You can imagine The Lone Ranger's inception meeting at Disney. "I want to make a blockbuster based on a pop-culture phenomenon from the 1930s," comes the pitch. "It's a Western… for kids!" Absolute silence. "I'll need a budget of around $250 million, and it's going to be two and a half hours long." Concerned faces all round. Some papers are shuffled. There is some giggling at the back. "Oh, and did I mention I'm Gore Verbinski, director of the unfathomably successful Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise?" A beat. "Where do you want your truck full of money parked, sir?" comes the studio's reply.
Tonally uneven and with a running time likely to leave little ones saddle sore, it's not difficult to see why audiences in the US left this Ranger well alone. In truth, The Lone Ranger is far from the disaster some critics have pegged it as: it's admirable in scale, features two charismatic leads in Depp and Armie Hammer, and climaxes with a joyous train heist sequence set to the rollicking sounds of Hans Zimmer's take on the William Tell Overture. The problem is you have to sit through two hours of dry, barren blockbuster to get your reward.
By now, Depp can pull off quirky characters like this in his sleep, but Pirates scribes Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio give Tonto the bulk of the back-story, if not the emotional range to make it matter. Hammer is far more lively as Reid, giving what could have been a bland leading role some much needed comedic edge. Frequently the pair detour to shoehorn in an unnecessary set-piece; Helena Bonham Carter's brothel madam is surplus to requirements, and her shtick – a gun hidden in a prosthetic leg – is no substitute for character. Like the Pirates sequels, The Lone Ranger is a movie in desperate need of tightening up – at a lean two hours it would feel like less of a slog.
Stick with it, through the countless flashbacks and framing devices and needless side-quests, and The Lone Ranger eventually endears due to its refusal to pander to the pocket-money crowd. It is unmistakeably a Western at heart and requires all the patience the genre demands. If nothing else, it is stunningly shot and stirringly scored. Destined to be remembered as a Disney misfire, don't make the mistake of lumping The Lone Ranger in with John Carter's lot; an odd, uncompromising film it may be, but it still manages to entertain in spite of itself.