The Mask of Zorro
Director(s): Martin Campbell
Writer(s): John Eskow, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jul 17, 1998 - Wide
I remember watching the old swashbuckling films on Movies For A Sunday Afternoon. Errol Flynn and others saving the world on a 21-inch color television. The Mask of Zorro therefore represented my first chance to see a swashbuckling film on the big screen.
Swish. Ching. Swish. Ching. The steel blades smashing together in surround sound really beats the ol’ TV hands down. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting to our first action scene, as the original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins looking like a bad Grecian formula ad with terrible brown hair) fights his last battle at the Spanish governor of Alta California’s goodbye party. Well, saving the life of three innocent peasants ticks off the governor, Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson), and he goes after the man he knows to be Zorro, Don Diego de la Vega. It is here that Hopkin’s Zorro loses his freedom, his wife gets killed, and his daughter Elena gets taken to be raised as Montero’s daughter.
Twenty years go by and Don Diego (now looking like the old “It’s” guy from Monty Python) escapes from prison. He stumbles across a drunken outlaw, Alejandro Murieta, who has a score to settle with Captain Harrison Love. Love works for Montero who has a grand plan to start an independent California. Okay, so we have scores to settle, a daughter to retrieve, and a people to protect.
With our melodramatic plot in place, the fun begins. The old Zorro trains Alejandro to be the new Zorro. Lots of swordplay, jumping, and philosophical sayings which basically make Hopkins seem like a Welsh Yoda. Finally, the new Zorro is ready to infiltrate Don Rafael’s social circle and try and thwart his evil plans.
Banderas makes an easy transition from the scruffy bandit to the suave Zorro. He has to handle scenes full of action and humor and glides effortlessly between the two worlds. His sex appeal gets a workout too as he starts to fall for the beautiful Elena. Hopkins, of course, is a brilliant actor and fills his character with warmth, sympathy, strength and charm. A lesser actor would makes this a throwaway film but Hopkins’ Diego is a joy to watch. Of course, a melodrama needs a beautiful woman to fight for. Catherine Zeta-Jones is the right combination of intelligence, strength and beauty. Elena is not a damsel in distress and handles a sword like the best of them.
Sure the plot can be a little thin at times. Perhaps it’s the large budgets and high salaries, but didn’t we used to go to these sort of movies to escape and have some fun? The scenery is magnificent. The swordplay fast and furious. The villains evil. The women beautiful. The horse stunts stunning.
It’s refreshing to see action that stems from the characters’ lives as opposed to characters who are stapled onto exploding cars and asteroids. Grab a popcorn, get a cool drink, and head back to the child-like pleasures of a story with a great hero.