The Legend of Zorro Is a Myth
In a sense, Martin Campbell’s The Mask of Zorro (1998) put forward the potential of comic book lore as a movie genre. Though Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was the forerunner for the modern day comic book movie, it was merely treated as an inevitability just as Superman was back in 1978. These two pop culture icons had not died over the course of half a century and were long overdue for a movie treatment. With Zorro, however, the name had stuck in most households but never found the broad fanbase that its caped predecessors had. The Mask of Zorro reinvisioned the Zorro story and continued it. It made it appealing to viewers by the fine craftsmanship of movie editting and delivering the usual over-the-top heroics that is expected of both a comic book movie and a summer blockbuster. Most comic book movies now follow this same formula. And who can blame them? The Mask of Zorro was a really good movie for its time and is still immensely enjoyable.
And like all good summer movies, especially comic book ones, you expect a sequel to keep the continuity going. We like to see our heroes return. The same can be said of Zorro. It’s just a pity that his latest movie is absolutely horrendous.
The Legend of Zorro is nowhere near its predecessor despite retaining its primary cast and director. How could this movie have gone wrong, having had more than six years to prepare? Maybe they wanted to do something different. Perhaps Antonion Banderas learned a thing or two from Spy Kids. Or perhaps the script writers are ages 6 and 7, respectively. Who knows? The point is, this is not your daddy’s Zorro. The script is clever in a Disney sort of way with dialogue that is Gilmore Girls-witty at times, but it is no great Shakes. It definitely lacks the passion and echoing heroic monologue that the first movie had. The action is not grounded in reality and takes liberty with frequent jumps, flips, and spontaneously convenient actions (such as Zorro throwing his hat like a frisbee to smack some guy in the neck). Might I also take this opportunity to point out a very “what the f*ck” moment in which Zorro’s kid, Joaquin, gets into an extremely choreographed ruler-fight with his Jesuit teacher. Corny scenes like this serve to widen the gap between this film and its forerunner.
But maybe this comparison is unfair. Can The Legend of Zorro work as a film independent of the first? Yes, but only if one has come to expect a Shanghai Knights level of calibur and not a Tombstone one. The plot does not really advance the Zorro legend in the way Spider-Man 2 did for its respective franchise and could easily be dismissed as an inconsequential side story. Basically, Alejandro de la Vega (Banderas) has been asked by his wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to give up the Zorro mask for the sake of their misbehaved son. Zorro just can’t do it and quickly finds his wife missing. It turns out that she’s working with the U.S. government and that the divorce papers are just a ruse for her cover as she tries to infiltrate a clandestine world cabal that is intent on using the glycerine in soap to blow up Washington (no, I am not being funny, this is the real plot). There is a lot of teaming up with his annoying kid and a lot of drinking. This Zorro is nowhere near the heroic moralist that he was transformed into by Anthony Hopkins in the original Zorro: he’s a bit of a boor and seems to do the Zorro gig for kicks. I honestly can’t tell if this movie was supposed to be farcical, being as campy and detached from its progenitor as it was.
If you lower your expectations, you may find The Legend of Zorro to be a decent way to waste 2 hours of your life and may even get a chuckle out of it. But I wouldn’t bet on it.