(RNS) Producers of the latest reboot of the “Superman” franchise famously marketed the movie to Christian audiences. Makers of the new “Lone Ranger” movie, not so much.

There’s a reason for that. If “Man of Steel” panders to Christians, in “The Lone Ranger,” Christians are portrayed as unattractive, ineffectual, hateful or flat-out hypocritically evil.

Lone Ranger movie photo courtesy disney.com

Lone Ranger movie photo courtesy disney.com


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Like so much in this mess of a movie, it’s an ingredient that doesn’t make a ton of sense.

(Spoiler alert: I’m not going to give away much, but if you’re the type who wants to know nothing about a movie, come on back after you see it.)

Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, “The Lone Ranger” can’t decide if it’s an homage to the graphically bloody Westerns of Sam Peckinpah or the slapstick of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.”

And yes, I get that it needs to restate the basic facts of the origin of the Ranger, but a previous Ranger movie handled that issue in a song that only took a bit more than two-and-a-half minutes (hi-yo! hi-yo!), including that stirring section from the William Tell Overture.

Religion and spirituality are wound through the plot of the new film. Some of it is about Christianity and a lot of it at least appears to be about American Indian beliefs.

The Indian stuff is tossed together as what seems to be pastiche or parody. Tonto is much more of an equal partner than sidekick here.

But from the dead bird on his head to never removing his war paint to some of the “religious” elements he tosses at the Ranger, he’s anything but authentic to anyone who knows even a smidge about real Comanche tribe beliefs and practices.

Halfway through the movie, however, we suddenly discover that Tonto is no-kidding crazy, left mentally unbalanced as a boy by the slaughter of his friends and family. Even the surviving members of his tribe laugh at him. Which I suppose gives us in the audience license to laugh, too. Ha ha.

Christianity doesn’t come off nearly as funny.

We first meet the man who will don the mask as he sits in a train car otherwise filled with annoyingly hymn-singing Presbyterians. Their musicians are crummy and their singing is off-key.

Video courtesy VISO Trailers via You Tube

Asked if he wants to join their prayers, the future Ranger brandishes a copy of John Locke’s “Two Treatises on Government” and explains, “This is my Bible.”

Attacked moments later by outlaws, the Presbyterian pastor’s attempt at a nonviolent resolution is met with a bullet to the leg. Take that, blessed peacemaker.

Later in the movie, we spot the pastor again, limping and wild-haired and all but frothing at the mouth as he screams “Heathen!” as the Ranger and Tonto ride by.

There’s at least one more prayer in the movie — offered by the man who turns out to be the most vile villain in the story. I guess we’re supposed to understand that as irony. Later the bad guy explains why he’s willing to slaughter so many innocents to gain power and money: “Nothing is accomplished without sacrifice.”

Which I suppose could be understood as an ironic inversion of the Christian message.

Clayton Moore (September 14, 1914 – December 28, 1999) was an American actor best known for playing the fictional western character The Lone Ranger from 1949–1951 and 1954-1957 on the television series. Photo courtesy Insomnia Cured Here via Flickr

Clayton Moore (September 14, 1914 – December 28, 1999) was an American actor best known for playing the fictional western character The Lone Ranger from 1949–1951 and 1954-1957 on the television series. Photo courtesy Insomnia Cured Here via Flickr


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Sectarian religion aside, the Lone Ranger has always been a morality play, upholding specific values. It takes a while for this movie’s Ranger to decide he really wants to take up the mask and mission. But when he does, he doesn’t seriously violate canon.

He defends the weak and protects the innocent. His pistols almost never run out of ammo. He can shoot the gun out of a bad guy’s hand.  (The writers of “Man of Steel” could have taken a lesson here: Superman never kills, guys.)

Fran Striker and George Trendle created the Lone Ranger as a radio show in 1933. Striker was the writer and, according to the Radio Hall of Fame, was aiming for a “solemn, honest hero who was ‘the embodiment of living prayer.’”

Striker famously wrote a creed of beliefs for his character. It begins:

“I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one.

“That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.

“That God put the firewood there but that every man must gather and light it himself.”

It ends with:

“In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.”

Nothing specifically Christian in any of it. But there’s nothing remotely disrespectful of any religion, either.

(Jeffrey Weiss is a Dallas-based religion writer.)

YS/AMB END WEISS

35 Comments

  1. Zig Misiak the ‘real’ TONTO, a new book July 19 2013 biography of Jay Silverheels, TONTO: The Man in Front of the Mask, http://www.realpeopleshistory.com/tonto.html

    This new book will help separate fact from fiction and help others, other than babyboomers who already know, understand the original Tonto aka Jay Silverheels. The book is respectful of the Native/First Nations perspective and portrayal as Jay’s relatives were interviewed and validated the information.
    To know the 2013 Tonto you have to know the ‘original’ Tonto aka Jay Silverheels from the 50′s movies……in order to make an informed decision and subsequent comments about the Depp version.

  2. David Thompson

    Your spoiler worked. I now have no interest in seeing the movie. Not because of religion bashing; that’s the only redeeming quality, but it just seems too convoluted and puerile to spend $100 on tickets, sodas and popcorn for the family. Thanks for your review.

  3. I have seen the movie and I loved it. It is played for laughs. if you want a true Lone Ranger, like the old TV series, don’t go see it. But if you want to just be entertained and laugh, it is a fun movie. As for the scene on the train. Have you ever heard a white protestant church group singing beautifully in a movie? No, you haven’t. This movie is no different than movies like Places in the Heart, Sgt. York, Shenandoah, or any other movie in which the white congregation sings. As for the Indian beliefs, it is very obvious that they are just being made up by Tonto. You cannot go into this movie expecting to learn something about the Lone Ranger story. Just have fun and don’t take anything seriously. And for heaven’s sake,don’t look for something that doesn’t exist.in the movie, like Christian bashing.

    • Why aren’t there more movie making fun of Jews? Perhaps they have too much dignity to mock themselves? But they love mocking Whites and Whites love to be mocked, evidently. And humor is so, so important. Far more than Dignity, evidently. As long as you laugh at the right White People – Conservatives, Christians – Racists in other words.J

      • The Other Person

        Ummm… have you never seen a Mel Brooks movie? He pokes fun of his own people all the time, in almost every single movie he’s ever done. And he’s not the only one.
        Pagans get “demonized” all the time in entertainment, not even in a joking manner. Where’s your outrage?
        Your post is at best hypocrisy.

    • One of the problems in America is everyone is too busy having fun and just wanting to be entertained. I guess we will get serious when it is too late. I pray you are not too disappointed in the final judgement, it wont be a lot of fun for most.

  4. My wife and I went to see this movie yesterday ($15, including popcorn and ice water). We did not go to see and inspirational movie or a genuine retelling of the original—which I listened to on the radio and watched on the family’s first B&W TV in the early 50s. This was a spoof from beginning to end. It was slapstick funny—modern vaudeville on the big screen—nothing more.

    As far as Christian bashing, that has been a common theme in TV and movies for at least 40 years. It has become more vitriolic and desperate, but Satan knows his attack on Christians in all circumstances is a sum-zero game. In the end, he will have nothing—less than nothing—and the whole world will stand before the Great White Thone.

    When Elmer Gantry came out, I saw what I knew to be the greedy, carnal side of popular Christianity—flashy preachers in thousand dollar suits, thousand dollar shoes and thousand dollar gold watches. The world saw it as well.

    “Put your hands on the TV and ask G— to heal you!”
    “Send me $20 and I’ll send you a prayer cloth blessed on the Mount of Olives.”
    “Send in five dollars and I will send you an free autographed picture of Jesus Christ.” (I heard this very con on the radio when I was 10 years old.)

    In the largest Baptist church in town when I was in high school, the church secretary got pregnant by the music director—both married to someone else. Then there’s the epidemic of child abuse by Catholic priests that has gone on as long as there’s been Catholicism. On one hand, carnal Christianity has set itself up for ridicule by the world, and by extension, Satan.

    So, I’m not too bothered by the world’s attacks on Christians. Jesus said the world would hate us because they hated Him first. I’m more concerned about the Christian corporation that is called “church”—that supplies the world with fodder to attack us.

    We love the Lord Jesus Christ. We donate to worthy Christian organizations rescuing starving children and persecuted Christians in the Middle & Far East and preaching the Gospel and distributing Bibles to Muslims in Turkish refugee camps. But I do not give a dime to big box churches with million dollar budgets. I cannot find justification for that in the Bible. I’m not questioning anyone’s salvation, just unscriptural programs and financing.

    The bottom line here is that a movie full of satire for everything and everyone, including itself, is not a major cause of concern for me.

    • Again, I’m grateful for your statement. It is clear that some people want to make trouble where it really doesn’t exist. We must be on our toes when it comes to anti-Christian rhetoric, but this reviewer is stooping pretty low to find something, anything about which to complain. Mr. Weiss might as well be running through the streets wild-haired and screaming “heathens” himself. For Heaven’s Sake!

  5. Wow! This is why I never pay any attention to supposed critics. Not everything has to be a lesson in morality, religion, ethics, history, or anything else for that matter. It’s Hollywood for crying out loud! Sometimes you just want to be entertained and leave all the nervous lip biting about the world today alone for a little while. For all intents and purposes, I’m as big a believer in Christianity as there is these days, and I was not offended nor did I take any great lesson or message out of what had me laughing and enjoying myself for nearly the whole movie. What a lot of nonsense to try and ascribe hidden meanings to something like this. I thought it was great fun and am not any the less for having viewed it. LOL

  6. The movie was great entertainment…just what it was meant to be. I don’t go to movies for a message or social commentary or any kind and am most annoyed by Hollywood when it tries to convert me to the “green movement” or some such. Personally, I positively believe that the “low box office” The Lone Ranger has received is directly related to the ridiculously biased “reviews” by individuals who think all movies should be “art house” dribble.

  7. I don’t intend to see the movie. Hollywood is so bereft of good ideas that all they can come up with frequently is movies about radio shows and comic book characters.
    The world is full of exciting people and events, both current and past, so, one would think that better movies could be made, as in the 1930′s and 1940′s.

    Alas and alack, it is not happening.

  8. You know what is slapstick? The word “tonto” translated from spanish to english means “fool”. So the laugh about the lone rangers side kick being a tonto in the old television series is even better in this movie since tonto is certifiably a fool!

  9. A.Yeshuratnam

    Although there is a veiled attempt to attack Christianity, the Presbyterian pastor’s attempt to free the Indian from the Comanche tribe beliefs and practices.was not a failure. Missionaries who worked among the Indians have completely modernized and civilized them.They are no more enslaved by cruel tribal rituals and superstition.

  10. I’m disgusted that people can be so rude as to actually leave comments that disrespect the writer of this review. If you want to write your own atheist view on this movie or on Christian ideals, find a blogsite or a review site and write your own. Don’t try to insert it as a “comment” under someone else’s post. And don’t keep coming back two or three times to reititerate your point and then to try to get everyone to join on your “band wagon” of thought. Again, write your own blog. There are plenty of opportunities.

    • The Other Person

      Oh this is nothing.
      You should see all the hatred and vile “Christians” randomly post on sites for atheists, Pagans, and others.
      You’re not special, contrary to your own deluded belief. All faiths (and non-faiths) deal with it.

      Besides, site needs a name change if it’s only for Xians. “Religion News” means all religions. Not just your “I believe it therefore it’s the only true religion” religion.

  11. Steve Barry (@uzh77)

    What, exactly, does this have to do with atheism? Just because it doesn’t pander to religion (in this case Christianity), it is somehow atheism? Look up ‘atheism’ in the dictionary.

  12. This movie was far more anti-religion than Mr. Weiss describes. The military general yells “for God and country” just before using machine guns to slaughter Indians. They purposefully focus attention on the lead villain praying grace before dining with his captive whom he hopes to take from the hero. The scene Weiss describes where the minister screams “heathens” is meant to depict Christians as intolerant since the mob is specifically upset that there was an Indian patron in the bar/brothel.

    • The Other Person

      So actually it’s depicting real life. Or you’re living in a cave and don’t realize it. Christians can be* some of the most intolerant people ever met, thanks to their “one true religion” delusion that they insist must be shoved down the throats of everyone else who hasn’t fallen for it.

      *Not lump-summing all of them.

  13. My pen is huge

    We saw the film this past Sunday, and even though it came out the weekend or two earlier, the theater was almost full. The audience laughed and clapped and a good time was had by all. Looking at most of the comments here, from Christians who haven’t even SEEN the film – their portrayal in the film was spot on. Hi Ho Silver!

  14. The problem sadly is that many Christians are “unattractive, ineffectual, hateful or flat-out hypocritically evil.” We get portrayed this way because we do little to change the minds of those who would criticize and after all, “art imitates life.”

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