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

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire July 5, 2013 at 10:50AM

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.
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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.

This article is related to: The Lone Ranger, Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Walt Disney Pictures


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