Hi-Yo, Silver... Er, OK: Hints of Trouble with 'The Lone Ranger'

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Disney has released its first teaser trailer for next year's big (and we mean big) movie adaptation of the beloved old series The Lone Ranger, and for the most part it looks like a pretty straightforward summer action yarn. After all, it's directed by Gore Verbinski, who made a mint for the House of Mouse with his Pirates of the Caribbean movies, slightly wry but still family-friendly tweaks of a classic property that were, while steadily dwindling in quality from film to film, all reasonably enjoyable outings. So The Lone Ranger, would, at first glance, seem like a similar property. But there's trouble lurking around its edges.

Budget-wise, the film seems a bit of a mess. After having its budget cut to $215 million, the production ballooned back up to $250 million while experiencing delays and setbacks. These kind of budget issues aren't always a sign that a movie is bad, but all the issues do indicate that Verbinski might not be guiding the wagon train with as much navigational prowess as is required for such a massive undertaking. The production also suffered a tragic death two weeks ago, which doesn't indicate anything about the movie exactly, but does at least cast a pall that a summertime blockbuster would rather not have. So it has not been smooth sailing, excuse me, horseback riding, which could spell disaster or ultimately mean nothing at all.

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To our mind, the bigger and more concrete problem is Tonto. It's one thing for perpetual clown Johnny Depp to put on weird wigs and do silly voices as Willy Wonka or The Mad Hatter, but to do an homage to this problematic Native American character? That's significantly more risky. This may just be your dreaded kneejerk PC sensitivity, but the enterprise strikes us as troublesome. It's not exactly a matter of Depp's race — he says he is part Native American, after all (though, he should maybe talk to Elizabeth Warren about how to best handle statements like those) — it's more that Tonto the character was always a bit, y'know, stereotypical. Sure he's cool and competent and from the looks of this teaser he gets lots of awesome, badass things to do, but the movie ain't called Tonto, it's called The Lone Ranger. So we do again have the issue of the noble savage playing second-fiddle sidekick to the gleaming white guy (played here by the gleamingest of white guys, Armie Hammer). Sure Depp has said that this movie is an effort to redo the relationship, to make some amends for the creaky and offensive Tonto of old, but a racial/cultural corrective is awfully murky territory for an enormously expensive summertime popcorn flick to explore. Who knows, maybe the whole thing will come off swimmingly, but the drabness of this little glimpse doesn't make us terribly optimistic.

Anyway, this is, again, just a tiny peek, so we'll have to reserve real judgment until next year. But right now we can't imagine anyone getting too excited about this, and are glumly anticipating some degree of Tonto factor backlash. It's one thing when Robert Downey Jr. does blackface as a daring meta joke, it's another when some version of that is done in earnest.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.