Zorro returns to the screen yet again in an exciting, if sometimes over-the-top, romp through the swashbuckling genre. This time he’s trying to stop the wicked (of course) Rafael Montera from creating an authoritarian Republic of California instead of the free, happy State that exists today – the very idea! High spirits, a hiss-worthy villain, more sword fights than you can shake an epée at, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones –
what more can you ask for?
USA 1998, 137 minutes
Zorro, the black-clad Robin Hood of Spanish America created by Johnston McCulley, was first brought to the screen by Douglas Fairbanks in 1920. Since then it seems he has seldom been off it; by the 1980s there had been at least 15 Zorro films, some markedly better than others, as well as a television series. In 1982 Zorro the Gay Blade brought a quite different, limp-wristed interpretation of the role. Tonight’s film brings Zorro firmly back into the mainstream of swashbucklers, with the customary swordfights, evil villain, beautiful heroine and distinctly heterosexual hero.
It’s 1921 in Los Angeles, in what will one day be the US State of California. Don Diego de la Vega (alias Zorro) saves some peasants from the evil Don Rafael Montero and is saved in turn by the young Murrieta brothers, but ends up in jail anyway. Twenty years later Montero returns from Spain with his lovely daughter, and de la Vega escapes from jail, bent on revenge. But it’s been a long time since he fought a villain, and it’s time to train a successor. Who better than Alejandro, the surviving Murrieta brother, a bit of a hothead but a brave lad with reasons of his own to hate Montero and a sincere wish to help the people improve their lot.
One of the joys of the film is its love of the genre and its willingness to embrace its clichés and exploit them for all they’re worth, with or without a touch of irony. There is almost too much action – sword fights, chases, conflagrations, romance – until you’re almost crying out for a dull moment. Another pleasure is the casting: Anthony Hopkins is a dignified ageing champion, Catherine Zeta-Jones is gutsy and beautiful, and Antonio Banderas, the new Zorro, is one of the best and most Hispanic incarnations of Zorro.
For this is Los Angeles, California, but not yet America, and the racial spectrum runs from the dark-skinned peasants who belong there to the cruel, blond, alien Captain Love. The new Zorro, it is suggested, combines solid native virtues with the civilised decency of the true gentleman he learns from de la Vega – all of which will be needed in the Brave New World that will one day be the greatest country in the world. OK, we know it didn’t quite work out like that, and perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into The Mask of Zorro. It’s a good yarn, well-told, well-acted, with a few anachronisms, one or two absurdities, bags of energy and a great sense of fun. Isn’t that enough?
Alejandro Murrieta: Antonio Banderas
Don Diego de la Vega: Anthony Hopkins
Elena: Catherine Zeta-Jones
Don Rafael Montero: Stuart Wilson
Captain Harrison Love: Matt Letscher
Director: Martin Campbell
Producers: Doug Claybourne, David Foster
Screenplay: John Eskow, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Photography: Phil Meheux
“Fantastic film! Carramba!”
“A splendid & exciting film with some nice humourous touches”
“Now that was something like action!”
“A great stunt cast”
“Memories of Saturday morning cinema!!”
“Forget the votes – Zorro for President!”
“Welsh Tango near Dallas? – land of constant Zorros”
“How did ANY of them survive?”
“Which one (of them) was Indiana Jones again?”
“(It took) 137 minutes for the lady to get her ‘Milk Tray’!”