This weekend, see anything but The Lone Ranger. The only thing Western about Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Wild Westapalooza is that it happens to take place in nineteenth-century Texas. This could have been a great movie—but instead, director Gore Verbinski gives us a remake that is too short on story, too long on time, too reliant on spectacle, and way too overtly political (leaning towards the cynical and anti-American).

The Lone Ranger is the story of a boy (played by Mason Elton Cook) who wanders into a Wild West exhibit at a carnival that promises to take him, with a tip of the hat to the original radio series, to "the thrilling days of yesteryear!" He enters only to meet an elderly Tonto (Johnny Depp) who recounts his adventures as they, you know, really happened.

Tonto tells the tale of clean, Charlie-Brownish city lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer), who is just arriving back home to Texas to become his town's prosecutor. Of course, he has baggage at home in the form of his teasing older brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and sister-in-law/former lover Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). When outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) kills Dan in an ambush, though, John must step up to the plate and bring the bandit to justice. When he links up with Tonto, the crazy Comanche mystic, hilarious hijinks are of course unavoidable—but before long, the bumbling buddies stumble into a plot that implicates railroad tycoons, town mayor Cole (Tom Wilkinson), and the U.S. Cavalry.

That barebones summary makes the story sound almost coherent. But the movie goes on so many rambling side trails that it ends up failing to commit any time to making the motivations of any of the players—white hats or black hats—believable. The movie stacks subplots like an unwieldy pile of mugs: John Reid's coming of age arc, Tonto's backstory, the backstory of Reid and Rebecca, the unfolding love story of Reid and Rebecca, Cassidy's backstory, the interactions between Old Tonto and the young boy, the regional conflicts between the Indians and the military. The list goes on. And on. And on.

No wonder the movie clocks in at 149 minutes. Compare this to the 2000 Western/Kung-Fu action comedy Shanghai Noon, which told a simple story about archetypal unlikely friends who had some clear goals in under two hours—a filmmaking move that gave stars Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan room to breathe and play together.

The movie tries to patch up its lack of solid story with what passes for action. "Action," of course, means having giant pointless explosions, a guy riding a horse on top of a locomotive, and bullets that ricochet into things that knock into other things which then drop onto things that tip right onto the heads of the hapless bad guys.

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All of this drives up the cost of the movie to $250 million while completely missing the point. A single punch, not played for laughs, from a man with good reasons is more memorable than all of the pointless fireballs in the world. And it costs much less.

But maybe that all sounds fine for a bit of entertainment, so the other thing you should know before spending money on this movie, is that it is extremely, overtly political.

Someone made this movie as a deliberate subversion of the original Lone Ranger; old Tonto's narrations amount to taking two and a half hours to disabuse the young boy of every single romantic or patriotic notion he ever had about the Wild West and the "Lone Ranger Creed." Written by the hero's creators, George W. Trendle and Fran Striker, the Creed states that the Lone Ranger believes "In my Creator, my country, my fellow man."

Contrast this with a U.S. Cavalry officer who shouts, "For God and Country, fire at will!" before machine gunning a host of Comanche, a Presbyterian minister who leads a lynch mob after the heathen Tonto, and a Lone Ranger who refuses to join in prayer.

We've come to expect some disses to religion at the movies, but what is less expected—especially given that this week we remember when, 237 years ago, 56 brave men signed their own death warrant in the name of freedom—is that this Lone Ranger is firmly anti-American.

In the beginning of the film, John Reid refuses an invitation to prayer by holding up John Locke's Treatises on Government, saying, "This is my Bible." He identifies with the "seems-nice-at-first" town mayor Cole, who we learn is also a fan of Locke. But before long, we learn that the John Locke-quoting mayor and the society he represents are actually evil—so by the end of the movie, the Lone Ranger isn't quoting John Locke, but instead working with Tonto to blow up a bridge so they can derail a train subtly named "Constitution."

And what creates a necessary diversion at a key moment for our heroes? A happy hooker (Helena Bonham Carter) naughtily flashing her fake leg made of ivory—distracting the captain standing sentry as he slobbers over it in his lust for precious commodities—so that she can blow up some flammables, incinerating U.S. soldiers.

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The original Lone Ranger, while he worked as a vigilante, held to a creed that said that "this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people' shall live always." His country—our country—most certainly has its sins. But his desire to reform his country, as so often is the case, came from a genuine love of country.

In contrast, in our modern take he rides off into the sunset having renounced Creator and country—and the implication of the ending is that little boys should do likewise.

While people are free to debate the relationship between Christianity and political participation, the points this movie makes about patriotism are contentious enough (and unexpected enough given the source material) that audiences should at least be duly warned ahead of time.

But here's the final thing—maybe none of that bothers you. Maybe you're okay with propaganda crammed into your adventure movies, and maybe you aren't really interested in patriotism. Even if you wholeheartedly support every political message in this movie, you should still be upset at the boldfaced hypocrisy of having a movie about the oppression of the West narrated by a white man painted up to look like a stereotyped Native American, broken English to boot. That's like having a bunch of Yankees put on blackface and say "Yessuh!" to tell the evils of the slave trade.

And even if we can't agree that the specific points the movie makes (although I disagree with them wholeheartedly) are a problem—we should be able to denounce the way the points are made, hiding like that coward Robert Ford. If Disney or Verbinski or the writers or whoever wanted to tell a story about the sins of America, this was the wrong way.

The classic Western film works because it's a simple story with clear themes that resonate across time, not a discombobulated amusement park ride, half disinterested and half serious. The real way to tell the story Disney apparently wanted to tell here would have been to take Tonto and put him into the role of the vengeful Cowboy. That's what made last year's best Western—the bloody but innovative Django Unchained—the best. Or even, say, approach contentious historical periods with nuance, drawing out positive values from both sides, like Ron Maxwell's Civil War films.

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Regardless of how you feel about the finer points of the Founding Fathers' political philosophy, this week's holiday is a day for patriotism, to celebrate home, family, and community. This is why it makes me very sad to think that thousands of American families are going to go to the movies this weekend and pay money to see The Lone Ranger.

And it makes me sad, as a fan of Westerns, because here was such a great opportunity to introduce a new generation of young people to one of the only artistic genres born in America, and one of the best genres in all of storytelling. It could have stood on the shoulders of the rare but great Westerns of the 21st century—Open Range, The Alamo, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Appaloosa, True Grit, Django Unchained, the animated Rango (directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp—how they could do both of these films baffles me), and of course the gritty Deadwood.

Hm. Those are pretty good movies. They remind me of John Wayne classics like El Dorado, Red River, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Maybe, let's use the failure of The Lone Ranger not as a time to despair, but to remember why we love Westerns. Let's mount up and ride into the sunset, enjoy a few parades, barbecues, good beers and fireworks—and maybe sometime this week watch a real Western, a good Western, as befits the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

The Family Corner

Sequences of intense action—a scalping occurs in silhouette, various people get shot, stabbed, or hit with arrows. The characters hang out in a brothel at one point, although none of the images are very revealing or suggestive. At one point, the outlaw threatens to force his advances on the love interest.

The Lone Ranger
Our Rating
1 Star - Weak
Average Rating
(21 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (For sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material)
Directed By
Gore Verbinski
Run Time
2 hours 30 minutes
Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner
Theatre Release
July 03, 2013 by Walt Disney Studios
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