Nature is out of balance: Disney’s The Lone Ranger

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Perhaps I am just contrary. Often, when all of humanity looooooves a movie (see: Titanic, Dances with Wolves, The English Patient, Top Gun), I can’t stand it. And when a film is vilified to box office extinction (e.g. John Carter, Daredevil, Speed Racer, and The Golden Compass), I actually think it’s pretty good.

Maybe my expectations are just suitably lowered by the anti-hype. Maybe the public has an unfair axe to grind with these particular “flop” films. Maybe I always root for the over-marketed, over-budgeted underdog kicked around the Hollywood playground. Maybe all of the above.

(In defense of my admittedly dodgy tastes, I am united – in at least one instance – with all moviegoers, all film critics, and anyone with a pulse in loathing Ryan Reynolds’ godawful Green Lantern.)

This brings me to The Lone Ranger, akin to John Carter, Disney’s latest attempt to create a blockbuster tent pole franchise from a radio serial property. Hollywood execs, just an observation, but this particular strategy never works – and, while I adored The Shadow, The Phantom and the marginally financially successful Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon, the cash and Oscars weren’t exactly flying at those pictures either.

But let me say this: I liked The Lone Ranger. I mean, I liked The Lone Ranger A LOT! I thought the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, made by the same troika of Gore Verbinski/Jerry Bruckheimer/Johnny Depp, were over-baked, shrill, and much-too-self-indulgent (especially everything after the first entry). I did not have the same issues with The Lone Ranger.

Yes, they could have trimmed about 20 minutes (what summer movie couldn’t this year?), but I thought that pairing Armie Hammer (this poor guy, like his cinematic “older brother” Jon Hamm, can’t seem to catch any real starring success on the silver screen) and a beautifully understated yet madcap Johnny Depp, as the Lone Ranger and Tonto respectively, was perfection.

The film slyly turns the dutiful Native American sidekick trope on its square, fuddy-duddy head, positioning Depp’s Tonto (who has been working this deadpan schtick since the insipid Benny & Joon) as a wry, world-weary, rubber-jointed Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin anti-hero.

The animal-lover in me winced at a few odd choices, like cannibal rabbits that make a very brief appearance salivating at the campsite fire of Tonto and the Ranger. Or the requisite horses falling over and over. (I really hate that about Westerns.) However, I do know that these choices all were to support some theme that the filmmakers were exploring about nature being out of balance. (Nearly every character appears to give voice to some derivation of this idea at least once.)

In fact, the film sets as its backdrop the industrialization of America (as represented by the marvelously understated villainy of Tom Wilkinson and the not-so-understated but equally fun hijinks of William Fichtner and Barry Pepper), literally driving train tracks through the untouched beauty of Native America homelands in the West.

The twists and turns in the plot are as predictable as those in a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner short, but the journey is a big, dumb summer delight. For once, in my view anyway, Depp’s zany-hat-wearing, fey eccentricities are actually in service to the narrative (unlike another hit film I hated, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland). Some critics have unfairly labeled his performance boring and dull; I would counter that, for the first time in a long time, he is stealthy and nuanced, deriving humor organically from situation (and only a pratfall or two).

I liked that the film layered in messages about respecting our history, our environment, our culture, and our world. In a movie called The Lone Ranger, released over a Fourth of July weekend with tie-in toys available at Subway, those themes ain’t gonna be too deeply explored … so just give these blockbuster kids a break, willya?

3 thoughts on “Nature is out of balance: Disney’s The Lone Ranger

  1. Would you believe that we drove over to the big city to see this film after I viewed Depp talking to Letterman at which time I figured this filmic treatment of (again) the greedy bastards who gave birth to the monster corporate contemporary unfeeling ego-centered America, we are all swimming upstream and downstream both with and against to this day, would be THE theme of this rather artful piece of odd mania. We loved it…though confused occasionally about the sequence of events…the former soap opera star Fichtner was more spooky than Jack Palance’s villainous turn in SHANE! Quite atmospheric was this quirky effort! Wondering if the moguls at Disney are supposed to pretend they don’t really believe in the message? And that explains the box office doldrums…like CASINO JACK the director of which woke up literally dead one morning. It, too, bravely advertises the seamier side of the United States…and disappeared off the radar early on. The prosecuting attorney/lone ranger MUST become serialized…administering creative justice correctly in spite of himself and in spite of who supposedly matters…those at the top are usually manipulative ogres and need to be defeated by a lone sense of fairness administered by a clear-thinking college graduate in partnership with a Sears Repairman ethnic saint. The rabbits are still torturing my thought processes…are they a metaphor for groupthink in each species all of which are wired exactly alike? Each of us is an animal after all…some a bit brighter and more instinctive than others in our individualized herds. Occasionally kindness happens under the crazy surface — in spite of ourselves.

    • That is wild that we both decided at the same time to go see this. I just heard from different people at work that they liked it, people that usually have pretty decent taste. And I got more curious. I agree completely with your assessment. I do think that’s what they were trying to get across with the rabbits, though I still wonder. I also agree with you about some of the sequencing. Particularly the whole bank robbery thing that popped up at the beginning and took too long to be resolved. I like your description of the Sears salesman. I also like the shot they took at religion at the beginning. On the train. I even liked Helena Bonham Carter quite a bit.

  2. Pingback: “The failures of my generation are the opportunities of yours.” Fantastic Four (2015) « Reel Roy Reviews

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