Based on the TV cowboy series of The Lone Ranger and Tonto and how they start out in 1870 Texas. Tonto rescues John Reid from bandits and they battle with corrupt army and railroad crooks and Comanches. Helena Bonham Carter helps out with an ivory leg. The film is a story that the ancient Tonto tells to a child in the San Francisco of 1933.
It’s appropriate that this film starts in 1933 San Francisco since The Lone Ranger started out as a radio show in that decade. Then it became a 50s TV show starring a masked cowboy in tights, his Comanche friend Tonto called him Kimo Sabe. The masked cowboy rides a white stallion called Silver. This western is a fantasy for children about the Wild West, as opposed to other western films which are fantasies for adults about the west. This film succumbs to an over elaborate foundation myth for the TV series, Johnny Depp as Tonto delivers his narrative like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man who also told quirky stories about the old days, happily mixing myth and history. Depp tries on another comic performance, in Pirates of the Caribbean he is drunkenly flamboyant, whereas in Lone Ranger he pokes fun at the stereotype of the stolid frowning Indian. Depp’s got a dead crow stuck on his head and he also wears white face paint, a fashion which no other “Indian” feels inclined to follow. How could you make even a slightly serious film about this subject.
Special effects are nicely blended with Monument Valley shots like at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) starts out as a naive lawyer who wants to ‘tame’ the west (like Jimmy Stewart liked to play), and he ends up as an improbable hero on a white horse which is made to gallop on top of railway cars whilst being immune to all bullets. The Lone Ranger is similar to the reluctant heroes of Shane and High Noon. The mask and the hat are silly enough so there’s no attempt to put him into tights. The villains led by Tom Wilkinson are like those of Heaven’s Gate, corrupt capitalist barons who use outlaws to destroy native Americans and rape the land of its minerals. We get a sort of re-enactment of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 (shown in the film Soldier Blue) so it can be a bit serious as it entertains. We also get a fantasy encyclopaedia of oddities like a Barnum circus: flesh eating rabbits and H Bonham Carter’s ivory leg which shoots bullets. The classical Western backdrops make the film feel like a moving diorama of Charles Russell paintings. Buffalo Bill’s wild west circus originated this vision of the west. The rail chases, gunfights, mining camps, and wild west towns all invite us to think of other western films we’ve seen. The realistic ‘wild West’ was of course a radically different world, perhaps McCabe and Mrs Miller approximates to the real thing. Lone Ranger is a child’s fantasy realized in CGI and it works as a good entertaining film.