Making the Grades
Pirates of the Caribbean has invaded the old west in this version of The Lone Ranger. With Pirates franchise director Gore Verbinski at the helm and Johnny Depp playing the iconic Tonto, it is no wonder the film’s previews give us a familiar feeling. But before you pack up the kids and grandkids to see this new adventure, with fond memories of the old television series or the radio show that invented these characters racing through your head, know that this masked man is not like the one you remember.
The story begins with an introduction to John Reid (Armie Hammer), an idealistic law school graduate who is returning from the big city in 1869 to his dusty hometown of Colby, Texas. Naively optimistic, the zealous lawyer wants to bring his notions of peaceful justice to the Wild West. Unfortunately, riding on the same train is a shackled criminal named Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). With the help of his former gun-slinging buddies, the notorious outlaw escapes his bonds—but not without first wreaking havoc on the nearly completed railroad.
With the prisoner on the loose, it becomes the job of Texas Ranger Dan Reid to recapture him. Dan also happens to be John’s brother. Pulling together a posse to hunt down the fugitive, Dan conscripts John (despite his obvious lack of useful skills), giving him a star badge and having him saddle up with the rest of the men setting out in hot pursuit.
Sadly these lawmen soon meet a terrible fate in the desert. Not content with merely shooting them down, Butch Cavendish also wants revenge, so he takes a perverse pleasure in removing Dan’s heart to fuel his infamous cannibalistic urges. (Viewers are only shown facial expressions and copious amounts of blood, but the scene is disturbing nonetheless, especially for those expecting the sort of popcorn violence popularized by their grandfather’s Lone Ranger.) Leaving the seven men for dead, the marauders ride off. Yet thanks to a mysterious white “spirit horse” and the reluctant help of a native named of Tonto, John Reid survives, becoming the Lone Ranger.
At Tonto’s suggestion, John dons a mask to obscure his identity and the duo begins working together to track Cavendish, although neither is happy with the other’s company. And each has separate views of what they mean by having the criminal face justice.
While the unlikely pairing of these characters provides plenty of opportunities for humor, parents likely won’t be prepared for the intensity of the violent portrayals found in this Disney-produced movie. Frequent, explicit scenes of killing include countless on-screen shootings with blood effects, along with dozens of other deaths and injuries caused from swashbuckling combat on top of moving trains. This mix of juvenile slapstick antics and comedic quips with mature content and disturbing often-gory acts will undoubtedly affect the box office too. Audiences young and old may be confused as to what group this movie is trying to please. Like the radio show of yesteryear, the film’s marketing guns appear aimed at the younger crowd. Yet that means moms and dads will be expected to explain such age inappropriate concepts as cannibalism, ethnic extermination and the operations of a brothel—all of which are key components to this movie’s plot.
With carnage that far surpasses the Pirates franchise, along with sexual innuendo and some serious themes involving the historical interplay between the American Indians and the European immigrants, the question you may be asking at the end of this movie is, “Who was that masked man, anyway?”
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Lone Ranger.
The original Lone Ranger was a radio show started at station WXYZ in 1933. The show’s inventors, George Trendle and Fran Striker, created a code of conduct, sometimes referred to as the Lone Ranger Creed, to guide the writers of Lone Ranger stories. How well do you feel this version adheres to this creed?
Do you think it’s appropriate to market toys to children that are connected to a movie of this nature? What other films with adult themes have had similar marketing campaigns?
How do you feel about the casting of a non-aboriginal as a Native American character? What stereotypical depictions are used in the portrayal of different ethnicities within this film? How might this affect the way audiences view these groups?