for starters, any way ya slice it, "legend" is an overstatement. the film is actually pretty understated and low-key. there's nothing wrong with that, but it no doubt surprised some at the time, not least of which because the film was probably made in response to the epic Superman films. by modern standards the plot is pretty straightforward and un-gimmicky.
(interestingly, the recent Lone Ranger film, starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, is being largely criticized for going to the other extreme of being too epic, of too much happening.)
and of course there's the fact that film bombed, to say the least. it got a few "razzies." although to be fair, one of those, declaring the theme song "The Man In The Mask" worst original song, was all too deserved.
but for all that, the film is a more pleasant experience than it's reputation would lead you to believe. it's "star," Klinton Spilsbury, may not quite measure up to Clayton Moore or Brace Beemer (from the original radio series), but he's still just engaging enough to get the job done. the major stigma, the inherent black-eye on the film, seems to be Spilsbury, based mostly on the fact that he never appeared in another film. that's actually kind of shame, because Spilsbury did have some degree of talent. it's not that he hurt the film any, it's that he lost the Hollywood lottery.
he's aided by a pretty good cast. his Tonto is played by one Michael Horse, who works pretty well once you get passed the lack Jay Silverheels-esque spoonerism. Jason Robards, in what effectively adds up to a "special guest star" role, is a creditable if unremarkable Ulysses S. Grant.
one John Hart briefly appears as a newspaper editor. Hart's claim to lasting fame - as dubious as Spilsbury's - is having played the backup Lone Ranger on the tv series for a year whilst Clayton Moore was having a salary dispute. although i daresay some will cease to find that particularly cool when they inevitably start to wonder why Clayton Moore couldn't put in a similar appearance. well as it happens, one Jack Wrather, who owned the property at the time, and Moore were having some legal issues, and Moore was forbidden to have anything to do with The Lone Ranger until they were straightened out.
indeed, it's box-office failure was pretty much a by-product of bad publicity. the pubic interpreted the contretemps as a feud, and a genral public who'd grown up with Clayton Moore naturally sided with him.
(some might ask the same question about Jay Silverheels. given that he'd just died, i'd say it was health issues in his case.)
the oddest bit of casting is Christopher Lloyd as the Ranger's nemesis, Major "Butch" Cavendish. not only is this a rather radical reimagining, converting the character from rambunctious "owlhoot" outlaw to discreditted Army officer, but Lloyd is cast against type, to put it mildly. the man best known as "Reverend" Jim Ignatowski and "Doc" Emmett Brown will no doubt shock some in the role of such an understated, almost Machiavellian antagonist. but don't let anyone tell you he's not up to the task. i've heard that every actor has abilities and characterizations they probably won't have an opportunity to display, particularly those who manage to get typecast. Lloyd's performance here demonstrates the all too literal truth of that assessment.
by an interesting twist of Fate, the film is a bit of a milestone. as originally conceived on radio, The Lone Ranger was every bit the "man of mystery" and as such given no secret identity whatsoever. it was gradually, over a handful of years, that they developed the backstory of the sole survivor of an ambushed posse of Texas Rangers, and how their leader just happened to be his elder brother, with a son named Dan Reid out there somewhere. this turn of events couldn't help but force the surname Reid onto our hero, but primary writer Fran Striker insisted, so as to retain at least some degree of that original mystery, that he never be given a first name. so it was from this movie that he finally received a "given" Christian name, although it's rather a drag that they'd hand him a bland, prosaic name like John. oh, well.
to summarize, it's another case of the major recurring theme in my reviews, the critically panned commercial failure of a film that turns out not to suck after all. i'm beginning to think i'll never run out of 'em...