The lone legend is lost on this runaway train

With a running time of two and a half hours, the most startling achievement of this cowboy builder renovation of a film is that it still manages to feel anaemic and clobbered together and is as grossly underdeveloped in terms of character and plot as it is disappointing as an action-adventure or a comic parody. The film also seems insecure about how to present its titular hero, a character so well defined and loved by generations past that it is hard to imagine it being so fervently diluted to such a level of drudgery. It is one thing to give the supporting character top billing when he is played by Johnny Depp, and director Verbinski has had three Pirates of the Caribbean outings with Depp to hone this role to perfection, but it is unforgivable when the film still fails at deconstructing the legend or finding a balanced role for him in the narrative.

Told in flashback by a laughably aged Tonto (Depp), reduced to working in a Wild West sideshow in 1930s San Francisco, his story takes a wide-eyed boy – but unfortunately not the rest of us – back to the days when the railroads were inching westwards and greed was as powerful a motivator as the desire to push the frontiers of exploration. Lawyer John Reid (Hammer) returns to this untamed territory armed with a sharp suit and a delicate disposition, while brother Dan (Dale, also currently appearing in World War Z and Iron Man 3) prefers a gun and badge as a member of the Texas Rangers. Incarcerated on Reid’s train is the nefarious outlaw Butch Cavendish (Fichtner), who murders Dan and incurs the wrath of his snivelling sibling.

There are moments when action set pieces bring the film to life, but these moments are far too generic to salvage this tepidly drawn out affair. The Lone Ranger thus suffers from a state of affairs that would be partially forgivable if it at least delivered on its allusions as an ironic post-modern comedy or simply as a high-octane western, but it miraculously manages to miss all its targets. Its attempts at self-parody fall flat and it feels like a western made by ticking off a checklist of tropes without ever attempting to embellish the genre.

The Lone Ranger (11)

Dir: Gore Verbinski; US western, 2012, 150 mins; Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner
Premiered July 3
Playing nationwide