Physics? They don’t need no stinkin’ laws of physics. At least that’s how it looks on the trailer for Disney’s latest remake of The Lone Ranger. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski are the perfect combination for resurrecting this eighty-year-old franchise.
Have you seen the 1981 reboot, The Legend of the Lone Ranger? To steal a phrase popularized by one of my favorite Texans, it was all hat and no cattle.The 1981 version was well-intentioned, but possessed of a surfeit of gravitas. The end result was talky, clunky, and according to die-hard fans of all ages, not canonical, so at least it should have been fun.
The latest version is crammed full of exactly what what it needs to bring The Lone Ranger back to its roots as Saturday matinee popcorn fare. Gore Verbinski’s gift for setting improbable whiz-bang sequences of events in motion played a large part in creating the charmed universe of Pirates of the Caribbean (as well as the woefully underrated Rango and Mouse Hunt). Here it serves as a counterpoint to the straight-arrow delivery of the cast. As they play from the heart and hip, Verbinski’s smart version of slapstick and Bruckheimer’s signature big noise break out all around them.
Charging through all this mayhem are Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, who seem more than equal to filling the boots and mocs of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. The casting choices have raised a few eyebrows. In spite of some excellent turns on CW’s late, lamented Reaper and The Social Network, to most moviegoers, Manner is still, “Where have I seen that guy?” As the Lone Ranger, he seems up to the task of playing opposite Depp’s rebooted and relatively empowered Tonto.
Please note that I said relatively empowered. The original 1933 radio show Tonto and the 1949 television iteration of the character were written with an understanding of Aboriginal American culture that landed just a hair to the left of L. Frank Baum’s fevered ravings. Depp claims that his creative vision was to recreate the character to be on more equal footing with the titular White Texas Ranger cum vigilante. In spite of Tonto’s rough origins and Depp’s good intentions, the latest approach to the character and the choice to plug Depp into the role have gotten the side-eye from activists and culture commentators. Depp has also received some support from Native American spokesmen and The Lone Ranger fan community.
Depp’s own comments on his tribal cred are vague sounding to anyone not from Tennessee or Kentucky. The actor, who hails from Owensboro, Kentucky stated in 2011 that he probably had some Cherokee or Creek (Muskogee) ancestry. Nearly everyone whose family tree goes back more than a couple of generations in that part of the country has at least one Cherokee or Creek forebear. So while this might seem a case of, “Shut up, JD, you aren’t helping,” in context it scans as him repeating something he probably grew up hearing. The bottom line? He’ll be good in the role, but this part should have gone to a Native American/First Nations actor.
Tex Holland, executive director of the Lone Ranger Fan Club, has weighed in on the Tonto controversy. What we don’t have yet is official word on one of the long-standing sticking points for fans of the franchise: the ranger’s first name. According to The Lone Ranger wiki, his name is John Reid. However, the Wikipedia article says that a first name was a later development and that he was known as Ranger Reid. The entry ends with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the character’s first name is actually “The”.
From an industry standpoint, the big question is whether audiences will embrace this already controversial movie. In spite of its flaws, the flashy, thrill-ride treatment looks like it could be a winner at the box office.