The Mad "Genius" of 'The Lone Ranger (2013)'

While this new Lone Ranger is no masterpiece, it's also one of the most inventive and insane movies of the Summer 2013 season.

The Lone Ranger

Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
US Release Date: 2013-07-03

Was anyone really clamoring to revisit this knotty, nostalgia laden hero? Is the demographic who remembers the character from radio, or his lengthy run on '50s TV really anxious to see his masked persona and his faithful Indian companion ride high in the saddle again? Is the clarion call of "Hi Ho Silver!" still viable in 2013? After all, an attempted early '80s reboot failed miserably (perhaps best known for casting unknown model Klinton Spilsbury as the titular champion, only to have his dialogue eventually overdubbed by James Keach) and a 2003 TV movie didn't deliver, ratings wise (thus the planned spin-off series was cancelled). In fact, the Western genre still walks on the wobbliest of cinematic legs, no longer enjoying the commercial cultural impact of the '30s through '60s.

So how do you jumpstart interest in a persona and a motion picture which will more or less rework the legend of the Lone Ranger to fit his post-modern meaning, as well as deal with the 800 pound Native American in the room? Well, if you're Disney, you get Johnny Depp to profess a long standing heritage to a specific tribe (or two), hire the man who made the unthinkable - read: The Pirates of the Caribbean - into an international fiscal juggernaut (we're talking multi-billions - with a "B" - of dollars here) and pray for something close to a success. In the House of Mouse's case, they made the right choice. While this new Lone Ranger is no masterpiece, it's also one of the most inventive and insane movies of the Summer 2013 season.

Let's get the basics out of the way right up front. The story here is told from Tonto's perspective. The former great warrior is now part of some early '30s San Francisco carnival sideshow on the Old West. Wearing impressive age make-up and doing his best halting 'Injun' accent, Depp narrates the adventures of a former Texas Ranger turned lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer). Returning to his prairie town to help meter out law and order, he instead becomes part of a posse hoping to bring the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to justice. One ambush later, and everyone assumes our hero is dead. Rescued by Tonto, our soon to be masked man learns of an impending war with the Cherokee nation, a secret location loaded with silver, and the possible link between the bad guys and railroad magnate Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson).

Okay, so the genius here is not in the narrative. It's nothing we haven't seen before, and will surely see again (ala The Good, The Bad, and the Weird). Indeed, the greatness offered by director Gore Verbinski and, for the most part, his cast, is a clear vision of what this Lone Ranger should be - read: a overflowing homage to each and every horse opera trope trotted out over the last century of cinema. Old fashioned white hat/black hat dynamics? Check. Mid-era focus on repressing the redman and making him pay for his heathen ways? Yep. The '60s spin on moralizing followed very quickly by the black hearted chutzpah of the Spaghetti spin on the material? Absolutely. There's even healthy doses of the revisionism that took place in the '80s and '90s when gun totting heroes were turned into complex characters and their aboriginal prey a noble Native tribe worthy of reverence, not rejection.

So Verbinski's got the basics down pat. Better still, he doesn't let the allusion lie. Instead, he infuses this 145 minute movie with so many visual nods and references that a drinking game could be invented out of a freeze frame search and sip. There are obvious mentions of the movie made by John Ford and of his acting collaborator John Wayne. There's takes on Sergio Leone and Alejandro Jodorowsky (famed for his slick '70s psychedelic oater El Topo) as well as the careful consideration over the claims of various tribes and the treatment of same. It's as if Verbinski took everything he knew about the genre, shoved it in a blender, added even more material from his meticulous research, and whipped it up into a cool cocktail of measured meta reimagining. Put another way, this is the film Tim Burton keeps wanting to make but can't quite wrap his fringe dwelling outsider brain around.

Because he is so adept with action (the last act train chase, accompanied by a cheeky, nonstop playing of the iconic William Tell Overture, riffs on everything from Buster Keaton's The General to Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), Verbinski delivers the commercial goods. But he also recognizes that there has to be more here than a mere retelling of a classic tall tale. So out goes the typical artistic approaches and, in the place are put a series of sensational acknowledgments to why the Western remains part of our film folklore. Sure, there is also a desire to make this movie work, the possible sequels hopefully becoming as profitable as a certain swashbuckling Captain and his various sea-going adventures.

But The Lone Ranger doesn't really relegate itself to that kind of series. Instead, the character was apparently conceived to bring some mystique back to an already tired ideal. Similarly, the original visualization of the hero was aimed squarely at kids. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels took their role model position very seriously and constantly defended themselves and the material for its various moralistic codes. This new version doesn't sway from the basics of the good/bad ideal. Reid and Tonto are flawed, but basically decent. It's everyone else that plays it as varying levels of evil. Add in the truly oddball touches like Helena Bonham Carter as a frontier madam with a scrimshaw leg that also doubles as a rifle, and you've got enough conflicting creative elements to turn even the most open minded viewer's aesthetic to mush.

Yet by making it all work, and work brilliantly, Verbinski restates his claim to commercial auteur status. He may have misstepped a bit with the last two Pirate movies, but his Oscar winning animated film Rango (also a revisionist Western, FYI) proves his penchant for treating the kitchen sink like a solid source, not an artistic liability. Everything he sets up pays off, every bit of backstory dragged into the already overloaded narrative returns the favor when the time it right. Sure, some will be turned off by the very nature of such an approach and for the demo supposedly primed for this character's return, a lot of what happens will simply sale over their underage heads. But when you consider what he was working with, both historically and material-wise, Gore Verbinski turns The Lone Ranger into a ridiculous over the top treat. Perfection? No. Ambitious anarchy? All right





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.