Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Lone Ranger - A View From Texas

So a heavily-promoted movie came out and is failing. I did go see it and thought I would share a bit.

The Good

  • It was reportedly an expensive movie and the money is up there on the screen. Big sets, big crowds of people, lots of stunts and set-pieces
  • Johnny Depp does fine as Tonto though he's not quite as funny as the pirate.
  • There's a fair amount of setup and origin but it doesn't all come at you at once, in order. There's a framing device and a lot of non-sequential storytelling that mix things up

The Bad

  • It's way over the top when it comes to stunts and physics. I'd almost call it a Wuxia Western but it's not as cool as that would imply. This weakens the whole movie.
  • The Ranger himself is a neophyte, not an experienced, mature, tough Texas Ranger as one might expect. His motivations are solid enough, but his experience and manner are just off compared to earlier incarnations of the character
  • As others have noted, the plot is pretty much the same as the Antonio Banderas Mask of Zorro movie (of which I am a fan) so if you've seen that then you already know how this is going to go.
  • The framing device I mentioned above is overused and becomes intrusive by the later stages of the film. It worked in Princess Bride but that was mainly a comedy. This is mainly and action movie and it does not work as well here.
  • About 5% of the film actually looks like Texas, the rest of it looks like Arizona or New Mexico, despite it being set 100% in Texas. This was a problem with a lot of older westerns but I thought we were past it now - apparently not.
  • It's just not funny enough nor is it serious enough, like it can't decide what it wants to be

Outside of these I think the biggest meta-problem is that this was made by the same team that made Pirates of the Caribbean and in that there was a heavy mystical element right from the start whereas here there is none. There is a lot of alluding to Indian mysticism, but there's no actual payoff.  This limits what they can do character-wise and plot-wise and was probably a mistake. Either go totally real and gritty and make a modern Lone Ranger that way, or let some mysterious stuff happen, similar to the Indiana Jones movies, and don't try to explain it.

Spoiler: When they started talking "Wendigo" and Silver Bullets I thought we were about to get this kind of movie - then it pretty much fizzled out like a wet firecracker.

I also didn't like the two-faced attitude towards the source material. They're making a big-budget movie based on something and when the classic overture kicks in as the big finale starts up (the first time in the movie that it is heard) I admit it felt pretty good. But making the hero a bumbling greenhorn was not a good choice, putting it almost to the level of Big Trouble in Little China's hero-as-sidekick as Tonto's competence and general savvy (heh) overshadows him. Plus, at the very end of the movie, there's a slam on a classic Lone Ranger bit that seems like a pointless cheap shot at the original and I didn't like that either. "we'll take the mask, the copanion, the silver bullets, and the theme, but this other part is dumb so we'll just make fun of it instead" - bad move.

In the end I didn't hate it but I was disappointed with it. A new western franchise that was as much fun as the Pirate movies would have been a very cool thing to have over the next few years, but that's not likely now. I will say if you want to watch a good actor play a quirky, interesting character in a western, you can skip this and go watch "Tombstone" and have a better time.

You're a daisy if you do...

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