Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Movie Review - The Lone Ranger

  Kathy, Ben, and I went to see the new Lone Ranger movie last Thursday. Since it was the evening of July 4th and most of the town was either at the town’s fireworks demonstration or setting off their own fireworks or burglarizing the houses of the people who went to see the town's fireworks demonstration I wasn’t too surprised that the parking lot for the 12 screen theater was nearly empty, but I was shocked that only SEVEN people came to see the heavily advertised big budget blockbuster on the day after its opening. Maybe it was that the movie had gotten mostly negative reviews, but there was no lack of advertising and the producers certainly weren’t banking on the nostalgia value of the title character since they had signed Johnny Depp to play the role of Tonto the Lone Ranger’s Indian sidekick, no doubt hoping to lure Depp fans hoping to see an epic performance in the ‘Jack Sparrow’ mold form the popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

  Along with the Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello, the Lone Ranger was one of the staples of my youthful TV watching when the reruns of the 1950’s half hour television show would take its place in the after school rotation. The Lone Ranger was sort of an 1800’s Batman: he was an expert marksman, fighter, and horseman as well as a master of disguise. Where the Batman has the state of the art Batmobile and Robin the Boy Wonder as a sidekick, the Lone Ranger’s transportation is Silver (the smartest, fastest horse in the West) and has his own sidekick in Tonto the strong silent Native American. Episodes of the Lone Ranger and Tonto would invariably have the heroes encounter a rancher, farm family, or town being harassed by some bad guys and after a narrow escape or two save the day with their guns, fists, and brains and head off to their next adventure without even sticking around for a thank you.

  Armie Hammer plays the Lone Ranger and while he has the requisite rugged good looks instead of being a real Texas Ranger that is the only survivor of a Ranger ambush of the Butch Cavendish gang (hence the Lone Ranger tag) Hammer’s Ranger spends the movie not being able to shoot straight and bumbling through his encounters with the Cavendish gang, getting by more on luck than any heroic qualities. The movie gives a fresh take on Tonto as a disgraced Comanche Indian looking for vengeance against Cavendish for his own purposes instead of the stoic Tonto of the TV series. Depp wore war paint and a dead crow on his headdress throughout the movie but played the character straight for the most part with his comedic moments mostly coming with his exasperation with the Lone Ranger’s naiveté and the blind loyalty to him by Silver (who is portrayed as a spirit walking horse that protects it’s rider from harm).

  The main villain is Butch Cavendish, who is ably played by William Fitchner in the true Wild West tradition. He is long and lanky and scarred and beaten and feared by friend and foe alike. Cavendish not only shoots people, he gets some cannibal action in when he cuts out the heart of the Lone Ranger’s brother and eats it. He would have made a fine addition to my cannibal post of a few weeks ago. Cavendish drives the plot along by murdering the entire Texas Ranger posse, massacring Tonto’s village, wiping out settler outposts, and running a silver mine in partnership with a representative of the railroad.

  This is one of the weirder movies I can remember. The acting is great, the plot was good, the scenery is tremendous, and the final twenty minutes of action is out of this world. I should have walked out of the theatre thinking this was one of the best movies ever but instead I left thinking the film was just OK and way too long.

  What was the problem? I think the Disney movie makers couldn’t decide whether to make a straight action story featuring the Lone Ranger and Butch Cavendish or a comedic take starring Johnny Depp’s Tonto character so they decided to mix elements of both and that made the two and a half hour movie dull in too many spots. The movie was framed as a story being told by an ancient Tonto in a 1930’s carnival Wild West to a boy dressed as the Lone Ranger, with the beginning and end of the movie set in the carnival exhibition along with a few breaks during the film. I didn’t think it added anything to the movie except fifteen minutes of running time along with some distractions. The comedic aspects showed the main characters more as bumblers than true action heroes and I thought they were more distracting than funny.

  I liked the new mystical spin of The Lone Ranger as an immortal warrior chosen by the horse spirit and the idea of Tonto as shaman-like was an exceptional take on the character, but with a budget of $250 million and an opening weekend of $50 million there is only the slim possibility of a sequel which is a shame because The Lone Ranger is one of the all-time great characters. As silly as it sounds, the Lone Ranger producers would have been well-served to have watched a few episodes of 'Walker, Texas Ranger' for a guide on how to have Native American spirituality with a tough as nails western hero. I think a Chuck Norris type mixed with a small part of Sherlock Holmes would make a much better Lone Ranger than the effete city lawyer getting on the job training that the movie portrayed.

  This movie could have been a popular comedy-adventure or a great action film but it couldn’t be both and Disney couldn’t figure out which type of movie it wanted. Iron Man was one of the few series that has been able to be funny AND action oriented at the same time because the humor flows from Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark as a wise guy not because of a few sight gags and accidental marksmanship. Thanks to Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow the Pirates of the Caribbean films have much the same qualities. I suppose that Disney was thinking Depp would provide the same effect but instead they will likely be planning ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 5’ instead of ‘Lone Ranger 2’.

  On Friday, we watched the 2012 blockbuster ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. At two hours and 45 minutes, this movie was even longer than the Lone Ranger but it kept my attention throughout and while it still wasn’t up to the standard set by the Joker driven ‘Dark Knight’, I never felt it was too long and thought it was even better than when I reviewed it last year. I think the secret was that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ knew it was a dark movie, never tried to be anything but, while the Lone Ranger couldn’t decide what kind of movie it was going to be and suffered because of it.