Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels are spinning in their graves. The Lone Ranger was a campy, impossibly heroic TV figure from early twentieth century radio and TV. He and his faithful Indian friend Tonto were played enthusiastically by the two aforementioned actors. Moore so identified with the role that he had trouble letting go of it when the series ended. The series sought to instill moral virtue in the children who watched and listened to the stories, and it did a fair job of doing just that despite the fact that modern audiences will probably find the stories laughable. Although I was a huge Lone Ranger fan as a child, I find the shows hard to watch today.
The latest installment in the Lone Ranger franchise (which would be more appropriately titled “Tonto and the Stupid White Man”) flopped at the box office this past week, and deservedly so. Because it would be tedious to enumerate everything which is wrong with the movie, I will limit myself to two critiques.
First: The movie can’t decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be realistic, with its dirty cowboys, or fantastic, with its impossible special effects. Galloping a horse from car to car atop a speeding train? Preposterous. All fiction requires a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief, but this movie demands large doses of willing suspension of sanity. Does it want to be funny, with an eccentric, wisecracking Tonto, or does it want to be disgusting, with a cannibal for a villain? How can the Lone Ranger go from a bumbling nincompoop with an aversion to guns one minute to a sure-shot master horseman and gunfighter the next?
Second: The movie seems to channel every postmodern media cliché in the book. We have already mentioned that the hero, whom Tonto repeatedly calls a “stupid white man,” is a bumbling nincompoop. Tonto himself, although somewhat more competent than the Lone Ranger, is a raving lunatic. The male nincompoop appears to be the new comedic stereotype (e.g. Ray Barone and Tim the Tool Man Taylor who must continually be whipped into shape by their more intelligent wives). The stereotyping of men goes a little further than the good-guy nincompoop. The movie also follows the postmodern stereotype for villains. The careful (and not-so-careful) observer cannot help but notice that all the competent white males in the movie are villains (the cannibal outlaw, the robber baron railroad man, the General Custer clone who needlessly slaughters innocent Indians). The exception which proves this rule is the Lone Ranger’s competent brother, who might be considered heroic if you overlook the fact that his neglect of wife and child is borderline criminal.
The problem with such stereotyping has been loudly trumpeted in the case of fashion models. We see nothing but incredibly thin women as fashion models and we expect all women to be incredibly thin. Women wind up jeopardizing their health by trying to be too thin. We see men portrayed as nothing but nincompoops or villains on television and in the movies, and sooner or later people start believing that all men are either nincompoops or villains. I’m willing to bet that many foreigners who digest a steady dose of American media actually believe that American men are all villainous nitwits.
Having said all this, I will admit that I found the movie mildly amusing. Save your money, however, and wait until it comes out on Netflix and pay-per-view to watch it.