The Lone Ranger
What do you think of when you think of the Lone Ranger? Is it the William Tell Overture? Is it the silver bullets? Is it the fact that he never kills, but always shoots the guns out of his enemy’s hands? Maybe it’s the “Hi-yo Silver, away!” catchphrase? Or that he stood for “truth, justice, and the American way”?
Or do you think of the fact that he’s a dimwitted moron that succeeds only in spite of his own clownish stupidity, and even then only because of complete and total outlandish luck?
If you answered “yes” to the last one and “no” to everything else before that, have I got the movie for you!
The Lone Ranger is one of my favorite pop culture characters. Prior to the age of 8 or so I’d have put him in the same class as Spider-Man and Batman, and ahead of Han Solo and Indiana Jones. I loved my Lone Ranger action figure, I loved the Lone Ranger Saturday-morning comic, I loved the original 1950s Lone Ranger TV show, I loved the 1940s Lone Ranger radio serial that played on Chuck Schaden’s Old Time Radio show. Hell, I even remember loving the 1981 Legend of the Lone Ranger movie that is supposed to be one of the worst movies ever made, and featured in the titular role a gay model who was such a bad actor that every line he spoke had to be re-dubbed by another actor. So when Disney spent an estimated $200mil on a reboot of the franchise, I was the target audience. I was ready and willing, and had been waiting almost 30 years for this.
And then…this happened.
I was actually modestly hopeful when I read about the people attached to the movie. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of the 2nd and 3rd Pirates movies, but the first one was fun. And even the sequels had moments of excitement, moments where the music swelled and the heroes were swinging from the yardarm as the world exploded around them. And I thought, well, sure, Johnny Depp is probably just going to be Captain Jack Sparrow in facepaint, and sure Armie Hammer is just a stuffed shirt with an annoying voice, but if they at least get that right, that scene when the hero is being an honest-to-god hero, maybe it’ll make up for the rest of the movie. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t.
You shouldn’t have to watch as the bad guy eats the heart of the Lone Ranger’s still-living brother in a Lone Ranger movie. You shouldn’t have to experience two separate incredibly graphic Indian massacres in a Lone Ranger movie. You shouldn’t have to experience thematic whiplash as they go from graphic scenes of brutality to jokey slapstick scenes of the Lone Ranger acting like an incompetent buffoon in a Lone Ranger movie. And you shouldn’t have to wade through two hours of torpid plotting before the Lone Ranger finally does something cool in a Lone Ranger movie.
Oh, they get that moment right, when the Lone Ranger finally does something cool, something that the Lone Ranger would and should do. There’s a moment—an all-too-brief, shining moment, when the girl is in the clutches of the evil villain, and Tonto is at the mercy of one of his thugs, and the train filled with enough stolen silver to buy out the railroad is pulling away from the station—there is a moment when the William Tell Overture’s trumpet sounds for the first time in the movie, and the Lone Ranger comes flying out of nowhere with Silver in full gallop and gives chase to the runaway train, there is a moment that is so pure, so perfect that I actually started to cry. I cried because I was 8 again and the Lone Ranger was racing to the rescue, because I was seeing my boyhood hero on a 40’ screen; but I was also crying because it took two hours of one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen to get to that point.
The thing about the Lone Ranger, and Superman before him, is that he’s not the cool Byronic antihero. He’s not the guy that shoots to kill to avenge his fallen brother. He’s not the grim avenger, or the boozy playboy, or the sullen loner who’s the best at what he does, bub.
He’s the capital-G Good Guy. He’s the one that makes the hard decision, to not pull that trigger when he could. He’s Captain America, he’s Superman. He stands for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. And if you can’t find a way to make that character cool without resorting to mocking him, then you shouldn’t make a goddamn Lone Ranger movie.