What is it about Lone Ranger Movies?

It’s taken me 3 nights, but I’ve now watched The Legend of the Lone Ranger (the 1981 movie, and I saw this one in the theater), and The Lone Ranger (the 2013 movie where Tonto is the main character).

I’ve really wanted to review these together.  They both have stinker reputations, and I distinctly remember not hating the 1981 version.  The 2013 film (which I hadn’t seen) had mixed, mostly negative reviews, and like its predecessor, lost a ton of money.  So I was wondering, what is it about Lone Ranger movies?  With that in mind, and for the sake of the viewing public, the betterment of society, and because I’m semi-retired, I watched them both.  I wanted some clear insight as to why they did so poorly, and why they’re so reviled.  But: I dunno.  I like them.

Warning: I don’t think linearly, and I don’t review movies linearly.  End of warning.

Aside: in 1981, the Lone Ranger was played by Klinton Spilsbury.  In 2013, he was played by Armie Hammer.  Can you believe these names?  End of Aside.

Try to find out what was wrong with the 2013 movie, and you’ll find nothing about the film itself.  Criticisms were launched at the budget, and “production issues.”

Try to find out what was wrong with the 1981 movie, and all you’ll read is about how impossible Klinton Spilsbury was.  The producers allegedly wanted to cast an unknown, and were hoping they’d found the next Christopher Reeve.  Spilsbury was allegedly a pre-Madonna prima donna, highly full of himself for hitting the big time, alienating everyone, entirely failing to get the character, and delivering the lines so badly that every word of his dialogue was re-dubbed by James Keach.

Yeah, but these criticisms are not about the movies.

Remember how I said I didn’t hate the 1981 movie in the theater?  Okay, now I’ve watched it again.  I still don’t hate it.  Here’s a random list of likes and dislikes.

– Michael Horse as Tonto, and Jason Robards as President Grant, have a really stupid bit of dialogue at the end of the movie.  “If you want to thank me, honor your treaties with my people.”  “We will try; you have my word.”  Seriously?  This had to be included in the movie because … ?

– Apart  from that, Michael Horse was a pretty good Tonto.

– John Reid doesn’t actually act very Lone Ranger-y until fairly late in the movie.  Imagine a Superman or Batman movie where the hero doesn’t appear until the last 20 minutes.

Aside: yes, I realize that Christopher Reeve didn’t become Superman until halfway through Superman: the Movie.  I didn’t like that in 1978, and I’m still not happy about it.  The situation is even worse in The Legend of the Lone Ranger, and worse than worse in The Lone Ranger.  End of Aside.

– This movie has a narrator.  That’s a bad thing.  Sometime he goes away for a long time, and that’s a good thing.  But he always comes back, and that’s another bad thing.  He narrates in rhyme, and that’s a terrible thing.

– Christopher Lloyd is a terrific Butch Cavendish.  Why didn’t I remember that Christopher Lloyd was in this movie?  Because in 1981, I’d never heard of Christopher Lloyd.  He’s an interesting and believable ex-military, intelligent, scheming villain.  He does the best acting job in the whole movie.  He’s also young, and even (I can hardly believe I’m typing his) handsome.

– Juanin Clay is the Lone Ranger’s love interest.  Except at some point in the movie, her subplot is completely dropped.  Period.  Never to be picked up again.

– Spilsbury LOOKS like the Lone Ranger.  When he finally acts Lone Ranger-y, he really acts Lone Ranger-y.  I liked him in the role.

– The scenes of the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding along within inches of each other are ridiculous.

– In this movie, Silver is a wild horse, whom the Lone Ranger breaks.  I liked this.

– Overall, this movie was a straightforward Western.  The setup (Rangers betrayed by Collins) was well-done.  John Reid’s rescue by Tonto was neither great nor stupid.  Reid’s evolution into the Lone Ranger took longer than I wanted it to, but in the end, he was the kind of hero I really like.  When the credits rolled, I felt entertained, just as I did in 1981.

So what about the other one?  It’s more entertaining, being a bigger budget thing.  Paradoxically, it has faster pacing than the 1981 movie, and runs much longer.  I can easily write a horrible review of it, though.

Sarcastic review powers, activate!

– Johnny Depp plays Captain Jack Tonto.  Shut up, yes he does.  He’s entertaining, and he’s the real star of the movie, and that’s a bad idea.  That’s like making Lois Lane the star of Superman.  It might sound clever and original.  It’s not.

– Did I mention this movie runs long?  Armie Hammer plays a buffoonish John Reid for about 2 hours and 15 minutes, at which point he finally becomes The Lone Ranger … for 5 minutes.  Then the movie’s over, and the credits roll for another 10 minutes.

– This movie is framed by a device of a young boy in a Lone Ranger costume encountering an elderly Tonto.  This adds NOTHING.  My best guess is that somebody watched Little Big Man a few too many times, and thought that this device would just naturally work.

– Helena Bonham Carter shouldn’t have been in this movie.  Remove her scenes.  Nothing is missing.

– William Fitchner plays Butch Cavendish, who is not the villain of the story.  He’s just a tedious psychopath (and this is obnoxious, because William Fitchner is a decent actor).  He looks hideous in the makeup.  He eats Dan Reid’s heart (Dan is the Lone Ranger’s brother, which you already knew, right?).  He apparently ate Helena Bonham Carter’s leg.  This disgusting fact about him adds (you guessed it) nothing to the movie.

– The real villain of the story is The Kingpin, played by Tom Wilkinson (“I’m the money” from Shakespeare in Love).  Oh, he’s not called The Kingpin, but I know The Kingpin when I see him.

– Jesus there are a shitload of trains in this movie.  My guess is that Hollywood thinks audiences need fast chase scenes, and you can only do so much with horses.

– Tonto has a tragic origin story.  It’s crucial to the story.  It’s also STUPID.

– Silver is a “spirit horse” in this movie.  Tonto claims Silver chose John Reid, who (pay attention here) did NOT survive the ambush.  He died, and came back from the other side.  John is now a “spirit walker,” and cannot be killed in battle.

– Johnny Depp really isn’t as funny as Hollywood thinks he is.  Did I mention he plays Captain Jack Tonto?

– The Lone Ranger has a love interest in this movie, too: his brother’s wife.  Not his LATE brother’s wife, because the interest is established before Dan is killed in the ambush.  I.  Find.  This.  Creepy.

– The final Big Chase Scene (involving two trains) reminded me of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

BUT … it’s an entertaining movie.  Oh, it’s flawed, and it runs for too long, and the Lone Ranger himself is too minor a character.  But it’s entertaining.

So let’s recap.  The 1981 movie: universally reviled, and yet I find it entertaining.  The 2013 movie: almost as universally reviled, and yet I find it entertaining.  Neither of them really got the character.  Neither of them was as good as it should have been.  Neither of them was a waste of my time.  I would watch them again.

So what is it about Lone Ranger movies?  I don’t know.

Of course, neither of them is a wow-that’s-terrific-I-could-watch-it-over-and-over Western.  For that, you should just watch Silverado.  That doesn’t just have one hero; it has several, and includes John Cleese in a minor but memorable role.  Go watch it.  Now.

What is it about Lone Ranger Movies?

Upcoming Reviews

Stay tuned.  As soon as the DVDs arrive, I’m going to give the world something it has long needed (well, at least since 2013): a joint review of “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” (1981, the movie that made and destroyed Klinton Spilsbury’s acting career), and “The Long Ranger” (2013, the movie that couldn’t succeed even though it starred Johnny Depp as Not-The-Lone-Ranger).


Okay, that’s done.  Probably the next pair will be Zardoz and Outland.

Upcoming Reviews