Which leads back to an alternate take on the movie, one that didn't really hit me until the end of the movie, when it felt like a full-on sledgehammer. We've established that Tonto is half crazy with grief, and the movie has also established a running metaphor of pocket watches as symbolic of betrayal (notably including a broken watch which indicates a moment that Tonto cannot let go or move past). Time has indeed betrayed his people, to the point where this former warrior is now a sideshow attraction - what if the entire movie is in fact a fantasy memory that masks the genocide of his people that he cannot bring himself to process, leading him to create a fiction in which he was a legendary hero? And what if, amid the glorious heroics, bits of that dark reality occasionally seep in, only to be pushed away by a new moment of (arguably false) triumph? In that context, all the tonal shifts and bizarre moments of magic - at one point, Silver is seen standing in a tree wearing a hat - make total sense.
Plus there are cannibal bunnies with fangs. I am not kidding.
As in Life of Pi, Tonto ultimately tells the kid it's up to him whether the story is true or not. But whether you read it as rollicking adventure or dark allegory, it's an odd take on a classic property that may alienate purists but is a marvel to behold. Hammer establishes himself as a convincing lead, while Depp once again goes out on a limb in a way that pays off and legitimately makes sense.
I suspect many of the naysayers wanted a more conventional Western; or, perhaps, a summer action movie that doesn't touch on genocide so much. I love what I think Verbinski has done...but I'm weird like that.