This depiction of Native Americans in The Lone Ranger actually serves an even deeper revision of the genre, as it posits war as the underlying oppressor in American society. Here's how it's done: In making Tonto and Reid equals, the filmmakers are able to give them a mutual enemy. This is Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a railroad magnate trying to lay tracks from Texas to California. A treaty between the U.S. and the Indian tribes has prevented him from building on tribal lands, so he makes it look like the Comanches--Tonto's tribe--have broken the agreement, thus opening up their land for train travel. The turn of events will lead to war--and Indian genocide at the hands of the U.S. Cavalry. But who could make a fuss over the survival of an indigenous people when there are American dollars to be made?
It comes across like a Western as told by Howard Zinn, a shocking change for a genre that has leaned conservative in all things. Unlike previous Westerns, in which Indians were seen as an obstacle to American economic expansion, the historical perspective inherent in The Lone Ranger shows the same story from the other side and suggests that American business interests were the driving force behind the Indian massacres. There may be a lot of professors at liberal arts colleges who agree, but you'll be unable to find that point of view in more than a couple of movies through the Western's long history.
This may be a new perspective for its genre, but a variant of it has been amazingly common in other summer blockbusters, particularly those released this year. And its implications hit far closer to home than the events of the 19th century. You can learn a lot about a film's values from examining the motivations of its villains, and you can learn a lot about a society--or at least what Hollywood thinks society want to hear--when it produces three mainstream movies in a few months that gives its villains the exact same motivation. Iron Man 3, White House Down, and The Lone Ranger span cinematic categories--respectively, we have a comic-book film, a political action thriller, and a Western--but each of their stories portrays war, and implicitly the War on Terror, as caused by corporations and greed.
In Iron Man 3, we are introduced to an Osama Bin Laden-like terrorist named the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley), who is carrying out attacks on American military bases. But halfway through the film, we learn--spoiler alert--that the Mandarin is just a decoy character dreamed up by a scientist to provide cover for his experimentation on war veterans. The film's writer/director Shane Black explained this major plot twist as "a message that's more interesting for the modern world, because I think there's a lot of fear that's generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what's behind them." The Iron Man franchise laid the groundwork for this subtext from its first film, which featured Jeff Bridges as a greedy arms dealer who was arming the a Taliban-like terrorist group to drive sales.