Comic book action movie of the beloved hero of yesteryear and his trusty sidekick the Lone Ranger. Yes, you read that right. Tonto is really the lead in this movie, as played by Johnny Depp, who does tend to steal movies with his sly cool presence. In true Hollywood fashion, this movie subverts the old storyline with a Politically Correct version to make appeal to the false conscience of the American public.
The movie is WAY TOO LONG at 2 hours and 20 minutes. It should have been cut by 20 minutes. And it could have saved almost all that 20 minutes by deleting a “modern” day hook that bookends the movie. We see a young kid in 1933 in some carnival freak show watching a wild west exhibit where Tonto is now very old and on display as a “Noble Savage.” Tonto then proceeds to tell the kid the story of how John Reid, started “as a man of law,” but ended as “a man of justice” as the Lone Ranger. At least that’s how the filmmakers see it. Completely worthless waste of time, this book end. And it ends with the kid asking Tonto if it is really true, the story he told. Tonto says in “It’s up to you, Kemosabe.” Legends are not about the facts, they are supposed to be about the truth.
Anyway, the actual movie is not as terrible. It is a popcorn fun action comic book movie after all, so you don’t make your expectations high. The final action sequence was lots of fun and even brought back emotional memories when they played the William Tell Overture, saved for that climactic ending. They play the characters against their original types, Tonto is the stronger personality and the Lone Ranger is a goofy bumbling prosecuting attorney who provides the humor against Depp’s straight man.
The character arc of this story is all about the Lone Ranger being a man of the law, who seeks to do everything the right way and according to due process. No matter how bad the criminal, he believes every man has the right to his day in court. A particular phrase of his “Bible,” John Locke’s Treatise on Government is quoted at the beginning, which captures his worldview: Men must “quit the laws of nature and assume the laws of man,” in order to maintain civilization. Tonto, however, as his ally foil believes that “justice is what a man must take for himself.” He believes in working outside the law, the way of nature so to speak.
So the theme of this movie is about Law vs. Nature, and which of these views can lead to justice. One of the recurring thematic memes in this movie is “Nature out of balance,” and how to achieve that balance again.
The white man is the evil menace because as Tonto says, “Indians are like coyotes (nature). They kill and leave nothing to waste. What does the white man kill for?” In the movie, the white man kills for power and money. So, in short, the white man believes the Indian to be savage, and civilization to be achieved through lawful means and “progress,” but what we see in this story is that the white man is the savage, progress is exploitative, and that the Lone Ranger ultimately comes to believe that if men like those in power represent the law, then he’d rather be an outlaw. He gives up his belief in due process to stay an outlaw at the end because “there comes a time when good men must wear a mask.”
This heart change is reflected when the Lone Ranger finally has the chance to kill the outlaw who killed his brother (and ate his heart, if that wasn’t bad enough). Reid does not shoot him in cold blood. Instead he seeks to take him in to face a trial, because Reid considers himself “not a savage” to kill outside of the law. But Tonto tells him, “No. You are not a man.” (Again, the laws of man versus the laws of nature) And after all that energy to do the right thing, it backfires on Reid because the law and the outlaws are all in the hands of the greedy capitalist, and so the outlaw gets away and the Lone Ranger becomes captive to the bad guys. So, later when Reid has the chance to shoot the unarmed outlaw, he finally does, only to find his gun is out of bullets, and he has to fight him physically. But we see the hero is changed. He has given up on lawful means of pursuing justice. And when he is offered a new gold watch as a reward by the new greedy capitalists in charge, thinking they can buy him just like they buy others, he rejects it and decides to keep on his mask to stay an outlaw.
But it seems in the movie that everyone is in the hands of the greedy capitalist and there are no good capitalists. The “engine of western civilization,” the railroad, is the goal of the greedy capitalist, as the ultimate bad guy of all bad guys. He is the one who exploits nature carelessly with the expansion of railroads as the emblem of progress. The cliché ugly outlaw thugs are hired by the greedy capitalist to do his bidding, the military (led by a cliché General Custer look alike) are controlled by the greedy capitalist to kill Indians. All the evil and abuse that occurs in this movie all seems to come back to the greedy capitalist businessman as the ultimate villain.
Well, there are plenty of those in our world. If you can find the balance of nature within yourself to understand that not all progress is evil, not all capitalists are greedy exploiters and not all white men are evil, you can enjoy this film for what it is with its faults: A ridiculous action comic book movie that is politically correct, but fun at times.