Stuff I thought was probably late-in-the day over-interpretation (like the idea that the Lone Ranger’s mask is made out of his dead brother’s jacket) turn out to go back to the TV show, if not to the original wireless version. The one substantive change is that the original Lone Ranger was a creature of the Westward expansion, whose every adventure contributed to the development of this great country of ours; the movie version (like Jack Sparrow) represents the last hi-ho of a dying age, starting his adventures just as the coast-to-coast railway is taming the wild West once and for all.
When you don’t have pictures, you need verbal signals to tell the audience what is going on. Radio Superman used to say “Up, up....and away” to signify that he was flying; radio Lone Ranger similarly said “Hi-ho silver...away!” to warn of an impending chase sequence. The TV series used spoken voice overs (quite effectively, based on my extensive survey of one and half episodes) to make the pictures more dramatic, but kept the “Hi-ho silver” catch phrase, must famously in the opening credits. When Armie Hammer delivers the line, Johnny Deep wearily replies "Never do that again." That joke arrived approximately 60 years too late.
There’s definitely some weird shit going on: when Tonto pours peanut shells over the graves of the murdered Texas Rangers in the “historical” segment, the little boys “modern” carnival peanut bag blows across the screen; Tonto is first seen as a waxwork in the exhibition, but then, without explanation, he comes to life. I would bet pence that the original idea was for the little boy in the Ranger suit to have been looking at museum tableaux of the Wild West and then imagining, or dreaming the story, with himself as the hero. Remember the poignant ending of the original Secret of Monkey Island RPG? (1)
It doesn’t work, of course. I lost track of the plot several mcguffins down; and the action is so relentless and over the top that a law of diminishing returns sets in quite quickly. (My heart sank particularly when we arrived at Helena Bonham Carter’s brothel.) On the other hand, the revelation of what the railway boss was planning to do with Tonto’s silver genuinely impressed me, and I can’t deny letting out a (very quiet) whoop of excitement when the Lone Ranger throws the silver bullet to his nephew. I wish that these heroes could be allowed to exist in something like their trashy pulpy context; part of what made Superman and the Lone Ranger and, er, Doctor Who seem so epic is that they appeared in an endless sequence of small adventures; saving America one homesteader at a time, every week for twenty years. An eighty year old radio show is very flimsy material to build a multi trillion dollar epic out of. But where Star Trek and Man of Steel and the Hobbit seem to hate their source material, the Lone Ranger seems to be created by people who love the masked rider of the plains and want to honour his memory. It's much better than I expected it to be, and very much better than it had any need to be.
(1) There’s a very odd moment when the boy interrupts the narrative to say that Tonto is getting the story wrong and that Dan Reid, not John Reid was the Lone Ranger. Tonto claims that “kemo sabe” means “wrong brother”. At first, I thought that this was some kind of continuity easter egg for advances Rangerologist. In the TV version, we are told that Daniel Reid is one of the murdered Rangers, and that he is the brother of the hero, but we pointedly don’t see the surviving Ranger’s face or find out what his first name is, although he had been called John on the wireless. But there doesn’t seem to have been any version in which he was called Dan.