A Live Viewing of the Weirdest Disney Movie of All Time

For me, The Lone Ranger was the most puzzling movie of 2013. Yes, even more so than Iron Man 3 and G.I. Joe Retaliation. Ever since I watched it the first time, I’ve been trying to sort out what I think about it, but so far I haven’t really gotten anywhere. Today I find myself with time on my hands, so I am going to try something different. I am going to put the movie on and attempt to write about it as I am watching it. This will be a new experience for me, since with every other post I’ve done I haven’t written about the movie until after I was done watching it.

All right, here goes nothing.

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First observation: the frame story. For some reason I can’t quite comprehend, the movie starts in San Francisco in the 1930’s, at some kind of fair or exhibition, where a little kid in a familiar-looking white hat and black mask combo walks into a Wild West exhibit. He looks around a bit and comes to a stop at a display of a very old-looking Native American man. A plaque reads “The Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat.” The boy thinks it’s a statue, until it looks at him. The old man seems struck by the boy’s appearance, and mutters “Kemo Sabe?”

Most kids and their parents watching the movie in the theater at this point are probably wondering what movie they wandered into.

The kid takes off his mask and asks, “Who did you think I was anyway?” The old man looks away from him and mutters, “Never take off mask.” The movie then cuts to a flashback of Tonto and The Lone Ranger robbing a bank. The boy is confused by this, since he didn’t The Lone Ranger and Tonto went in for that sort of thing. “There comes a time, kemo sabe, when all good men must wear mask.”

Then the movie cuts to Colby, Texas, in 1869, where the Transcontinental Railroad is being built (although I’m pretty sure the Transcontinental Railroad didn’t go through Texas at all). So most of the movie is seen in flashbacks as Tonto tells his story to the boy.

Back in 1869, notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish is being brought to Colby to be hanged, and wouldn’t you know that our mild-mannered hero John Reid is on the same train with him, as is Tonto. Tonto and Cavendish are both prisoners. It’s clear that Butch’s men are going to break him out. In the prison car, Butch is twisting a nail out of a floorboard, and there’s a close-up shot of his torn and bloody fingers, which is a disturbing image for a Disney movie. He removes the floorboard and takes out a gun, and promptly kills the two men guarding him and Tonto.

2013 villains cavendish

Butch’s men board the train and kill several passengers. So at least five people in this Disney movie have already been killed by outlaws. Tonto and John end up chained together and there’s a genuinely disturbing shot of some of Butch’s men terrorizing the passengers, forcing them to sing songs while guns are being pointed in their faces. One woman tries to take a ring off her finger and screams “I can’t get it off!” while a creepy-looking guy waves a gun in her face. It reminds me of the upsetting scene near the end of Dirty Harry where the killer forces a school bus full of hostage children to sing songs while he waves a gun around.

There are some funny sight gags involving John and Tonto being chained together on the top of a train and inadvertently taking out a few bad guys. The train ends up crashing spectacularly and I have to admit that the special effects are impressive.

Okay, I realized something. I’m getting too caught up in plot summary, so I’m going to try to curtail that a bit or this post is going to be a thousand years long. I described the first part in so much detail partly because I wanted to try to get across the really weird first impressions you get from this movie.

Did I mention Tonto has a dead bird on his head and gives it food throughout the movie? But the bird is, obviously, dead, so he just ends up sprinkling bird seeds or peanuts or whatever down the front of his face.

So John heads out with his brother Dan the heroic Texas Ranger and a group of other Rangers to try to track down Butch, but a member of their group betrays them and they all get killed except for John.

So just in case anyone was wondering, this Disney movie has a body count in the double digits and we’re less than forty minutes in.

Did I also mention that Butch Cavendish shoots John and Dan and then cuts out Dan’s heart and eats it in front of John? And that this happens in a Disney movie? Sure, it isn’t seen explicitly (you see the reflection in John’s eyes as he watches), but the fact remains that Dan the heroic Texas Ranger ends up coughing up blood before Butch cuts out his heart and eats it in front of the dying man’s brother. Butch’s blood-drenched hands and face are clearly shown, as is Dan’s bloody corpse.

I mean, holy shit. Bloodiest Disney movie ever? Um, yes.

And then the movie cuts back to old Tonto talking to the little kid! The kid is confused because he thought Dan was the Lone Ranger, not John. Then the movie cuts back to Tonto burying the dead Rangers, except for John who is somehow not dead despite having been shot in the chest. THEN, this white horse shows up and starts pawing around John, despite Tonto’s protests that the so-called “Spirit Horse” bring Dan back to life instead of John. So THEN, Tonto ties John to the back of the horse and starts dragging him along behind them, AND THE MOVIE ACTUALLY STOPS TO LET THE HORSE POOP, AND THEN JOHN’S HEAD GETS DRAGGED THROUGH THE POOP. And did I mention that Butch Cavendish was shown peeing in a bucket earlier?

Less than an hour into this DISNEY MOVIE and we’ve got a bizarre frame story, an unreliable narrator, a double-digit body count, a gruesome act of cannibalism, some quasi-spiritualism, and multiple bodily functions. Not to mention Tonto’s bizarre appearance.

Skipping ahead a bit, John wakes up and he and Tonto end up sitting around a campfire, roasting what appears to be a rabbit. Some other cute little bunnies appear and watch them. Tonto tears off a chunk of meat and tosses it to the bunnies, who SUDDENLY BARE SHARP FANGS AND SCREECH WEIRDLY AND POUNCE ON THE MEAT CHUNK.

WHAT?!?!

Where the HELL did the vampire bunnies come from?!?! All that other stuff was weird, but at least it kind of serves a purpose to the plot, mostly.

Okay, okay, so John and Tonto end up agreeing to hunt down Butch Cavendish. They start by looking for the traitor in Dan’s group of Rangers who sold them out to Cavendish, and the first place they look is in a BROTHEL.

“Are all these women…professionals?” John asks Tonto. And yes, they clearly are. There is more cleavage in this scene than in just about every other movie I saw last year put together. And Helena Bonham Carter plays a one-legged brothel madam with a shotgun hidden in her fake leg! And then there’s something about a cursed rock and John has some weird visions and Tonto doesn’t like cats and runs around with a bird cage on his head and the white horse drinks a bottle of booze and what the hell is even happening.

Dear God, this movie is all over the place. I’m trying to keep up with watching and writing at the same time, but it’s not easy. I’ve had to pause a few times to catch up. And also, a guy in this movie gets freaking SCALPED.

I know you’re trying to process all this. So am I.

lone ranger poerp

Good luck processing this next bit: later, John and Tonto question a CROSS-DRESSING bad guy, and when the bad guy runs away and rejoins his fellow bad guys, he says, and I swear to God I am not making this up, “They was goin’ to violate me with a duck foot!”

Yes. Rape with a foreign object is implied in this DISNEY MOVIE. I feel that ellipses are the only way to express my feelings on this.

I don’t know who the makers of this film thought they were making it for. The appearances of two of the main characters are too frightening and there is too much dark violence for kids, and the movie is so pervasively weird that it’s hard to imagine it appealing to many adults on anything other than nostalgia.

And this movie cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 225 to 250 million dollars to make, not to mention another $150 million spent on marketing. I honestly can’t fathom why Disney acted all surprised when this movie tanked at the box office. It couldn’t be more all over the place.

lone ranger poster

The rest of the plot has to do with an evil railroad baron’s scheme to extend the railroad through Comanche territory, or something. In the process, an entire Comanche tribe is machine-gunned in one scene, which probably brings the body count pretty close to triple digits.

This movie is a giant bundle of contradictions. There’s a lot of dark, bloody violence and genuinely disturbing imagery, a very suggestive brothel scene, and the plot is too complicated for little kids to understand. There’s also quite a bit of drinking and quite a few uses of “damn” and “hell,” which is pretty mild language but still a bit much for a kids movie. And with a running time of 149 minutes, it’s also punishingly long.

And YET, there are things to like. The movie was directed by Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, and he has a hell of an eye for striking visuals. The scenery in the film is pretty stunning, and the special effects, costumes, sets, and the like all look great, and the climactic train chase is suitably epic.

The movie is also pretty well-acted. Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner are great as the villains, and Armie Hammer is appealingly stoic and likable as the title character, although he gets second billing to Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto.

Depp’s performance is a bit of a mystery, however. He has this bemused expression on his face for much of the film, though in yet another of this movie’s many contradictions, it’s hard to tell if he’s acting or simply, I don’t know, reacting. His character is certainly memorable, despite his strangeness.

 lone ranger bemused

And the REALLY weird thing is that you can’t trust anything in the movie, because old Tonto is an unreliable narrator. The viewer spends the entire movie doubting Tonto’s sanity, and therefore you cannot trust anything he tells the young boy in the frame story. Who knows how much, if any, of Tonto’s story is true? How much of it is he just making up? How much of it has become warped in his mind?

And for little kids who go to see Disney movies, this sort of storytelling is far too sophisticated for them to understand. One wonders why they even bothered to include the frame story at all.

Is this movie an action movie? Black comedy? Drama? Horror? Family? I have no idea, and clearly the movie doesn’t either.

And all of this, my friends, leads us to the most puzzling thing of all.

I didn’t hate this movie.

In fact, I kind of liked it.

Why? I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s the sheer audacity of the whole thing. That sense of, “Screw it, let’s just throw all this stuff at the wall and see what sticks.” The movie really is completely unlike any other movie I saw in 2013, and that certainly makes it more memorable than any other random six-pack of generic blockbusters.

You could call it a noble failure, perhaps. I dunno. Call it what you will. It’s worth a watch, just to experience the weirdness for yourself. And it’s hard not to feel a stir of emotion when the classic William Tell Overture starts playing at the beginning of the climactic train chase. And also at the end of the film, when old Tonto tells the young boy to decide for himself how much of the story is true, there’s a certain wistful quality that I like. I don’t think this movie will necessarily be remembered as a misunderstood classic or anything, but I could see it developing a cult following.

I’ll leave you with one final line from this messed-up masterpiece:

The Lone Ranger: “Hi-Yo Silver, Away!”

Tonto: “Don’t ever do that again.”

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2013: The Year in Villainy

2014 is almost here, and with it, the yearly “Best-of” lists from all corners of the Interwebs. Best movies, best books, best TV shows, best Tuesdays, you name it. But we don’t really go for that sort of thing here at thezombieroom. Instead, we prefer to reflect on the year in all of its evil cinematic glory. Here then, in no particular order aside from the first two, are my favorite movie villains from 2013.

NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of ALL movie villains from 2013, just my favorites. Not included are any villains from movies I haven’t seen yet. Also, there may be SPOILERS.

Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness

 2013 villains khan

My favorite villain of the year was Khan, played so wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness. He was everything a classic movie villain should be: a smooth, suave, super-smart, creepy badass. It was a very good year for the Batch of Cumbers. He gave a great performance as Khan, and made him into a character you could feel sympathy for instead of just a two-dimensional bad guy. Even though it’s a character who’s appeared in other versions of Star Trek, Cumberbatch put his own spin on Khan, turning him into a guy you kind of felt sorry for (sort of), even as he was committing horrible acts of evil. It just didn’t get any better for cinematic villainy in 2013.

Kruger in Elysium

 2013 villains kruger

Coming in at a very close second is Kruger, played by the wonderful Sharlto Copley. In addition to having an awesome name, Copley is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. I’ve only seen him in three films (District 9, The A-Team, and Elysium), but in those three films he’s shown he has a lot of range as an actor. The characters he plays in all three of those movies are completely different, but he makes all of them work. The character of Kruger in Elysium isn’t as multilayered as Khan in Star Trek, which is a little unfortunate. Not much explanation is given for his psychotic evil badness, so he is admittedly a bit two-dimensional in that respect. You could also argue that the lack of backstory for him makes him even creepier, but what is never in doubt is that holy crap is he scary. Copley turns him into the kind of character who scares the crap out of you, but at the same time his performance is so magnetic he steals every scene he’s in.

General Zod in Man of Steel

 2013 villains zod

Zod is a classic example of a bad guy who is 100% convinced that what he’s doing is right. He’s motivated, and he’s committed, and that makes him scary. Man of Steel was a controversial movie among superhero fans, I still stand behind it as a good movie, although some of its flaws have become more apparent to me. Michael Shannon’s performance as Zod, however, is not one of those flaws. Shannon gives an intense, crazy-eyed performance that makes Zod a formidable enemy for the Man of Steel. One of the problems I’ve had with Superman as a character is that it’s hard to be concerned about him when his survival is never in doubt because he’s so much more powerful than everyone else, but Zod turns that into a moot point. When the hero is as powerful as Superman, you need a villain who is just as powerful, and Zod fits that description nicely.

Viper and Silver Samurai in The Wolverine

 2013 villains viper

I really like The Wolverine. It got a mixed reception, but the more I watch it the more I like it. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t really like the character of Viper, I guess I didn’t get what her purpose was in the story. But on subsequent viewings, something clicked for me. She’s extremely creepy, especially in the face-peeling scene above. I also understood more how she fit into the story, so that helped.

 2013 villains silver samurai

I am also a big fan of the Silver Samurai. He’s so fricking cool. There’s a plot twist involving him that I know turned some people off, which I can understand. But for me it worked. Two memorable villains in a movie that was, for me, the best X-Men related movie since X2, all the way back in 2003.

The Kaiju in Pacific Rim

 2013 villains kaiju

Guillermo Del Toro loves monsters. The monsters in Pacific Rim are of both the mechanical and biological kind, and they are all badass. They’re big, scary, and extremely powerful. The kaiju are the towering Godzilla-esque monstrosities that emerge from the sea to destroy us. Just look at that big dude up there. You don’t need me to tell you why he’s awesome. Del Toro’s monsters speak for themselves.

The Mandarin (sort of) in Iron Man 3

 2013 villains mandarin

Ok, so, everyone knows by now that Ben Kingsley’s character wasn’t actually the Mandarin, right? He was just a decoy and Guy Pearce was the real villain. It’s a weird plot twist, and (as with much of the plot of Iron Man 3) I’m not entirely sure where it came from. The reveal that Kingsley’s character was just a drunk, washed-up stage actor was kind of funny, even if it didn’t make much sense. Guy Pearce is a great actor who plays a great bad guy, even if his character’s motivation in Iron Man 3 also didn’t make much sense.

You know what? Let’s just move on.

The Zombies in World War Z

 2013 villains zombies

This movie caused a bit of a furor among fans of the book when the first trailer was released, showing the movie’s unconventional take on the undead. This is another movie I like more with repeat viewings, and I think the filmmakers deserve credit for putting a new twist on the zombie-apocalypse subgenre, even though the movie’s zombies are pretty much the polar opposite of the book’s zombies. The movie and the book may share the same title, but I think they should each be taken on their own terms.

Space in Gravity

 2013 villains space

This one is a bit existential, since the villain of this film wasn’t an actual physical entity. But was any other villain as relentlessly committed to killing its film’s protagonist as outer space was? Seriously, space really, REALLY wanted Sandra Bullock dead. Gravity is a harrowing 90 minutes, and makes you grateful to be standing on solid ground.

Owen Shaw in Fast and Furious 6

 2013 villains shaw

Fast Five was a fun movie, but its villains were a bit boring. Drug cartel bosses and corrupt cops are boring. With Fast Six, they fixed that problem with Owen Shaw, a thoroughly dastardly fellow played by an actor I like named Luke Evans who always kinda reminds me of Orlando Bloom only, you know, manlier. He kidnaps the wife of one of the protagonists and runs over a bunch of civilians in a tank, so you know he’s not messing around. When you can hold your own in a fight with Vin Diesel and Dwayne “Samoan Thor” Johnson, your bad guy cred is pretty high in my opinion.

The Blanks in The World’s End

2013 villains network

The World’s End was my favorite movie of 2013, and its glowy-eyed robots were both funny and creepy, much like the villains in the previous two films of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright’s epic Cornetto Trilogy.

Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger

2013 villains cavendish

The Lone Ranger was the weirdest movie I saw in 2013. The WTF factor of this movie was higher than both Iron Man 3 AND G.I. Joe Retaliation, which for me is really saying something. I still don’t know what to make of this movie, but one thing I do know is that William Fichtner gave a great performance as Butch Cavendish, the cannibalistic outlaw whose gruesome visage is way too scary for a kid’s movie.

Loki and Malekith in Thor: The Dark World

 2013 villains loki

Loki is a great character, he’s got to be one of the most charming villains around. He’s so popular that fans want him to get his own movie. Who knows if it’ll ever happen, but it would be fun to see. You can tell that Tom Hiddleston has a blast playing this character, and it’s not hard to see why. He has so much personality and is always fun to watch. You’re never quite sure what’s going on in that scheming head of his, and an unpredictable character is an interesting character.

 2013 villains malekith

Malekith doesn’t have as much personality as Loki, but he’s still a badass villain with plenty of equally-badass henchmen, and he proves to be a formidable opponent for The Mighty Thor. You probably wouldn’t guess that he’s played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, which is also pretty cool.

So there you have it, thezombieroom’s annual roundup of the cream of the crop in cinematic villainy. Who knows what dastardly evil awaits us in 2014?

Happy New Year, everyone!