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

by Sam Adams
July 5, 2013 10:50 AM
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Lone Ranger

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.


  • Jennifer Vance | July 17, 2013 11:28 AMReply

    The Lone Ranger is epic - totally funny- seen it 3 times now- everyine loves it / Depp is the comedian as always - miss this one / your loss!

  • TEGA | July 9, 2013 8:30 AMReply

    The critics who gave this movie a bad review are idiots. Why else would The Lone Ranger have a 70% audience liking on Rotten Tomatoes compared to their 24%? DON'T LISTEN TO THE NEGATIVE REVIEWS! Get out there see the film and decide for yourselves before letting them brainwash you from seeing a really entertaining movie and an enjoyable get away from every day life. The movie is fantastic in every way!!!!! Lots of people saw it who saw it came back with family and friends (including myself) and they also loved it.

  • Whit | July 8, 2013 9:58 PMReply

    This is a very different kind of film, which right off the bat is an improvement over all the predictable superhero, giant robot & kiddie flicks critics have swooned over all summer. The audience I saw this with LOVED IT! Sad to see that many of today's "critics" (whom I suspect are a bunch of 20-somethings getting off in their basements while wearing a red cape) decided to overlook an original, creatively told story acted out in fine form by Depp, Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Frank Treadaway, Saginaw Grant & amazing child actors Mason Cook & Bryant Prince. I feel bad for the actors, the director & everybody else who obviously worked so hard on this film, only to have it so unfairly trashed.

  • CalGal74 | July 7, 2013 1:41 AMReply

    I hadn't read any reviews before seeing The Lone Ranger so after enjoying this movie immensely, I felt sure critics must have loved the action, humor & serious topics explored in the movie. Wow--I was NOT prepared for the venom directed towards not only the film, but individuals involved with the film! This is hands down the best summer movie I've seen so far---way better than WW Z & Man of Steel. Kudos to the whole cast & crew that can entertain & thrill an audience, as well as give us something to think about. When that William Tell Overture came on, our theater started applauding...

  • MistaTMason | July 7, 2013 5:24 PM

    I haven't been to a movie in a couple weeks, and I wanted to see one of the blockbusters in theaters this summer (that's about my fill on those). In spite of critic hate, I was somewhat interested in Snyder's Superman, just a change of pace from the endless Marvel retreads. I've long been feeling the diminishing returns of zombies and PG-13 CGI zombies are making me think World War Z can go to hell. I had no interest in Lone Ranger before and was even rooting against it in hopes it would hopefully be a small pushback on the constant Hollywood remakes. Somehow, I feel I'd really like to see this now. I love Westerns and this sounds like it might have some of that subversiveness of The Searchers or The Wild Bunch. Some of the positive fan reaction I see on cinephile sites (not so much from general audiences it's selling to) as well an insightful review from Jason Gorber (my go-to critic since Ebert died), I'm in on this.

  • Choctaw Lady | July 6, 2013 10:23 PMReply

    Loved the movie. Johnny Depp as amazing as Tonto. A look back into the history on how Indians were treated,how they lived before the white man came and took everything away and imposed their way of life on them. Hope, this movie has a long shelf life. I have ordered my Blu-Ray copy. I remember the critics killed another great movie years back(The Brave) one of the best movies I've ever seen. Had to buy a copy from another county because the Director (Johnny Depp) refused to release it in the US. Americans need to think for themselves and stop listening to over paid idiots that push their own views on them.

  • Pam | July 6, 2013 8:08 PMReply

    We were at the Cinema in Australia on Friday, and everyone, I mean everyone, walked out so excited, in awe and we're pretty much ready to go and watch again, immediately. The audience ranged from around 7 to 70, and our youngest, a boy, as soon as we got home was right into dressing up as the Lone Ranger. It was fantastic, do yourself a favor, it was GREAT.

  • Buzz | July 6, 2013 6:06 AMReply

    Depp sucks. He has sucked for a decade, and he will continue to suck. He went from brilliant to formulaic and now he Ditto Tim Burton.

  • Trish | July 7, 2013 9:38 PM

    Green with envy I see. You are so pathetic ! Your jealousy sticks out a mile.

  • CalGal74 | July 7, 2013 1:37 AM

    @BUZZ So basically you haven't seen the film & have no opinion other than you don't like Johnny Depp. When you have an actual critique of the movie, then please post again. If you want to make a personal attack on someone, go look in the mirror first.

  • Lane | July 5, 2013 11:04 AMReply

    I agree with these critics. They all acknowledge it has obvious flaws, but it's risky and subversive as hell. I'd much rather have that than the coma enducing blandness of World War Z and Man of Steel. The subversive quality really took over for me when the band playing our National Anthem is ripped off a stage, American flags falling in their wake, and here I am with a decent sized audience watching this on our most American of holidays. Gore Verbinski knows how to pull a rug or two

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