Reel Reviews

‘The Lone Ranger’

Audience:
L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling

 

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Not your father’s masked man

The golden-age radio program that first had America asking, “Who was that masked man?” was a favorite with youngsters, as too was the popular television series it later spawned.

So parents may assume, going in, that “The Lone Ranger” (Disney) – a big-screen attempt to provide an answer to that now 80-year-old question – is a family-friendly project geared to kids. Alas, for a variety of reasons, especially the film's treatment of religion, such an assumption would be dead wrong.

This eccentric and overlong reinterpretation of the familiar story centers not on the crime-fighting frontier hero (Armie Hammer) of the title, but on his faithful Native American companion, Tonto (Johnny Depp). When we first encounter Depp’s whimsical Tonto, he's an elderly man living, inexplicably, within a 1930s diorama of the Wild West.

Viewers are invited to feel their first enjoyable shiver of revisionist superiority as they observe that the display case holding Tonto labels him “The Noble Savage.” Oh, those insensitive Depression-era lug heads!

The chance visit of a boy in a Lone Ranger outfit provokes a stream of reminiscences from Tonto, during which he recounts the circumstances that initially brought him together with lawyer-turned-lawman John Reid, his future “Ke-mo sah-bee.” He also recalls their struggle to capture Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a viciously depraved outlaw one of whose crimes was to have a life-altering impact on Reid.

Set primarily amid the race to complete the transcontinental railroad -- with Tom Wilkinson playing train company executive Latham Cole, the shady driving force behind that effort – director Gore Verbinski’s action comedy offers a warning about the corrupting influence of greed. It also portrays, at least in accurate outline, the victimization of native peoples that resulted from the headlong pursuit of wealth and industrial expansion.

But one of the aspects of European culture that gets trounced is Christianity, with believers shown up as either weaklings or hypocrites.

Early on, one of the former, a Presbyterian church lady, invites Reid to pray with her during a train ride. In response, Reid holds up the book he's been reading on the journey – philosopher John Locke’s 1689 text “Two Treatises of Government” – and identifies it as “my Bible.”

Later, a cavalry officer who is responsible for massacring Indians repeatedly invokes God while ordering his troops into battle. And Cole, whose villainy becomes increasingly obvious, offers a smarmy grace that shows he uses God to his own purposes. By contrast, and in keeping with Hollywood’s current norms, Native American spirituality and values are generally glorified.

Add to these factors Cavendish’s taste for human flesh, the played-for-laughs proclivity on the part of one of his accomplices for wearing women’s clothes and a series of scenes in a brothel, and the resulting mix does not recommend itself for youthful – or even casual adult – consumption.

The film contains a negative treatment of Christian faith, considerable action violence with some gore, mature themes, including cannibalism and prostitution, a transvestite character, brief scatological imagery and humor and at least one crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

‘Man of Steel’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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Many times told tale fails

“Man of Steel” (Warner Bros.), director Zack Snyder’s take on the familiar narrative of Superman, has the makings of an engaging drama and features thematic elements that viewers of faith in particular can appreciate.

But this 3-D adventure’s positive potential winds up being squandered in favor of endless scenes of high-powered brawling and the pyrotechnics of innumerable explosions.

We all know the basic outlines of the tale: Born on distant Krypton, as an infant the iconic comic book hero (Henry Cavill) is sent to Earth by his parents (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) so that he can escape his home planet’s imminent destruction. Landing in the American heartland, he’s adopted by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who instill positive values and try to protect his secret.

This screen version weaves back and forth in time to fill us in on these facts even as investigative reporter – and future love interest – Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is hot on the trail of the adult Superman’s true identity. Though she’s ultimately ambivalent about the consequences of unmasking the mild-mannered drifter –
his career as Lois’ colleague still lies in the future – intergalactic events overtake her.

General Zod (Michael Shannon), an old enemy of Superman’s father Jor-El, arrives from space and threatens humanity with annihilation unless Superman surrenders to him. Flashbacks have already shown us Zod’s fascist tendencies and his failed coup against the lawful government of Krypton. Ironically, the sentence of exile Zod and his confederates received as punishment following their defeat saved them from perishing in Krypton’s apocalypse.

Zod’s ultimatum brings the obvious parallels between Superman and Jesus to the fore, and neither Goyer nor Snyder shows any reluctance to highlight them. As he ponders whether to sacrifice himself to save the human race, Superman visits a church and seeks the advice of a clergyman. During their conversation, he stands against the backdrop of a stained-glass window showing Jesus at prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Dialogue reveals in passing that Superman has reached the symbolically significant age of 33. And, as he launches himself into flight at one point, the superhero extends his arms in the manner of Christ on the cross.

Along with these theological flourishes, “Man of Steel” also includes plot details that touch on real-life moral issues. Thus Zod is committed to a form of eugenics that arose on Krypton in the lead-up to its disintegration. Under this scheme, children were bred to fulfill a predetermined social role and their lives before birth were spent not in their mother’s womb, but in an artificial atmosphere within which they were nurtured en masse.

Superman’s parents were completely opposed to this system, and saw to it that Superman became the first child on Krypton in many years born in the natural way. Their clashing views on this subject constituted one of the sources of conflict between Zod and Jor-El.

Flash forward, and Zod’s motivation in tracking Superman down is shown to be connected to his efforts to perpetuate the race of their vanished planet by a return to his favored method of social and genetic engineering. All of this might have been explored at some length had there not been a huge budget for special effects to expend. Or perhaps there was the lurking fear that adolescent boys would be bored by such subtleties.

Whatever the cause, all human interest the picture initially contains yields, in the end, to pure chaotic spectacle. Superman and his adversaries hurl each other about; skyscrapers are leveled and oil trucks ignited. Then it’s on to more of the same in a different locale.

Oh, well, as they say on Krypton, it was nice while it lasted.

The film contains much intense but bloodless violence, a fleeting sexual advance and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (June)

A
Across the Divide, A-II (no rating)
Admission, L (PG-13)
After Earth, A-III (PG-13)
Amour, L (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
B
The Big Wedding, O (R)
Bullet to the Head, O (R)
Bully, A-III (PG-13)
C
The Call, O (R)
The Croods, A-I (PG)
D
Dead Man Down, O (R)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
E
Epic, A-I (PG)
Evil Dead, O (R)
F
Fast & Furious 6, L (PG-13)
42, A-III (PG-13)
G
G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A-III (PG-13)
A Good Day to Die Hard, L (R)
The Great Gatsby, A-III (PG-13)
H
The Hangover Part III, L (R)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, O (R)
The Host, A-III (PG-13)
I
Identity Thief, L (R)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, L (PG-13)
Iron Man 3, A-III (PG-13)
J
Jack the Giant Slayer, A-II (PG-13)
K
Killer Elite, A-III (R)
L
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
M
Movie 43, O (R)
Mud, A-III (PG-13)
O
Oblivion, A-III (PG-13)
Olympus Has Fallen, L (R)
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, A-I (G)
Oz the Great and Powerful, A-II (PG)
P
Pain and Gain, O (R)
Peeples, O (PG-13)
Phantom, A-III (R)
The Place Beyond the Pines, L (R)
Q
Quartet, A-III (PG-13)
R
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, A-III (R)
Restless Heart, A-II (no rating)
S
Scary Movie 5, O (PG-13)
Skyfall, A-III (PG-13)
Something Borrowed, L (PG-13)
Star Trek Into Darkness, A-III (PG-13)
T
21 and Over, O (R)
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)
W
Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)