Legend of Zorro, The (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Some sequels are made too soon, while others are made too late. The Legend of Zorro, Martin Campbell's follow-up to his well-received 1998 feature, The Mask of Zorro, falls into the latter category. It's difficult to say whether the film would have been better had it gone before cameras three or four years ago but, by 2005, it feels creaky and out-of-date. The production is suffused by an almost desperate attempt to recapture the mood of its predecessor, but the tone is forced rather than natural, and the resultant production is bloated, contrived, and not very entertaining. The Mask of Zorro worked because of its engaging mix of action, romance, and comedy. The Legend of Zorro goes 0-for-3, striking out as it tries (and fails) to recapture the pleasure offered by the earlier story of the swashbuckling superhero.

The Legend of Zorro opens in 1850, with California preparing to vote to become the 31st state. Certain forces, including those led by the racist McGivins (Nick Chinlund), will do anything to stop this, including murder and ballot theft. Enter Zorro (Antonio Banderas), the defender of the people, who punishes McGivins and ensures that the election runs smoothly. When the votes have been tabulated, Zorro doffs his mask and returns home as Don Alejandro de La Vega to his wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and his son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). An agreement with Elena would have Alejandro give up his alter-ego at this time, but he wonders if Zorro might still be needed. This leads to a heated argument, followed by a divorce. Alejandro becomes a drunkard, and Elena is wooed by a French count, Armand (Rufus Sewell), who has come to California to cultivate grapes for wine. Soon, however, it becomes clear that Armand is up to no good. He has ties to McGivins and is plotting something dastardly. It's up to Zorro to stop these two and save Elena.

For the talent involved, The Mask of Zorro represented perfect timing. Anthony Hopkins was looking for something to show off his lighter side. Antonio Banderas used it as an opportunity to maintain his status as a star/sex symbol. And Catherine Zeta-Jones vaulted from near obscurity to the A-list (capturing Michael Douglas' attention in the process). The constellations are not as well aligned for The Legend of Zorro. Banderas hasn't been a big name for years. Zeta-Jones is no longer a fresh face. And Hopkins isn't in the movie. Moreover, the chemistry between the two leads, which was one of the highlights of the 1998 outing, has evaporated during the intervening years. Despite numerous plot contortions designed to construct the framework for an artificial resurgence of the romance between Alejandro and Elena, Banderas and Zeta-Jones no longer have the ability to generate sparks, much less fire.

The action in The Legend of Zorro is routine. The swordfights produce little in the way of excitement or suspense. Equally lifeless are the saccharine "bonding" attempts between Alejandro and his son. The boy admires Zorro for his flair, but dislikes his father for what he perceives to be cowardice. Alejandro tries to teach his son that there are better ways than resorting to violence, but it's a lesson the movie abandons, because violence is more fun on-screen that pacifism. The Legend of Zorro is also cursed with two of the least interesting bad guys in recent memory. While McGivens and Armand are unquestionably villainous, there's nothing about them to cause audiences to hiss. They're boring. Nick Chinlund tries to do a little over-the-top ranting, but it comes across as second-rate. And Rufus Sewell fails to convince us that he's more than an effeminate fop. Never do we believe that either of these men is in Zorro's league. The question is not whether they will be toppled, but why it requires an inflated running time of more than two hours for the swashbuckler to get the job done.

One could argue that the influx of "new" superhero movies since 1998 has made Zorro outdated. When The Mask of Zorro was released, the cinematic landscape was a superhero wasteland. Since then, we've seen the emergence of the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and (a re-imagined) Batman. It's a crowded field, and this diluted version of Zorro doesn't hold up. Zorro has a distinguished history, dating back to 1919. It's unfortunate that the latest installment of his saga makes him look like a relic who's ready for retirement.

Legend of Zorro, The (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 2:08
U.S. Release Date: 2005-10-28
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1