Back in 2003, Warner had the bright idea to pretty much take the “Smallville” concept and apply it to the Lone Ranger. Rather than featuring a very young superhero, we were given a very young pulp hero. Except, they changed everything about the original hero. And tried their best to pass off a white cowboy hat and black mask as cool for modern audiences. There’s even a guitar version of the William Tell Overture in the closing credits. Guitars are cool, right? There’s a reason why Lone Ranger is a pulp character. He’s a wonderful superhero, but adjusted to contemporary style is not going to work.
To say the two hour movie was greeted with yawns and eye rolls is something of an understatement. I fondly remember Chad Michael Murray appearing on an entertainment show and being so utterly embarrassed to be involved with “The Lone Ranger” he spoke about it with condescending chortles, and insistence it was only a job. This is a guy who starred in “One Tree Hill,” of all shows. Rather than portraying John Reid (he’s related to the Green Hornet you know; look it up!), Murray plays Luke Hartman, a bookish young man who has noble intentions to fight crime and uphold the law. On the way to Harvard, he visits his brother in Dallas. Though his brother is a store owner, he’s also a part time ranger. Their reunion is cut short when his brother is called off to stop a group of outlaws named The Regulators.
Little do they know Luke’s brother’s best friend Kansas City Haas has betrayed the Rangers and murders the entire group of Rangers, including Luke. Luke survives long enough to be discovered by Tonto, who brings him to his tribe’s village to help him recuperate. To deflect the inherent homoeroticism of the Lone Ranger, Tonto is given a gorgeous sister (Anita Brown) for Luke to bounce sexually charged dialogue off of. From minute one it’s clear they want to bump uglies, thus Luke mainly strives to impress her rather than avenge his brother. Hell, she even jumps in to a hot tub with Luke at one point. And there’s not a lot of reason why Luke is called the Lone Ranger considering he’s not really a Ranger when he survives the murder attempt.
Further sidestepping the Lone Rangers’ undertones, the hero has a much more rugged and stylish costume to go with his mask, rather than the dapper bright suit and ascot. The origin of Luke becoming the Lone Ranger is routine and redundant with the usual hero journey tropes trotted out for the audience. The really interesting material involves Tonto who, in a twist, is doing business with Kansas City Haas. The tribe wants to buy guns from the white man to help them fight against them, but Haas is using the meetings to figure out the tribe’s numbers in an apparent plan to slaughter them and raid their village. Dylan Walsh fights an uphill battle to make Kansas City Hass an interesting villain, but not even he can salvage such a one dimensional cliche.
Nathaniel Arcand is interesting as a young Tonto, while everything else in the movie is generally goofy and insanely stupid. There’s really awful dialogue like “Sometimes I feel like my heart’s just gonna burst out, go flying around, make a big mess. You ever feel like that?” while the native Americans are your typical wise savages who speak in stilted bad English, except for Tonto and his sister who sound as if they spent a semester in NYU. But hey, it’s not all stereotypical, there is a scene where the Lone Ranger saves an African American couple from being killed by Kansa City Haas. Not surprisingly, the WB didn’t go forward with a series since “The Lone Ranger” was a ridiculous reboot of a pretty pulpy superhero. There is room for the Lone Ranger to be a fun superhero, just not in the realm of teen stars, and hard rock scores.