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The Lone Ranger’s Lonely Defenders: Critics Ride to the Maligned Blockbuster’s Rescue

The Lone Ranger's Lonely Champions

The reviews for The Lone Ranger are in, and by and large they’re pretty dire: Criticwire’s C average is the only place the movie musters a passing grade. But a small handful of prominent critics have made a strong case for the movie’s virtues, going so far as to suggest that those who pounced on the film this week will be eating their words in the not-too-distant future.

Matt Zoller Seitz, whose defense of the film is the most passionate and well-argued of the lot, writes:

For all its miscalculations, this is a personal picture, violent and sweet, clever and goofy. It’s as obsessive and overbearing as Steven Spielberg’s 1941 — and, I’ll bet, as likely to be re-evaluated twenty years from now, and described as “misunderstood.”

Seitz goes on to argue that what reads to most viewers as incoherence is part of The Lone Ranger’s charms, part omnivorous homage, part a subversive take on cinematic myth.

The film’s a crazy-quilt of images and themes, referencing Buster Keaton’s The General, The SearchersA Man Called Horse, the Man with No Name westerns, the filmic contraptions of Sam Raimi and Tim Burton (check out Bonham-Carter’s ivory leg-cannon!); El Topo, Dead Man, Blazing Saddles and Verbinski’s animated Rango.

This is a story about national myths: why they’re perpetuated, who benefits. As we watch this Western saga unfold, we’re not seeing “reality,” but sort of a shaggy, colorful counter-myth, told by a wrinkled, Little Big Man-looking elderly Tonto to a young white boy at a San Francisco Old West museum, circa 1933. Old Tonto is a warm-blooded “Noble Savage” statue in a glass case, surrounded by a Monument Valley diorama whose color and texture prepare us for the CGI-infused storybook landscapes of the film itself.

At MSN Movies, Glenn Kenny concurs: 

If there’s a more bizarre major studio release than The Lone Ranger this year, I’m not sure I want to see it. Not that I mean to insult this movie, which I suspect may actually be a genuine act of subversion on the part of its makers and is thus strangely … admirable. 

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir runs with that idea, and goes on to compares the movie to Frank Norris’ novel The Octopus, which also inspired Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. (Norris also wrote McTeague, the source for Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed, a like-minded story of self-defeating capitalist frenzy.)

If you’re looking for an old-fashioned, rip-roaring western adventure, with dashing heroes, dastardly villains and beautiful girls, where you know who the good guys and bad guys are and you’re not troubled by historical guilt or contradiction — well, Gore Verbinski’s re-engineering of The Lone Ranger is not that movie. Actually, let me take that back, or at least rephrase it: This mordant and ambitious work of pop-political craftsmanship both is and is not that movie. It delivers, for my money, the most exciting action sequence in any of this summer’s big spectacles (even counting the destruction of Tony Stark’s Malibu mansion in Iron Man Three), a delirious chase-and-fight number staged on board a moving train — set, of course, to the William Tell Overture — that’s equal parts stunt work, digital effects and cinematic derring-do. But it also never lets you forget that the Manifest Destiny that drove Anglo-American society across our continent was a thin veneer pasted across a series of genocidal crimes.

Not a few critics draw a line between John Reid and Kal-El, putting the masked man ahead of the man of steel.

Frank Lovece, Film Journal International:

Despite the period setting, The Lone Ranger is essentially a superhero movie, hitting that hard target where larger-than-life meets the real thing. And given a choice between this buoyantly kinetic, full-of-heart adventure and recent actual superhero movies (the dour, leaden Man of Steel), I’d go it a Lone

Callie Enlow, Orlando Weekly:

While his superhero counterparts may concern themselves with saving the world, the Lone Ranger wants to serve justice in a land where the law is increasingly bent for a powerful few — a Lockean nightmare, and perhaps a more terrifying situation than could be concocted by Zod, Kahn or any other maniacal villain du jour.

Walter Chaw, Film Freak Central:

The irony of a bloated blockbuster (in running time and budget, both) commenting on filthy lucre is lost on no one, probably, yet The Lone Ranger comes off as, most ironically of all, something like a labour of love for a character so unbelievably square that he becomes symbolic of our disappointment in ourselves. He’s the kind of hero Superman used to be; it makes one wonder if the true incarnation of the Man of Steel on the big screen is one who understands, indeed embraces, his legacy of terminal dullness and builds an atmosphere of loss and regret around him.

Twitch’s Jason Gorber emphasizes the balance between the film’s subversive elements and its superficial pleasures, placing him in a line of critics content to admire the fim for what it is.

Owing as much to the aesthetic of Deadwood as it does to The Searchers, I think The Lone Ranger can be seen as a wickedly surreptitious film, sneaking into a giant Hollywood production very real questions about the representation of American history, and toying with audience expectations by turning these core myths on their head. The fact that such elements can be hinted at while still creating a child friendly, intensely amusing action film makes it all the more remarkable.

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

As in Life of Pi, Tonto ultimately tells the kid it’s up to him whether the story is true or not. But whether you read it as rollicking adventure or dark allegory, it’s an odd take on a classic property that may alienate purists but is a marvel to behold. Hammer establishes himself as a convincing lead, while Depp once again goes out on a limb in a way that pays off and legitimately makes sense.

The Voracious Filmgoer:

In a summer when so many Hollywood entertainments, even the halfway decent ones, seem to be on autopilot, it’s a relief to find that The Lone Ranger boldly and confidently flies off the rails the first chance it gets. 

Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

A wild, wacky, wide-screen reimagining of the vintage radio serial and TV series, the film — with Armie Hammer in the hat and mask, galloping across Texas righting wrongs, and Depp as his trusty Indian sidekick, Tonto — is an epic good time. It’s also as American as apple pie, and as American as greedy railroad barons, cagey brothel madams, and two-faced pols. Perfect timing for the Fourth of July! 

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club:

Though it lacks the sustained manic energy of Rango or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Lone Ranger is crammed with enough fun matter — rollercoaster train chases, fourth-wall gags — to compensate; the slower scenes are at least interesting to look at, thanks to Verbinski’s detail-packed compositions. Hammer’s performance — always game, never mugging — certainly helps; his likable but buffoonish Lone Ranger is an essential part of the movie’s irreverent tone.

Sean Means, The Salt Lake Tribune:

The Lone Ranger ultimately works because, in an age of mechanized action blockbusters, it’s not afraid to be a Western. It deftly conveys “those thrilling days of yesteryear” (as the narrator on the old TV and radio shows used to say) of fleet-footed horses and chugging locomotives, even as it acknowledges that the good guys and bad guys aren’t always easy to spot — unless, like our masked hero, he’s wearing a white hat.

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