When this first came out, there was some noise about some Native American activists questioning Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the Comanches. Considering the fact that these are the same people hammering the Washington Redskins as racist, I paid no nevermind. What I did consider in blowing this off was the Green Hornet stink bomb that preceded it several months earlier. Ironically, we found out that Britt Reid was actually an ancestor of John Reid, according to the radio storyline. The bottom line for me was that both The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet were considered standard radio drama, The Ranger on TV was bad melodrama, and though Hornet was considered Sixties kitsch, it was nowhere near as schlocky as Batman. They were never meant as parodies, and that’s why Hornet bombed out. Gore Verbinski should’ve gotten away with it, and here’s why.
Let’s start at the top. Verbinski’s flick is a seamless work of art, switching from action scenes to expository narrative to slapstick and one-liners without missing a beat. There’s never a dull moment, and it tends to drag only when the injustices against the Comanches is discussed (how’s that for irony). The film is told to young Will (Mason Cook) by Tonto (Johnny Depp), a mystic who appears to him at a Wild West museum. The boy remains skeptical throughout Tonto’s retelling of the Long Ranger legend, which is told from the Comanche’s POV. This is done quite literally as Verbinski devotes a good bit of time to demonstrating how the railroad companies were instrumental in swindling the Indians out of their native land in the name of progress, with the US Cavalry as their brutal enforcers. Undoubtedly there are more than a few Third World counries who can tell us about how that’s done.
William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish gets my vote as Movie Villain of 2013, Like The Dark Knight‘s Joker and Punisher: War Zone‘s Jigsaw, the dude’s so bada$$ you forget how ugly he is. Cavendish has a gun planted on a train bringing him to Colby for a hanging. He and Tonto (arrested for ‘being Indian’) escape, and Texas Ranger Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) deputizes his attorney brother John (Armie Hammer) to accompany his team in recapturing Cavendish. The gang ambushes the Rangers, leaving the group for dead. John is rescued by Tonto, whose magic ritual brings him back to life in conjuring up the Spirit Horse. They set out in pursuit of Cavendish, whose gang takes control of a silver mining project. John arrests Cavendish and brings him back to Colby. The town has been taken over by Cavendish’ brother Lathan Cole (Tom Wilkinson), whose position as a railroad executive has allowed him and Butch to falsify reports of a Comanche uprising. The local Cavalry unit, led by Captain Jay Fuller (Barry Pepper), falls for Cole’s scheme and arrests John after massacring the Indians in a midnight encounter. Tonto vows revenge, and John joins forces with him after finding out his brother’s wife Rebecca (great job by Ruth Wilson) is being held hostage by Cole. The film reaches its climax to the strains of the William Tell Overture in one of the best and most hilarious action sequences of the decade. The Lone Ranger and Tonto send over sixty million dollars in silver ore along with Cole on an express train into the river, taking out Cavendish and rescuing Rebecca and her son Danny (Bryant Prince) in the process.
The general consensus was that 2010s audiences are not shelling out big bucks to watch Western flicks these days. I think it had more to do with the initial bombing of The Green Hornet and Johnny Depp’s recent flop record. I also think that the earmark of a great movie is one you end up watching a few dozen times in order to take in all its nuances. Hell, I barely made it through Man of Steel and Amazing Spider Man. This may end up as a cult classic one day, and it’s our loss because we’ll probably never get to see Lone Ranger II. We’ve already endured Amazing Spider Man II , and you can be sure Man of Steel II ‘s coming down the pike. Well, when they do, stay home and watch this. You’ll be glad you did.