A central trope of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is that there's no place for Captain Jack Sparrow in the modern world of the British Empire and progress and stuff. The Lone Ranger transplants that idea — lots of people talk about the Future, as represented by the railroad and big business, and there's no place in the Future for someone like Tonto. And that Future, the one that Tonto is struggling against, is the world we live in, man.
Even though Tonto is telling the story and Tonto drives all of the action in the story, he's not the one who gets a real arc, and the movie isn't his origin story — it's about the titular character, the Lone Ranger. And it's the Lone Ranger's heroic journey where the film shows why you deserve to languish for two and a half hours that feel like an eternity.
[bold]Who the fuck does that masked man think he is?[/bold]
Imagine a Batman movie where people keep asking Batman why he's dressed as a freaking bat. And where Batman himself keeps looking embarrassed and telling everyone that he knows the bat costume is moronic, but it wasn't his idea. That's The Lone Ranger.
As far as I can tell, the main arc of this film is about the Lone Ranger learning the importance of wearing his mask. Almost the first words Johnny Depp speaks in the film are, "Never take off the mask."
The Lone Ranger spends most of the movie wearing the mask reluctantly, and at various points in the film he tries to take it off. Nobody apart from Tonto takes the mask seriously, until the end of the film. The hero's journey in this film, from the call to heroism to the final confrontation with the mean surrogate father, is all about the Lone Ranger embracing the mask that Tonto wants him to wear.
What makes the Lone Ranger finally embrace the need for his mask, and hence the whole "secret identity" thing? In a nutshell, he realizes his fellow white men are corrupt, and complicit in the mass murder of Tonto's fellow Native Americans. If he takes the mask off, then he too will wind up becoming complicit. Yes, that's right — in this film, the Lone Ranger's mask is made of White Guilt.
And in fact, the only function the Native Americans in this film have, other than Tonto, is to die horribly so that the Lone Ranger will have a catalyst to make him Man Up.
But it's more than that. We tend to think of superhero movies as power fantasies, in which the use of America's status as a superpower is reflected by the hero struggling to use his or her power responsibly. But Lone Ranger seems to be making the case that the real seductive fantasy of these stories is absolution from blame — the Lone Ranger gets the Native American seal of approval from Tonto, as long as he's wearing the mask. He gets surcease from America's original sin.
That's the secret of superheroes, according to this film: Peter Parker is a Tool of the Man, but Spider-Man is a free agent. Bruce Wayne is a capitalist running dog, but Batman fights for the little guy.
And that's why you deserve to suffer. Because a lot of innocent people had to die to make your costume fantasy possible, you bastards.
Along the way, we go through every terrible origin-story trope, including the sacrificial family member, the love interest who-can-look-after-herself-but-not-really, the hero being told how special he is, the cartoony but bland villains, etc. There's even a Fetish Babe: Helena Bonham Carter plays a sexy bordello madam, whose superpower is being a fetish icon. (She has an artificial leg made of ivory, with a gun hidden inside, and men are so busy worshipping her artificial leg, they don't notice she's shooting everything. I am not making a word of that up.)
In Depp and Verbinski's previous collaboration, Rango, they spoofed and interrogated the whole idea of the Hero's Journey — but here they go one better. They create the Platonic ideal of the crappy monomyth, maybe in the hopes that nobody will ever try and tell this story again.