This turned out to be a mixed bag for us — I really enjoyed it, the Spousal Unit (who grew up loving the tv series) found it baggy, illogical, and aggravating to think about. It is all those things, so if you like tight swift sensible movies, be warned: The Lone Ranger is absolutely not for you.
Much of the professional criticism I’ve read complains about the framing device: In 1933, a boy of 9 or 10, dressed in a Lone Ranger costume, wanders into a carnival exibit about “the Great American Wild West” and meets a diorama “Indian in his native habitat” who claims to be the original Tonto. But the framing is the essential substructure of the movie — the narrative is a tale about a vanished world, told by a very old man to a young boy. Everything we see on the screen is suspended between those two imaginations (just as in the radio dramas of the original Lone Ranger stories).
Once you accept the premise, it’s easy to appreciate the Tale, with all its violations of reportorial narrative. Of course the bad guys are ugly and grimy, while the good guys are handsome and tidy. Of course our heroes can walk away from violent train derailments, mine explosions, and other wide-screen setpieces without more than a photogenic scratch or two that will disappear before the next scene. Of course an impossibly pure-white horse can perform semi-magical acrobatics while appearing and disappearing in ways impossible under the rules of workday physics, and a wandering shaman will have a heavy-duty shovel on hand to carve seven identical and precisely rectangular graves neatly lined up in the middle of a vast wilderness.
The considerable violence is PG-13 bloodless because most American ten-year-olds can enjoy the imagination of vast slaughter (down go the rows of plastic figures!), or of a villian cutting out a human heart and eating it, while entirely lacking the capacity to visualize the real-world physical awfulness of such concepts. The story dawdles through horse-turd jokes and magical totems and “what’s with the mask?” wisecracks and a million miles of stunning wilderness where even the bunnies are carnivorous, because that’s what a ten-year-old boy finds entertaining. It’s oddly gauzy and off-hand about the boring grownup economics that are supposed to propel the plot — what is the Widow Reid raising on that ranch, besides fence stakes? Why would a dozen of the country’s most powerful railrood tycoons travel to a dusty Texas outpost to celebrate yet another encroachment on unpacified territory? On the other hand, great attention is given to the construction-set intricacy of vast gorge-spanning trestle bridges, life-sized-model-railway switches and couplings, and the acquisition of carefully-labelled explosives.
And at the heart of the movie is a vast sadness… and a sizzling anger. An ancient, damaged survivor explains to a child that the PROGRESS being celebrated at this American carnival, the “winning” of the American west, is founded on genocide, broken treaties, Civil War PTSD, and raw psychotic greed. (It’s like the anti-Life Is Beautiful, because America, Fvck Yeah!) A hero who wants to protect the powerless can only do so as an Out-law, because Locke’s rule of law has been perverted into whatever the rich and powerful want it to be. Hopscotching down the generations, the secret to self-preservation: Never take off the mask!