Everyone else has had their say by now. I guess it's my turn.
The family and I went to see the new film version of The Lone Ranger last weekend. It was one of those movies that I had been both looking forward to and dreading ever since first hearing that it was being made.
Looking forward to because I've been a fan of the legendary Western character pretty much all my life, ever since seeing my first black-and-white rerun of the old television series on WGN-TV in Chicago as a little boy. Dreading because modern Hollywood has had a pretty dismal track record when it comes to reinventing popular properties from American pop culture, as witness such lame remakes as The Green Hornet, Dark Shadows, Starsky And Hutch, 21 Jump Street, The Beverly Hillbillies, I Spy... the list goes on and on.
Turns out that The Lone Ranger wasn't as bad as I had feared it might be. It certainly was not the utter travesty that Seth Rogen’s 2011 version of The Green Hornet proved to be (for me that film might just forever stand as the ultimate low water mark for pop hero remakes), and frankly I liked The Lone Ranger TONS better than I did Man Of Steel.
I realize that this makes me part of a very small minority, based on the reviews and box office receipts of both films, but I stand by that assessment. A lot of people like brussel sprouts better than French fries, too, but I do not count myself among them and I never will. So there.
That being said, there was still a lot about The Lone Ranger that I did not like. For one thing there was far too much emphasis on broad comedy and and out-and-out spoofing of the original source material. This was particularly true in some of the scenes involving the Ranger’s horse, Silver, which were somewhat humorous in their own way but completely unnecessary and something of an insult to one of the great animal characters in American pop culture.
As portrayed by actor Armie Hammer (who previously appeared in such films as J. Edgar and The Social Network, and whose name always seems to make me think of baking soda), the Ranger himself unfortunately comes across more often than not as a bit of a buffoon. The blame for this belongs to the screenwriters who seem intent on making fun of the character's commitment and personal code of ethics, a character trait which the character’s co-creator Fran Striker went to great pains to develop during the original radio series as well as the TV version. It’s as if the modern writers are telling us that the idea of such morality is silly, out of date, even pointless.
Personally I couldn’t help but feeling a little offended by that aspect of the film, coming as it does on the heels of Superman’s taking of a life at the climax of Man Of Steel which I discussed a few weeks back.
And for all the talk about Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto being less offensive and "stereotypical" than that of Jay Silverheels in the TV version, I did not find that to be the case at all. Silverheels’ Tonto was a man of honor, who was proud to be the Ranger’s loyal friend and quite often was shown as working with the Ranger in the interests of brotherhood and understanding. Depp’s Tonto more often than not comes across as somewhat of a jerk, one who is not much liked by even the other Native Americans in the film. Depp’s heart may well have been in the right place when he chose to take the role, but that heart does not seem to be on display in the film itself. Frankly, I think Jay Silverheels would have been appalled.
On the positive side, the film’s writers did appear to have done a lot more homework regarding the character's history than was the case in the Green Hornet movie. Despite all the tweaking, the basics of the legend are still there: A band of Texas Rangers – including Captain Dan Reid and his younger brother John – are ambushed, and only John survives thanks to the timely invention of Tonto who nurses him back to health. Wearing a mask cut from the vest of his dead brother, John Reid swears to bring the killers to justice and assumes the identity of The Lone Ranger.
And bring them to justice he does, albeit without the dedication, earnestness and (yes) intelligence that Clayton Moore brought to the role all those years ago. Now THERE was a hero you could root for...
From a technical standpoint the movie is as good as any that has come down the pike in recent years. The action sequences are exciting, the scenery is gorgeous and the music by composer Hans Zimmer often recalls some of the great Western scores of the past.
But all that is not enough to keep the Ranger from joining the list of old-time radio and pulp heroes who have had their shot at movie stardom in recent years in the hopes of making them vital again to an all-new generation of fans, only to stumble badly and be treated as dusty relics of a forgotten time.
Our heroes deserve better than this.
Bottom line: Reviews and box office totals aside, The Lone Ranger really could have been much, much worse. But it should have been SO much better.
In : Pop Culture
Tags: movies & tv