Sunday, 22 September 2013

Defending The Lone Ranger - A Critical Re-Evalutation (22/09/2013)

What follows is a transcript of the Defense video I made on Disney's big budget western The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. Link to the actual video is available below:

Defending The Lone Ranger- A Critical Re-Evaluation
By Abel Diaz
This may very well be the most difficult, and more than likely, the most polarizing (video) I have ever had to make. I feel like I’m going up against a gigantic swarm with maybe one other guy and that other person lurking in the background for any kind of support, and given the nature of the video, I don’t imagine this will be a popular one from me. But before we dive into this, and there is a lot to cover, let me just get a few things straight.

Do I think this is the best film ever made? NO.
Do I think this is the best film of the year? NO.
Do I even think this is the best film of the summer? No.

However, I still really enjoyed what Disney’s mega western had to offer. I found it to be a very fun and manic ride, and I do believe the film has a sense of worth and genuine merit that has been glossed over or just straight up ignored due to the meat grinder that was its critical reception. It is flawed, don’t get me wrong, but I believe there is more going on with Lone Ranger beyond what you might think, given the reputation and ire it built up this past summer. 
In this (video), I will endeavor to explain my reasons as best as I can and perhaps clarify things for those who have seen it and are still on the fence about their sentiments, or for those who haven’t seen it and are curious. However, this video will also not be a straight up white knight of the film. As the title also implies, I will be evaluating the whole affair, and discussing what I felt went wrong with the lead up to and the subsequent marketing of the film to a mass audience, and even my own issues with the film. To help make this video more digestible, I will be dividing into a series of parts, and the times for each part will be displayed in the description box below if you wish to skip ahead to a part that more intrigues you, or return to the video later for any reason.
With that said, let us dive into Disney’s The Lone Ranger.

PART I: ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM (Origins, Marketing and Depp’s race)
Now, before I can get my teeth into the film itself, there are some things I have to discuss that have arisen about this film that I feel need to be addressed if this is to be done properly. First, let’s talk about how the project began life: around 2006, during the making of the second Pirates film, Depp talked with director Gore Verbinski about doing a movie based on a childhood favourite of his, The Lone Ranger, a character originally created for radio back in the 1930s but most famous for a 50s television series starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. Specifically, he wanted to make one that focused more on the masked avenger’s sidekick, the Native American warrior Tonto, the role played most famously by Silverheels in the television incarnation. Given the wild success of the next two Pirates films, it wasn’t long before Disney decided to consider this property seriously, producer Jerry Bruckheimer having had the rights to it for a feature film version for some time. Around 2008, writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were brought on board to write the screenplay, and in 2009, veteran British film maker Mike Newell, who also did Prince of Persia for Bruckheimer and Disney, was being considered to direct, but it was Gore Verbinski, the man behind the first three Pirates films who got the job in 2010. 

Why the history lesson you ask? 

To establish that this wasn’t just some quick cash grab schlock that the studio threw out quick and lean to pick for box office gold, like say, Sony’s Smurfs films or Fox’s Chipmunk films. This was Depp’s baby, and a project that Disney took seriously when they greenlit it, given that they were calling in some of their big names in to help Depp put this project on the screen. Regardless if you like Verbinski’s, Bruckheimer’s or Elliot and Rossio’s body of work or not, they have never been involved with projects that were cheaply made, shallow money suckers made on a moment’s notice by bargain bin talent looking to fill a slot in a studio schedule. With them onboard, it was obvious that this was going to be a film that meant business, much like the Spielberg and Jackson Tintin film that was released in 2011 and is soon getting a sequel helmed by Jackson.

Or at least, so it seemed, as by 2011, the studio put the film on delay due to budgetary concerns, no doubt in part due to the underperformance of Prince of Persia and Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Disney’s other two big summer films, and the constant ballooning and problematic filming of Andrew Stanton’s John Carter, no doubt putting a strain on the studio’s finances, since this was before they had bought Marvel and Star Wars. But by spring of 2012, the film was back in production and shooting, however, it’s what happened during filming that I wish to draw attention to here. As we all know, Disney bought up Marvel, John Carter bombed and Avengers was a runaway success, and I believe this chain of events was crucial as I think it was the beginning of the project’s undoing from a studio standpoint since it essentially made Lone Ranger an irrelevant project that they were now stuck with when they had a colossal cash cow in the form of Marvel at their disposal. They no longer needed to look for other works or make their own inhouse films, instead, they could milk Marvel for all it was worth, as proven by the incredible success of Iron Man 3, which outdid Avengers’ hefty takings by double, and that’s not even taking into consideration the boatload they made from all the merchandising they sold off the back of that film.

Disney had solved their problems from a commercial standpoint, since they had more franchises besides Pirates for their big summer tentpoles, and sold lots of toys in the process. So then, what to do with this beefy, oddball western that now seemed completely obsolete given their newfound wealth, not helped by the meagre business that Depp’s other pet project, Dark Shadows, did?
Well, the marketing rang the first alarm bells: the teaser poster was fine, definitely taking a page out of the Nolan Batman films with a simple but effective and adaptable image, combining the visages of the Lone Ranger and Tonto as one.

But then, the main poster came out...
(cue wah-wah effect)
Ohhhh, Dear. This has one of the worst posters in the history of not just westerns or action films, but in the whole of blockbuster film making, and is the definition of a Day 1, do not do lesson at Design and Advertising School.  It’s effectively a production still that was thrown into MS Paint or a really lax version of Photoshop, and had a Text box dumped on the front. At the most, speaking as someone who has dealt with Photoshop design before, this was literally a 5 minute job, if that. It's is absolutely embarrassing, and a giant red flag of how much the studio now cared about the film.
And then there was the other big M word: merchandising. Here is the Disney store page for Lone Ranger, with a total of 15 items. This includes some clothing, some Lego sets, some dolls, some drinking utensils and a costume. Now let’s look at the page for Iron Man 3. This section has 35 items for sale, including the aforementioned objects, as well as a larger selection and variety of toys and costumes, walkie talkies, caps, underwear, watches, even wallets and a print of a classic 60s Iron Man cover. 

A movie that came out several months ago has more merchandising still for sale than what was, seemingly, their big premiere summer, high action blockbuster from a team of respected, accomplished filmmakers. Even if you know nothing about business or marketing, shouldn’t this raise another red flag that something is really wrong with how Disney are treating the film? Even if Disney knew that Lone Ranger wasn’t going to be a big hit, Universal already proved back in 2003 when they released Ang Lee’s Hulk that you can make a hefty chunk of change off of merchandising for a summer film even when the film itself isn’t a runaway success to help break even. It’s how the film was able to turn a profit, according to people who worked there at the time of that film’s release. This, from my perspective, helps cement the fact that Marvel helped kill Lone Ranger’s chances and the level of commitment that Disney had for it.

However, besides the questionable work put into promoting the film, there was also another disputed aspect that the film could never escape from, and unfortunately, it came from the man who helped bring the project into existence in the first place: the casting of Johnny Depp as Tonto. No matter where you went online, the cries of ‘Racism!’ and ‘Red Face!’ rang loud and clear, and even the production attempted rebuttal by pointing out Depp’s partial Cheerokee ancestry did nothing to help stem the wave of criticism. In fact, it only helped fuel it, increasing the cries for the casting of an actual native American in the part.

This is where we get into the first of my major rebuttals against the criticism that the film received. First off, for all the crying that people did, no one seemed to have an alternative choice for the role of Tonto and for good reason: there are no major or prominent Native American actors working in Mainstream American. Most are consigned to supporting roles or just extras, usually in westerns or reconstructionist documentaries about the taming of the West. The closest we’ve come to having a big name Native American was Wes Studi, most famous for playing the Navi chief in Avatar, but again that was a supporting role and anyway, he was far too old for this role, at the age of 65. The only relatively familiar Native American actors are those who played wolves in the Twilight films, and given this film’s largely male demographic and those films abysmal critical reception, it wouldn’t have a smart move, creatively or financially, to cast them in the secondary lead role. And secondly, these people also obviously didn’t do their homework because Depp has not only played a Native American, but even devoted a film to some of their plights in the form of his 1996 directorial debut, The Brave, also starring Marlon Brando. For those, and I assume confidently many, who’ve never heard of the film, the plot deals with a poor Native American family whose father, played by Depp, sells his body to a snuff film in order to help feed his family. If it sounds grim and morbid, that’s because it is, and was both praised and criticized for its dark, visceral nature, earning a semi cult status among Depp and Brando fans. It’s almost funny how people criticized the production team of the Lone Ranger for not doing their homework when they weren’t bothered to go look on IMDB for two minutes and check over Depp’s filmography, or look up actual Native American actors that they would at all recognize, for that matter. 

But taking that out of the equation, and looking at what Depp did with the character on its own merits, there is a surprising amount of thought gone into it. First, the look of this Tonto is based on a painting "I am Crow" by Kirby Sattler, which depicts a Native American in front of a flying crow, thus making it look like a headdress, an image none too dissimilar to the famous look of Native Americans with elaborate feather headdresses, or indeed recalling the outfits of other Ancient American cultures, like the Aztecs who famously wore the skins and heads of jaguars and eagles into battle. But even if you discount as external to the film itself, it also fits in the context of the film, since the crow isn’t just some goofy gimmick that Depp came up with, but rather, it’s Tonto’s pet crow from when he was a boy, and it too was killed in the massacre that destroyed his village, and with its blood, he paints the war stripes on his face as a young man that mark his quest for justice that ultimately leads him to meet the Ranger in the first place. He’s wearing it on his head, much like how some, after a relative or other loved one is cremated, carry around ashes in little pendants or urns. It shows the affection he has for the creature, and helps ground the character a little more as opposed to making another wacky Depp creation. Furthermore, it's his symbol of what's he fighting for. Plus it serves a practical purpose later in the film, when Tonto infiltrates the villain’s silver mine and uses the crow, much like how miners used canaries, to scare the soldiers into thinking there’s toxic gas down there, and help rescue the Ranger from execution, thus not making it just some perfunctory gimmick or cheap sight gag as some would assume or have claimed.

And since we are on the topic of Depp, let’s get into talking about casting, starting off with, well, him: As expected, Depp turns in a good performance, his tremendously expressive face playing a particularly large role here, since a lot of what Tonto thinks and feels is communicated like this, given that he speaks in short, broken English. Some have claimed that this is just another rehash of Jack Sparrow, and while both are eccentric characters, there is a very marked difference in approach and philosophy between these two: Sparrow was modelled, as we all know, on a lot of classic rock stars, like Keith Richards or Mick Jagger, a lot of his comedy coming from odd mannerisms or reactions to a scene or event, usually retorting with some kind of drunken, nonsensical ramble. In a word, Sparrow is built on excess. Tonto, however, is significantly quieter and more restrained, and lot of his humour, as mentioned, comes from Depp’s face as opposed to silly lines or drunken swagger. In fact, here Depp pulls more from silent comedy than he does 70s and 80s rock stars, specifically Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton who, given the medium they worked, communicated a lot of emotion and humour through their faces and body language, something Depp is well versed and even previously honoured back in 1992 when he made Benny & Joon, a romantic comedy where Depp played a young man obsessed with classic cinema, and did an entire slapstick routine with Aidan Quinn based on Chaplin’s antics.

Moving on to our titular protagonist, Armie Hammer plays John Reid AKA The Lone Ranger, who starts out as a fresh faced young lawyer who arrives in the western town of Colby to practice law, meeting up with his older brother, played by James Badge Dale, who is himself a successful and respected Texas Ranger. Hammer fits the part well and has a charm and 'gentility' to him that fits the character of John and he & Depp do work well with each other, having a relationship more akin to an Odd Couple than your standard fast talking, action movie buddies, however, much like Depp, there seems to be a very particular view of the Ranger around: that he is an idiot, moron, clown, numbskull, dimwit, retard, whatever your verbal weapon of choice is, mainly because a lot of the jokes in the film usually involve him and are often sight oriented, such as him returning a doll to a little girl only for it to get blown out of a window or him trying to shoot two thugs and instead firing the bullet so it ricochets around until it cuts a rope and brings a pair of wooden beams down on the two of them. However, much like when people mix convoluted and confusing, a character being stupid and then being the butt of a bunch of jokes are not the same thing. For example, in Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg’s character is relatively smart, but he’s often the focus or part of the film’s many jokes, and here it’s a similar affair. The character itself is simply naïve, a city slicker who comes to the frontier with a narrow and naïve world view that gets drastically shattered when he is thrown into the rough and tumble environment in the frontier, which was the intent, but the rest I’ll save for when we get into talking the film’s themes and narrative later on. Furthermore, at least for his bumbling he is proactive and pushes the narrative forward as opposed to waiting for things to happen to him, whether it’s joining his brother in pursuit of Butch or his own hunt for the bandit with Tonto and their investigating into his affairs.

The remainder of the cast is filled with familiar dependables, but for the sake of time, I’ll go over only the core ones: William Fichtner makes for a great Butch Cavendish, and is probably the grizzliest and darkest Disney villain since Barbossa in the first Pirates film, and definitely has a menace to him, helped out by Bill's raspy voice and the great prosthetics work on his face. Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole, being the veteran that he is, turns in solid work, and gives the part the needed combination of ruthlessness and burliness expected for a 19th century railroad tycoon. Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid, the wife of the Ranger's brother and an old flame of his, does well but she doesn't a large amount of material to work, though thankfully she isn't whiny or one note like a lot of female love interests in big films tend to be, and has an independence and fieriness to her, being wary of Cole from the beginning before anything is revealed as opposed to blindly and dumbly going along with him, as tends to be the more common case.  And speaking of Reids, Badge Dale does well as the jack of all trades cowboy, and it's not hard to see why John looks up to him. The performance is effectively a roll up of various famous film cowboys, his visage reminscent of Clint Eastwood while his demeanour is more akin to old Hollywood cowboys like John Wayne, a tough guy with a good heart, and while he may not be onscreen for long, Dale's charisma and ability sell the part more effectively than it might've otherwise been. Barry Pepper, who some of you may best know as the weasly guard from The Green Mile, as the American Captain, much like Fichtner and Wilkinson, turns in a predicatbly good turn and is having fun in the role, especially in the last set piece, but also has some quieter and even slightly sad moments that a stalwart  like Pepper delivers very well, however, there is a slight inconsistency with him that I'll get into when I get into my own peeves with the film.

As for the two main child actors, playing Rebecca's son and the boy who listens to Tonto's story, they both do well given the simplistic nature of the roles, though the latter does somewhat confuse wide eyed curiosity and awe with Tobey Maguire style bug eyes in the opening sequence.
And finally, there's Helena Bonham Carter as Red, a brothel madam with an explosive secret. What's strange is, in almost every review I've read and listened to, both positive and negative, she's just written off as 'unnecessary' or 'unimportant'. There's pretty much been no comment on the performance itself at all from anyone, which is a real shame as, though she does get maybe about 10 minutes of screentime across the entire film, Carter goes for it with role, and some of the funnier and edgier material in the film, as befitting the role, and she plays well off Hammer and Depp, especially during a really amusing scene when the two get into her parlour and try to pass themselves off as health inspectors, and she plays the role terrifically straight which works with the ludicrous nature of the gag. It's is a shame she's not in it more, which makes me hope that perhaps an extended cut will be released when the film hits home media, but for she has, I really liked Carter here, and it's one of my favourite things she done in quite a while.

Moving on to technicals, the film looks and sounds great, and the money definitely shows. Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, who also worked together on The Ring, accomplish some of the most  beautiful and sweeping Western imagery since the genre's brief revival in the early 90s, combining the vistas and scope of someone like John Ford, with a lot of the darker, more raw imagery that made the likes of Sergio Leone famous. According to the film making-of book, Behind The Mask, which is a terrific read, by the way, almost everything was built from the ground up, including Colby, the brothel, the trains and even the mine, very little of it being CG and it looks great, a lot of the muted and faded colours adding credence to the Western setting and giving the impression that these places existed in such a sun blasted area and have a sense of age. And the action is no step down either; whereas a lot of modern action directors seem to be more of the mentality that rapid, MTV-esque editing and close-up shaky cam create intensity and excitement when all they do is inhibit the viewer from appreciating all o0f the work that went into those sequences and lose a sense of screen space and where the characters are, Verbinski sticks closer to the playbook of classic Spielberg, with the camera pulled back and a much more relaxed editing speed that allows one to take in the set pieces a lot more and allow time for adrenaline and tension to build up as opposed to charging through the sequence with complete disregard. Furthermore, whereas the standard formula seems to be kick, punch, kick, punch, explosion, kick, punch, kick, punch, dumb one liner, the humour is mixed in with the action and is more sight oreinted, allowing for sequences that are both amusing and exciting without having to stop for a cheap reaction shot or throwaway line as is the more common practice. And there is a nice mix of set pieces, including both of the amazing train sequences that bookend the film, along with an ambush in a canyon, a shootout in a burning barn, a large battle in the silver mine between US Soldiers and Comanche warriors,  and even an escape from a mob of raging, bible pushing Christians during the brothel sequence. For a film that is nearly two and a half hours, I personally never felt it, and the action is well positioned so you never go too long without something exciting, and well paced so it never drags its feet and overstays its welcome, like say, the action in Revenge of The Fallen or Marcus Nispel's Pathfinder.

Musically, the film nails it; let it be known that, though I like and grew up with Hans Zimmer, his music in the past few years has left a little to be desired, working perfectly within the films but not making for much of a good listening experience outside of it, his work on Inception,  being a prime example of something that works better with the images than by itself. Here however, Zimmer seems to have gotten a little of his old knack back, with a nicely varied score, primarily making use of percussion and strings with some brass for the more bombastic parts. From the sad violins in the beginning in San Francisco, to the rapid-paced combination of percussion and strings during a lot of the action that has a memorable beat and consistent build up that slowly grows, Zimmer's perfectly underscores this film with what is a fusion of his work on Sherlock Holmes and Dark Knight, with a little nod here and there to Ennio Morricone. Of course, the show stealer is the incredible remix of Gioachino Rossini's Williams Tell Overture, the Lone Ranger's signature tune. Unlike say, a classic song being done over by a flavour of the month boyband or teen idol, Zimmer and his team, specifically his collaborator Geoff Zanelli, manage to extend but not leaden nor mess up the famous piece, and it is absolutely heavenly action underscore, giving the final set piece that extra bit of pep to make it truly special, and making one feel warm and giddy inside like a little kid again. Heck, during the actual action, they even timed Butch's shots at Tonto on the trains to beats in the Overture. That takes some talent and precision seldom seen in blockbusters. If for nothing else, this is probably one the most memorable themes in an action film in the past decade, and the soundtrack is worth a listen to if only for this amazing piece.

When it comes to this section, there's two giant cards that have been pulled with regards to it: 1) The film is too long, shallow and stuff needed to be cut and 2) It's tonally inconsistent between serious and humourous, thus making it an awkward experience. While the latter does have some slight the legs, the former I completely disagree with, well, most of it, and I feel these is born more of people being sold one film through trailers and advertising and less on the film making bad choices. In contrast to most critics, and a good portion of those viewing this video, I vehemently disagree with the claim that the segments involving Old Tonto and the boy in the 1930s are completely perfunctory and should've been removed for one simple reason: it's the film's central idea, and in fact, it's ironic that this film wasn't the one called Legend of The Lone Ranger as that's what it is about: it's a story about stories, or rather, legends and the way they are born, and I find it really amusing that the film is being criticized for the very thing it's about. 

Tonto here isn't just some old man telling a kid a story, rather throughout, Tonto is incorporating elements from what's around him in the museum and fitting them into the story, such as a bag of peanuts that Tonto uses to bless one of the dead rangers, and the kid is often questioning them or asking Tonto what they have to do with it or how certain events were possible, rather than just being a wide eyed, passive observer. Even one of the film’s closing lines when the kid asks him if what he said was true and Tonto replies with something to the effect of ‘You Decide’ indicates what the film is about; storytelling and imagination (which applies to another theme of the film that I’ll address in a second), and how it can be distorted or altered by those who tell it. As the saying goes ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’.
This of course, isn’t all that new, as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance from 1946 used a similar idea of a fish out of water lawyer who ends up becoming famous for something he never actually did, and many anti-westerns of the 60s and 70s also sought to demystify the Old West, such as Once Upon a Time In The West, Butch Cassidy and Little Big Man, showing it as a much harsher, more morally ambiguous place and the heroes as far more complicated and less saintly individuals. However, here, this all has a bigger, more special significance: The Lone Ranger character was very much born of the more glamourous, black hats/white hats kind of West that was the popular view of it not just in old films but in much of America’s own mythology and fiction, a straight forward, clean cut good guy who righted wrong and marauded the Western plains ala the way John Wayne and Randall Scott would become famous for in a lot of classic hollywood Westerns. When putting all of these elements together; the unreliable narrator who is passing on and old story to another person, a character that symbolises a simplified, cleaner West and then placing him in a story and with a supporting cast rooted in a much grimer, dirtier, meaner West akin to the works of Sergio Leone, and what you have is a film that seeks to question and peel back the very nature of the legends of the Old West. Verbinski & Bruckheimer have talked about how they viewed this story; taking a character from an older, ‘cleaner’ Western, a Jimmy Stewart type, and then putting them in a world more like that of a Sergio Leone or Clint Eastwood film, where the straightforward black and white rules simply don’t and can’t work, and then seeing what would happen. Tonto’s story is very much that: a tale of a naïve man from one world trying to keep to those values and apply them to a world that simply can’t play by said rules, and in the end, having to adapt and rise to the challenge, thereby, becoming something more and ultimately becoming a legend, a symbol of ideals that contrast with the actual reality of the world it came from. In so doing, the telling is more important than what’s being told. Once again, ‘when the legend becomes fact, print the legend’. 
This also, in part, helps explains and even clear some of the tonal choices the film makes, since we’re not only being told this from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, but also someone who is merging these two different sides of the Western into one and as a by product, familiar imagery and things that were straightforward and clean cut in one become truncated, twisted and altered by the other: Silver, the Ranger’s trusty steed, has more of a oddball personality and self awareness, doing things like drink beer and climb up trees that are not befitting the standard portrayal of heroic horses. The bandits are not just moustachioed Mexicans or muscular meatheads, but come from differing backgrounds and nationalities, and even incorporate other elements such as cannibalism and transvestialism as part of their reputation, not something entirely uncommon among both antiwesterns and the real history of the Old West, given the huge melting pot it was of people, beliefs and cultures during the various land and gold rushes, as well as the large scale use of cheap immigrant labour when building these towns and railroads, seen here in the form of the chinese miners who dig for silver, and again, something not seen in a lot of the more sanitised views of the West. Even something as benign and trivial as rabbits isn’t safe from this inversion of the familiar, becoming more vampiric and taking on traits of their frontier co-habitants, like coyotes and wolves which, by the way, I can’t help but feel was on some level a nod to this (plays Monty Python & The Holy Grail rabbit clip) and actually, now that I’m thinking about it, the film’s sense of humour definitely has a flavour akin to that, especially towards Terry Gilliam’s work, whose films often had that combination of the absurd and the macabre when it came to the humour, and in particular, Adventures of Baron Munchausen (my personal favourite film of his next to Brazil, by the way) and Tideland came to mind, the former because of its Pythonesque gags that often poked fun at some of the absurdities of the genre it was part of, a number of which were visually oriented, much like the ones in this film, and Tideland because of the dark aesthetic and oddball nature of the story, taking mundane images like a girl playing with dolls or moving house, and turning into something surreal and twisted, much like this film combines two sides of the Western to create its own world, the vampire rabbits and Silver in a tree being a prime example of something that would be right at home in one of Terry’s films.

In fact, just a quick side note before we move on, we have a film here that combines the action style and type of humour of two film makers who made some of their best and most recognised work during the 1980s. I’m not including it as part of the analysis because it might be reading a little too deep, but it’s an interesting note I figured I’d share.

Now getting back on track, I mentioned earlier that the film’s idea of imagination also plays into another key theme, which is masks, an obvious choice given who the titular character is but still worth a glance regardless. Many characters in the film use masks for different reasons, but all linked with the concept of identity: The Ranger’s is to protect his identity and those he loves while Tonto’s is actually his life purpose; he creates this whole mythology around Cavendish and Cole after they massacre his village that they are monsters (or Wendingos as he calls them) and it’s his duty to hunt them and kill them with silver weaponry, and using this to help him try to deal with the pain and torment he lives with since he’s the one who inadvertently led to this situation because as a boy, he not only rescued the two men from dying in the desert, but also shows them where a vein of silver is in exchange for a gift from Cole; a silver watch. Cavendish’s mask is one of being this powerful, intimidating monster and force of evil who does things like consume the hearts of the dead when in actuality, he’s just a hired gun working for the real villain, Cole, whose mask is one of being an upright citizen, an all-American patriot seeking to help his fellow man by building the transcontinental railroad and facilitating their travel, as well as being an older man and thus a symbol of wisdom and authority, when in reality he’s only for personal gain and advancing his position, using the wealth from the secret silver mine and the press and glamour that building such a thing as this railroad would bring and in the end, it’s ironically both of these that become his undoing, as he goes off a cliff in a train and dies crushed his own carts of silver. While this isn’t all that deep or subtle, it is a nice touch that this was applied to several characters as opposed to just the Ranger and Cole in the standard ‘Hero and Villain, two sides of the same coin’ motif so commonly used and again, tying back into the whole theme of mythology and storytelling with Tonto’s mask and how it gives him justification and a vessel for his inner pain. What’s more, speaking as someone who’s been involved with special schools in the past, a lot of the more eccentric children tend to use their odd behaviour and mannerisms as a means to guise inner pain and anxieties such as past trauma or abuse, and it’s certainly interesting to see that being put up both in a big summer film as well as in a main protagonist.

To cap off what has been probably the longest and meatiest part of this (already hefty video), I feel that the dismissal of the film narrative was on some level unfair, and while some ideas maybe could’ve been explored a little bit more or streamlined a bit, to out and out claim that the film is either wasteful or devoid of anything meaningful or semi-interesting is simply straight up disingenuous and dare I say, dishonest which is something I’m sure many people don’t want to be accused of, but well, the evidence speaks for itself.

Remember I said I almost completely disagreed with the complaints about excessive material? Well, the elements that I concede should’ve been cut are more perfunctory moments or scenes, as opposed to what many felt should’ve gone. Scenes like the Ranger being dragged through Silver’s freshly dumped dung while unconscious just feel cheap and uninspired in contrast to a lot of the more oddball and inventive gags in the rest of the film, and while it makes for some really great cinematography, the spirit platform that Reid awakens on adds nothing to the story, either thematically or narratively as none of the other characters ever acknowledge it again or explain its purpose. There’s no scene where Tonto says something like ‘Oh, I put you up on sky stair to talk to great Father’ or something like that, and as a result, it wastes a minute and a half of screen time in a feel that needs to use its large runtime carefully and wisely. 

Plus there are also some contrivances and plot holes sprinkled here and there that I simply can’t defend and leave me scratching my head, such as the bank that the Ranger and Tonto rob just so happening to have Cole’s supply of explosives that they use to blow up the main bridge, or Tonto being able to land on a pile of rocks after falling from a moving train without suffering some type of injury or slow down during the final set piece. He doesn’t even grunt upon impact, he just gurns a little, and then gets up and moves right along.

Also, the one time that I felt a genuinely problematic tone shift was right after the big silver mine battle, when a bunch of Comanche and US soldiers have been killed, and Reid is mediating over his failure to stop Cavendish and Cole, as well as rescue Rebecca and her son, but then right after, we get the Gilliam-sque joke of Silver in the tree, and though I did laugh at it as a standalone joke, it felt much too soon for it to be there and it felt a tad rushed in. The scene should’ve been allowed to breathe a little more and give our two leads a moments together to get themselves together and even throw in some more character growth and allow us to sink into the morose nature of this moment.
Furthermore, on the note of characters, I mentioned that Barry Pepper's captain suffers from an inconsistency, though it's no fault of the actor as he plays both well, but the film, at first, wants us to sympathise with the captain, having joined the villains under a false assumption that it was the local Native Americans who were raiding farms, whereas in reality, it was the doing of Butch and his gang, and regrets killing all those Comanches and feels the blood on his hands. However, during the final set piece, he goes crazy and seems to relish killing and being mean towards Rebecca's son while Tonto tries to rescue him and also tries to goofily fondle Red like a Looney Tunes character, which she uses to have him shoot a bunch of explosives with her leg as a distraction while Tonto steals the Constitution train. Though Pepper is a lot of fun to watch, going completely nuts, it comes out of nowhere and he behaves more like the psychotic captain from Mask of Zorro than someone with the weight of regret on his shoulders, and it’s another area where the tone can’t be explained by Tonto’s storytelling.

And finally, more scenes with Red, given how fun Helena is, but also to make more relevant to the main plot, and not just a tool for the use of our heroes when they are in a jam. Here’s pulling for either that extended version or a ton of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray.

And with that, we’ve finally reached the conclusion of this lengthy saga of analysis, debate and discussion, and it’s probably the most I’ve ever had to do for any video of mine, and considering that I’ve been doing film criticism online for 3 and half years now, that’s saying something given some of the gems and turkeys I’ve tackled. To conclude, Lone Ranger may not be the most groundbreaking or original blockbuster, but it’s certainly one of the gutsiest in a good while, taking a forgotten character in a genre past its golden days and then inverting all of that, playing off the myths and matinee fun of the classic West with the grime and darkness of both the real west and the revisionist West in a grandiose and indulgent spectacle that, though it may not hit its marks consistently, when it does, it really does and to quote Robbie Collin of the Daily Telegraph: 

‘"[I]n a sane world this would never have been made, although I’m really rather glad someone did."
I hope I articulated myself well and made a video that was engaging regardless of which side of the fence you’re on. If you still don’t like the film, that’s completely fine, but all I ask is that you be respectful of my view, the same way I am of yours. With that said, thank you for listening and well, till next time.

And by the way, just to step out of objective mode for a moment, for those who are calling Lone Ranger ‘the worst film of the year!’, watch Movie 43. You’ll change your mind....

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Sequel article to this available here: 
Here, I discuss the similarities to another noted fantasy flop, Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and how much they, surprisingly, have in common)