The Legend of Zorro

Nov 2, 2005 at 12:00 am

It’s been more than seven years since the last Zorro film, but absence has not made the heart grow fonder. Mask of Zorro was pleasantly old-fashioned, but low on charisma and instantly forgettable, with an embarrassing supporting performance by a fake-tanned Anthony Hopkins. It’s doubtful anyone outside of the accounting office at Sony Pictures was clamoring for a sequel, but here it is, banished from the summer schedule to the nonblockbuster season of late October. Yet Legend of Zorro, while overlong and more than a little cheesy, is better than its predecessor in most ways. It’s not witty, sexy or cool, but it is a lot of fun.

The opening sequence goes through the familiar motions: Zorro (Antonio Banderas) swoops in to save a crowd of peasants from a dastardly, yellow-toothed posse of bad guys, performing a lot of back-flips on rickety scaffolding for no apparent reason. After an argument with wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the couple splits up, on the grounds that our hero is spending more time fighting criminals than with his defiant son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). Our hero even gets handed divorce papers right as he’s considering reuniting with his voluptuous loved one.

That’s right: Zorro Got Served.

Banderas and Zeta-Jones are more fun when they’re bickering with each other, and the writers have given them an intricate, diabolical scheme to unravel, one that involves a vineyard, some contraband explosives and a reactionary wing of the Confederate army. Though it could never be described as bleeding-heart liberal, this is one big-budget action flick that isn’t afraid to court the wrath of the red states.

Banderas’ Zorro seems even more like a superhero this time out; without his mask, he’s as impotent as Clark Kent, and the actor hams it up in true comic-book style. Zeta-Jones retains her innate elegance even when she’s convincingly kicking ass, and the young Alonso only occasionally crosses over into the realm of annoyingly cutesy. Better yet, director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye) balances out the family-friendly stuff by adding some of the grown-up thrills common to James Bond movies: the villains are usually shown in grotesque close-ups, and wield razor-sharp hooks and throwing stars. The fight choreography borrows from Hong Kong action pictures, and Campbell shoots and edits the battles so that they’re lightening-quick but never incoherent.

It used to be that corny yet entertaining movies like Legend of Zorro were a dime a dozen; coming at the end of 2005, when nearly every major adventure release has been a dud, it’s almost a cause for celebration.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].