After several incarnations on the silver screen and the small screen (including the recent Family Channel series), Zorro returns to the big screen for the first time in over 40 years in a rousing, entertaining tale entitled THE MASK OF ZORRO. With lots of swashbuckling and a very tight plot, this handsome production locates the struggle between good and evil on earth in a very human conflict: the fight for control of Mexico and California.
This movie delivers two Zorros for the price of one. Middle-aged Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) successfully fought the Spanish oppression in Alta California as the legendary romantic hero, Zorro (Spanish for ‘fox’). He was aided by two 10-year-old boys, Alejandro and Joaquin Murrieta. Unfortunately, Spanish governor Don Fafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) discovers the de la Vega home, arrests Don Diego, murders his beautiful wife Esperanze (Julietta Rosen), and kidnaps their infant daughter Elena. Don Diego de la Vega is thrown into prison, and the Murrieta boys turn to a life of crime, as Mexico and California suffer under Montero’s oppression.
Jump ahead 20 years. Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is now a beautiful young woman raised to believe she is Montero’s daughter. Alejandro’s brother has recently been intercepted by Montero’s strong arm, the golden locked, Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher). Rather than face execution at the hand of Captain Love, Joaquin kills himself. Alejandro swears vengeance on Captain Love and seeks his opportunity. Meanwhile, Don Diego de la Vega has escaped from prison and seeks to find Montero and his daughter.
When De la Vega discovers his old friend Alejandro, de la Vega tells him that he is Zorro and that they share similar pain at the hand of Montero and Love. De La Vega takes Alejandro back to his cave home, trains him in swordplay and acrobatics, and also diplomacy.
Montero returns to purchase California from Mexico’s president, General Santa Anna, with gold mined on Californian soil by Californian slaves. Alejandro earns Montero’s trust as a diplomat, meets and falls in love with Elena and has his moment with Captain Love as the new Zorro. Likewise, de la Vega reveals himself to Montero, reveals himself to his daughter and has his moment of swordplay with Montero. Together, they fight to liberate the Mexican slaves and stop Montero from making his purchase.
Although the movie contains almost constant action sword-fighting sequences, Zorro is not a vicious, murderous hero. He uses his sword to mostly disable, disarm and embarrass his foes. There is a lot of swordplay, but not a lot of killing. However, there is one regrettable scene where the villain shows Zorro his brother’s ‘s head in a jar and another’s man’s hand in another jar.
Fortunately, Zorro is chaste. The first Zorro is a loving family man. The second Zorro, while attracted to Elena and flirting with her, doesn’t dally with her and ultimately marries her. He is indeed an old fashioned hero.
Yet, before Alejandro is fully taught to be the noble warrior that he is, he steals a horse and tells Elena that the only sin that she can do is to deny herself what she truly feels. In other words, he is encouraging her to compromise. Still, de la Vega chastises him and tells him to rise above personal interests and be a champion for the greater good.
Location photography, music and costuming and casting add a great deal of authenticity to this period tale. Acting credits are good all around. Anthony Hopkins proves again (after THE EDGE) that he can handle action material. Banderas is a perfect balance of charm, physical prowess and Latin machismo. The plot is perhaps the most complete and most dramatically satisfying of the summer action movies. However, some of the dialogue is reduced to silly one-liners and clichés. Adults may enjoy the nostalgia of cinematic swordplay. Teenagers may enjoy the simple excitement of it all. Yet, as an old-style story, without modern heroes and antagonists, some action fans may become disinterested.
Originally, Zorro was written as a pulp novel in 1919. Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. portrayed him in the 1920 silent film, THE MARK OF ZORRO. Two decades later, Tyrone Power starred in a successful remake of THE MARK OF ZORRO with Basil Rathbone and Linda Darnell. In 1957, Walt Disney introduced the Zorro television series. Like Superman, Zorro is an enduring hero. Unlike Superman, he is a common man fighting for common people. This adaptation of the masked swordsman is a handsome, accomplished work, keeping the nobility and uprightness of a hero who has flaws, but has a good heart and respects the faith and morals of the people for which he fights.
(C, B, Ro, L, VV, S, N, AA, D, M) Light Christian worldview of Catholic community with prayers & church attendance, moral elements of righting wrongs & doing good, & romantic elements; 2 uses of the word "damn" & one "dang" & name calling; grotesque scene of a head & a hand in a jar, & extensive action violence including swordplay, stabbing, man thrown against wall, man falls down a cliff, crowd riots, punching, decapitation implied, criminal commits suicide, shooting, & explosions; no sex, but sexual innuendo, including an explicit dance sequence; Zorro cutting the top off a woman's dress, but no upper female nudity shown, rear male nudity, & upper male nudity; alcohol use & brief image of drunken man; smoking; and, image of decapitated head in jar, lying, cheating, stealing, & egomania.