If you plan to go to “The Lone Ranger,” and you're of a certain age, it's best to put the 1949-57 television series out of your head. This movie has very little in common with the spirit or tone of that show.
In fact, they should have retitled the movie “Tonto.” Johnny Depp, as Tonto, is clearly the lead character, not the sidekick — smarter and craftier than his Kemosabe (that's Native American for faithful friend).
The characters are different, too. The movie gets some latitude on that, since this is an origins story that takes you back to the first time Tonto and the Lone Ranger's meet and tells how they became partners in fighting outlaws.
Young people, for whom this movie was made, probably won't care about the old radio and TV shows on which it's based. They'll probably like that the movie's Tonto is bizarre enough to be a descendant of Capt. Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” (same director, Gore Verbinski).
This Tonto wears a dead crow on his head. He symbolically feeds it grain. His face is covered in dried, cracked white paint with black stripes. He can't understand white men. He listens to the Great Spirit, yet has a totally contemporary sense of irony.
And Lone Ranger John Reid, as played by Armie Hammer, is a naive, citified prosecutor who does not believe in the violence of the gun. At first.
But he gets there, after a dastardly outlaw named Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) kills his Texas Ranger brother, Dan, and kidnaps his nephew and sister-in-law, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), who happens to be the love of his life.
So the movie becomes a comedy of mismatched heroes. The pure white spirit horse (that's Silver to us old-timey fans) has chosen this John Reid as a Spirit Walker, a man with special powers. So all Tonto can do is shake his head, crack wise and try to shepherd this bozo toward wearing a mask.
But wait. It's not wry comedy all the time. Not when Cavendish is literally dining on Dan Reid's heart. Or when a racist cavalry officer (Barry Pepper) is mowing down Indians with gatling guns. Or when an evil railroad tycoon (Tom Wilkinson) tries to start a fake Indian war so he can steal their silver lode. Or when cold-blooded murder gets up-close and personal.
Then again, the old Lone Ranger theme song, “The William Tell Overture,” proves to be a thrilling accompaniment to digitally enhanced action sequences that involve dynamite, nitroglycerine, guns and arrows, and three runaway trains (two simultaneous), atop which our heroes try to win the day with bizarre methodology.
To sum it up, this movie has wild mood swings and an identity crisis. It's fun and funny sometimes, black and grim other times, and makes little effort to cling to any shreds of credibility in how things play out, or even how trains move.
The linking up of the transcontinental railroad has been switched from Promontory Point, Utah, to Promontory Summit, Texas, for heaven's sake (no summit in sight, by the way).
Throw in Helena Bonham Carter as a one-legged cathouse madam, Saginaw Grant as a noble Indian chief, and some kid at a 1933 Wild West Show show in San Francisco, turning the whole thing into a flashback with multiple internal flashbacks, and you've got a movie.
Or a mess of a story concocted to accommodate some fun humor and the occasional entertaining action sequence.
I'm a Depp fan, and an Armie Hammer fan. Both have had better days than this.