I was channel surfing recently when I noticed that the 2013 film The Lone Ranger had just started. There wasn't much else of interest to watch, and I thought I'd give it go and see just how "bad" it was. I remembered being off-put by the image of Johnny Depp as a Native-American with a dead bird on his head (“tonto” translates as “fool” in Spanish), and I assumed that this wasn’t a serious retelling based on the iconic television series that I recalled from my youth, maybe even worse than 1999’s The Wild, Wild West with Will Smith. Apparently most reviewers felt the same way, as it was almost universally panned, although the train finale was generally reluctantly praised. On this initial viewing I kept asking myself “what the heck is this?” The elements for a dark “origin” story were there, but that possibility was undercut by the John Reid character more bumbling into rather than evolving into the masked crusader. There were also so many bad guys it was hard to keep track of just who we were to focus on as the principle villain. And then there was Depp injecting his usual “weirdness” into his not-so-wise Tonto, and perhaps not surprisingly he hogs most of the attention.
Still, I found myself intrigued by Reid’s transformation, and the seemingly detached story lines—which involved corporate America, “manifest destiny,” the military-industrial complex, psychopathic criminals being accomplices for supposedly “law-abiding” robber-barons, and of course the theft of Native-American land—all which ultimately made “sense” in the end, and the climactic scene in which all the bad guys met their just ends at the hands of two seeming misfits, out-of-place in this new world order, was indeed "thrilling" and suitably propelled along by the William Tell Overture (which I’ve read younger viewers had no clue that for people my age this and the Lone Ranger were inseparably intertwined). If the action sequences during the climax seemed a bit “outlandish,” relative to what? At least it seemed “real”—certainly more real and human than your typical “super-hero” and “gender-correct” action fare.
I wondered if this film had been given a fair shake by film critics, which Depp and Armie Hammer (as the Ranger) accused them of not giving it because of well-publicized production problems. I purchased the film on DVD and watched it again a week later just to make sure my second thoughts were valid. Critics had attacked the film for its contradictory “tone,” its length, for supposedly being made for “adolescent boys”—and I began to wonder if it wasn’t complete "morons"having a bad day at the office who were responsible for these negative reviews, then it was just critics who suddenly lost their ability to judge a film on its own merits, based on some vague memory of the mythical “days of yesteryear.” Even the “revisionists” have tempered their praise by saying the movie wasn’t “perfect,” but what movie is? How many Academy Awards did Titanic win? When I saw it a theater I was sound asleep forty minutes into it; it must have been some internal alarm clock that awoke me an hour later, just in time for when that film actually started getting interesting.
I thought that Depp and Hammer made for a fine comic duo (particularly at those times when straight-arrow Reid interfered with Tonto’s quest for vengeance against the “wendigos” who as a child he inadvertently aided in the massacre of his tribe, after “trading” the location of a rich silver lode for a cheap pocket watch), and the only time I thought the movie “dragged” was during scenes when the main villain (played by Tom Wilkinson) tried to insinuate himself into the life of the wife of Reid’s deceased lawman brother, in the hopes of adopting her son as his heir to a rail “empire” paid for by that ill-gotten silver fortune.
Overall I found the film not just a lot of fun from start to finish, but an even educational way to spend 150 minutes of leisure time, worthy of repeat viewing—and it deserves a sequel, as obviously was intended before it sunk at the box office. The Blu-ray version is one of the better I have seen, the near perfect video and audio rendering the blending of the natural surroundings and action even more awe-inspiring.