Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson
UK Release date: 9 August 2013
Certificate: 12A (149 mins)
The Lone Ranger is Disney’s latest contribution to the action-adventure genre. It tells the story of how John Reid met Tonto and became the Lone Ranger after surviving an ambush that killed every other member of his group including his brother. It also weaves in an episode which deals with friction between white men and the Comanche, combining two narratives which were once separate stories.
If you follow movie news, you will know by now that The Lone Ranger was a dismal failure both with critics and audiences in the US. I agree heartily with the popular assessment; the film is a disaster from beginning to end, but that it should be so is somewhat surprising. Two of the three writers also wrote the screenplay for the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which owed much of its appeal to a clever combination of originality and nostalgia; this is something they were presumably aiming to duplicate in The Lone Ranger, though films about the American West have never gone out of fashion. The director, of course, is a vital part of a film’s success, and Disney has again enlisted the expertise of Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three instalments of what has turned out to be a Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. And just to be sure, they added one final element of the winning Pirates formula: the handsome young man role can be played by anyone (in this case it is Armie Hammer) as long as he has the support of Johnny Depp’s legendary acting prowess next to him. So with a team full of such talent and potential, what went so terribly wrong?
Any drama that underestimates the intelligence of its audience is doomed to failure. In this sense, the film is flawed at its very core, and no amount of explosions and rushing around on horses can save an error at so basic a level. At times it is difficult to tell at what sort of an audience The Lone Ranger is aimed. It consists mainly of cheap gags which feel repetitive and predictable and seem to be aimed at drawing laughs from a younger crowd, but with a 12A certificate it is clearly not intended for such a young audience. The high level of violence and gore make this extremely unsuitable for anyone under 12, accompanied or not, and the suggestive nature of scenes involving a brothel and its employees might also be of concern to parents. Having reviewed the BBFC’s regulations, I do wonder whether the movie might not have qualified for a 15 certificate, especially considering the amount of time devoted to a particularly gruesome episode, even if little is actually shown on screen. This disconnect between the childish humour and the adult content is jarring and unpleasant.
An even greater mistake, perhaps, is the complete lack of respect for the characters. The Tonto and Lone Ranger of the original radio and later television series are intelligent, brave, capable men who are barely recognisable in the buffoonish, mismatched partners of this film. In addition, they are missing the moral uprightness which is integral to the characters of these men. The original creator of the characters set down in writing a moral code by which they were to live, involving respect for one’s fellow man and service to truth, justice and the common good. They are men of virtue, role models. By contrast, the characters of this film are driven by personal motives, above all by a desire for vengeance. As the audience, we must ask ourselves – as the film makers surely should have asked, too – are these men really Tonto and the Lone Ranger? Indeed, what makes a character? If an actor puts on a mask and a white hat and rides a white horse, does this make him the Lone Ranger? Certainly not, for if we believe that, then we must believe that what we wear is who we are, and who wants to be defined by one’s clothing?
The two writers referred to above, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, must have known this once, for 15 years ago they helped to write the screenplay of another successful film about a similar character: The Mask of Zorro. Both Zorro and the Lone Ranger are committed to protecting the weak and oppressed and to seeing the development of their respective territories in truth and justice. The Mask of Zorro presents a similarly incompetent character in the person of Alejandro Murrieta, who also seeks to avenge the death of his brother. Not only does the film preserve the integrity of Zorro by having an old incarnation of the persona who is as capable and moral as he ever was, but this old Zorro teaches Alejandro to truly inhabit the character of Zorro by finding respect for himself and by learning to put aside his personal desires to become a servant of others. The Lone Ranger and Tonto have no such guidance and remain as ridiculous at the end of the film as they were throughout. They are never more than pale imitations of the heroes and role models they were created to be.
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