Sean K. Cureton

Verbinski’s Lone Ranger, or Tonto’s Revenge?

In Movie Reviews: 2013 on July 14, 2013 at 10:35 am

Theatrical Poster

The Lone Ranger
Directed by Gore Verbinski
2 ½ out of 4 stars

Gore Verbinski’s current reiteration of the Lone Ranger character is not entirely original, not entirely contrived, and not entirely entertaining. Granted, Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger may suffer from having based on an early 20th century American radio program in the same vein as the Green Hornet character, who was in point of fact a spinoff from the Lone Ranger character, which as far as source material goes tends to be fairly dated in terms of appealing to a contemporary audience. Verbinski’s Ranger is certainly interesting in its approach, beginning with the bold yet expected choice of casting Pirates of the Caribbean actor Johnny Depp as the Ranger’s trusty Native American companion Tonto, to the breakneck speed of Verbinski’s action sequences which are a true spectacle to watch when compared to the numerous mindless explosion-porn sequences that have become so common in lesser action movie fare. And yet it becomes difficult to come away from The Lone Ranger without feeling a bit cheated of something truly grandiose or epic, which is the sort of all encompassing adjective that one might wish to attribute to a big budget summer action movie blockbuster. Verbinski’s film is flawed for sure, yet it holds within it the seeds for a much better film eager to emerge from Ranger’s muddled confusion.

Possibly one of the bigger problems with Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger is the fact that the film’s titular character is not granted nearly enough time to earn the film’s title. Armie Hammer takes on the role of the infamous Texas Ranger in the film, donning a ridiculously large white cowboy hat, mask, and western desperado ethos. It would follow from such a description that Hammer’s character would then begin to hunt out crime in the American west, with Tonto, as his trusty companion, at his side, standing up for what is righteous in a world of sin and corruption. Not so. Instead, Verbinski places much of the film’s forward momentum in Johnny Depp’s depiction of Tonto, who more or less pushes Hammer’s Ranger into action and all sorts of derring-do. What’s more, the entire film is supported by a frame narrative in which a much older Tonto relates the story of the Lone Ranger to a young boy in costume as his favorite Ranger, negating the authority and power of Hammer’s character as central to the story at all. Verbinski’s film thus becomes primarily focused on Depp’s Tonto, which while being a fun film to watch is certainly not the film that the title would suggest, and feels like a cheat when one considers the storied history of the Lone Ranger character on radio, television, and film.

Yet, at the same time, one must consider what larger trends by which Verbinski’s Lone Ranger may be working with and against in its focus on Tonto instead of its titular hero. Perhaps Verbinski is more interested in Tonto because of his identity as a Native American, seeing the inherent racism of diminishing such a character to the role of a sidekick in subservience to the white man. Tonto’s narrative arc would certainly support such a reading, as much of Tonto’s heroics in the film are chiefly concerned with regaining his honor among his own people after betraying them to the white man. Yet, if such a noble cause were at the heart of the film’s narrative structure, why cast a white man as Tonto? Granted, Johnny Depp may or may not have some Native American blood within him, but the fact remains that he is predominantly seen as being Caucasian, rendering his portrayal as a significant Native American character in poor, possibly even offensive, taste. More likely than not though, Depp was offered the role because of how great an actor he is, as well as his previous working relationship with Verbinski on the set of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, and nothing more, making the choice to focus on Tonto in the film’s narrative purely aesthetic.

Gore Verbinski’s adaptation of the Lone Ranger character is definitely the sort of odd and unexpected sort of film that one has come to anticipate from this talented American director. With such eccentric fare as Rango, The Weather Man, and most notably Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End under his belt, it’s hard to be completely surprised at the way in which Verbinski chose to tell his version of the Lone Ranger story. The grotesqueness of Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger abounds, from Depp’s portrayal of Tonto as hero instead of side-kick, to the surreal rebirth of Hammer’s Ranger in the desert, Verbinski’s aesthetic vision can be seen in every shot of the film, and thankfully so. The Lone Ranger is by no means Verbinski’s greatest work to date, but it is certainly just as much fun as any one of the better Pirates films, and will be sure to please those in search of a fun summer action movie. Unfortunately, The Lone Ranger does little more than entertain, and when it does so it is only for a short time, leaving the viewer’s senses untouched by the film’s end, not invigorated, not bored, but simply unsure of whether or not they had a good time at all.       

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