As a man who well remembers playing with his boyhood ‘Lone Ranger’ action figure – and, incidentally, seeing him forced to date Barbie by his sisters – I can personally attest to the considerable anticipation filmgoers have felt waiting to see him take to the screen again. And what a wait it’s been! Disney’s The Lone Ranger has been killed and resurrected countless times over the last eleven years, a suitable back-story for a hero who represents a triumph over the grave.
The Lone Ranger is an iconic American hero whose creation for a 1933 radio show led to a slew of successful books, films and 221 television shows. Consequently the 2002 announcement that Columbia Pictures would bring ‘the masked man’ back received significant attention. However a decade of developing hell ensued with frequent changes in owners, producers and scriptwriters until Jerry Bruckheimer finally brought the concept to Disney. Even then the film was kept cooling its spurred heels until Bruckheimer’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean franchise were well out of the way. 2013 is the end of a long ride but surprisingly the result is remarkably faithful to the original story.
Armie Hammer (The Social Network; Mirror, Mirror) plays John Reid, the brother of a Captain in the Texas Rangers who is deputised to accompany his troop as it rides out to a rendezvous in a lonely canyon. The meeting turns out to be a trap and the lawmen are massacred. Their bodies are discovered and buried by Tonto (Johnny Depp), an Indian on his own quest for justice. Only, Ranger Reid refuses to die. Together he and Tonto create the persona of the Lone Ranger, and ride out to hold to account the bandit who killed his brother, and the railway magnate who pulls his strings.
This is the first incarnation of The Lone Ranger where his Indian companion receives top billing. It’s a measure of the respect Johnny Depp is held in as an actor that his depiction of a racial minority has not resulted in protests; it also doesn’t hurt that he’s an adopted son of the Comanche nation. Of course, his contribution includes most of the comic asides for which Depp has become well known for in productions like Pirates and Dark Shadows. However he’s also responsible for delivering the film’s driving force: the power of resurrection.
The heroic significance of The Lone Ranger lies in the impression that death cannot touch him. Tonto attaches a mystical imperviousness to his return from the grave:
“Horse says you are spirit walker, a man who has been to the other side and returned. A man who cannot be killed at all.”
And in true Bruckheimer style, the film is filled with wild stunts, long jumps and titanic explosions that fail to finish him off, to the point that villain Butch Cavendish complains Reid and Tonto, “… just don’t know when to stay dead.”
On one level this is just a popcorn film that’s explosive fun for the whole family. But is it any wonder that Hollywood builds its stories again and again around heroes who defy death, even those who die and return – Superman? Doctor Who? Ellen Ripley? Not to mention Depp’s own Jack Sparrow. We instinctively realize that a person who has faced-down that final villain has nothing left to fear. It’s been said that the Christian faith is built on just such a story. However the crucial difference in Jesus’ case is that history attests he needed no-one, least of all Tonto, to bring him back. As he assured his disciples,
“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”
That’s the power of a perfect life, one that death has no right to touch. So, though we may never manage to negotiate a path through Bruckheimer’s hail of bullets or ride a horse along a rocketing train, Christians should have no fear of the final stop. If we’re united to Jesus, we’re riding with the only man who didn’t need someone else to pull him out of the grave. And that’s the only way we can be guaranteed a happy ending.
Release Date: July 4, 2013