is constantly getting himself into pickles, Tonto is always there to save the day. I’m too young to have watched the original television series to know if that’s how it always was, but it seems like it should have been more even in order to highlight them as a team. On the flip side, the Lone Ranger starts out as a lawyer, stays mostly bland throughout the film, and the most exciting thing we can say about him is what kind of name is Armie, anyway?

The secondary characters are more memorable for their quirks than for parts in the story. I already mentioned Butch, who has a scarred mouth and eats people’s hearts (side note: this one scene was decidedly un-Disney as they all but show him cut out a guy’s heart and eat it). Then, there’s Red, (Helena Bonham Carter – of course she’s in this movie; where Depp goes, she goes), the madam of the town who also has an ivory leg with a shotgun built into it. But, as I said earlier, the horse is the real star of the movie. While being described as a spirit horse by Tonto, it may or may not be magic, appearing in places where it couldn’t physically be and provides the vast majority of the humor in the film, which isn’t a good thing.

Overall, the film is mostly average and a very curious choice for a Fourth of July release. The pacing makes its two hour and fifteen minute run-time feel like seven hours and the only way you know a scene is over is when they cut back to the boy at the carnival listening to old Tonto. I hate to say there aren’t enough explosions and action, but that’s kind of what we want out of movie billed as a summer blockbuster. At least then, that guy from the lobby would have more of a point since we probably didn’t blow up very many Indians.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back. It’s a decent enough movie, but no cause for fireworks.

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