Movie Review: The Mask of Zorro (1998)

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  • Director: Martin Campbell
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Screenplay: John Eskow, Ted Elliott, & Terry Rossio
  • Music By: James Horner
  • Cinematography: Phil Meheux
  • Running Time: 136 Minutes
  • Premiered: July 17, 1998
  • DVD Release: December 1, 1998

Synopsis: A young thief, seeking revenge over the death of his brother, is trained by the once great, but aged Zorro, who is also seeking a vengeance of his own. (From IMDb)

Review: Zorro, the dashing hero to the under trodden and poor, originally saved the day in 1919 when he appeared in Johnston McCulley’s novella, The Curse of Capistrano. Barely a year later Zorro debuted on the silver screen in the silent film The Mark of Zorro. Over the course of eighty years, Zorro has been portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Tyrone Power, Guy Williams, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. The Mask of Zorro is a swashbuckling and adventure driven attempt to breathe new life into the Zorro franchise.  There is a great deal of excitement that is portrayed on screen with a slightly irreverent tone that keeps the mood light but does not trivialize the characters. In one regard, this film is more akin to an origin story than a straight up reboot. The Mask of Zorro includes two Zorros, one played by Anthony Hopkins the other by Antonio Banderas.

Hopkins plays the original Zorro who tries to defend and avenge the mistreated Mexicans from the machinations of Don Rafael Montero. In a tragic turn of events, the Don gains the upper hand and sends Zorro to prison for twenty years. Then Zorro recruits a younger man to gain revenge on the Don. Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas), when he was a child, did a favor for Zorro. Twenty years later, Zorro chooses Alejandro as his replacement. This leads to Zorro having to train Alejandro in the finer points of swordplay and manners. And Alejandro puts up with this training in order to wage revenge upon Captain Harrison Love, the man who killed his brother. While The Mask of Zorro does not contain non-stop action and cliffhangers, there is still plenty of action, tumult, and daring escapades. And the film never takes itself too seriously. The main themes, taking revenge, could easily take a dark and grisly turn. However, the screenwriters went in the opposite direction and chose to keep things as lighthearted as possible.

Directed by Martin Campbell, the film deals with the relationship between the original Zorro and Alejandro with great panache.  The training sequences are incredibly well done and hilarious to watch. There is plenty of witty and self-acknowledging humor laced throughout the screenplay. And the swordplay and fight choreography are very impressive and add a nice element to the movie. The special effects are not ground-breaking or revolutionary, they are just great clean fun. One of the main problems with this film is that the material is formulaic. Such as: the good guy beats the bad guy, all villains get what they deserve, the hero gets the girls, and there is always a happy ending. However, the film is still enjoyable and well done. Part of the fun is that the movie does not offer a lot in the way of substance. It is merely some lighthearted entertainment that is enjoyable to watch. My biggest complaint is that the last third of the movie feels rushed and feels disjointed from the rest of the narrative.

Acting wise, Anthony Hopkins is excellent, as always. He dominates the screen and makes his character come across like a real person. Antonio Banderas is his usual charming and charismatic self. His playful scenes with the wonderful Catherine Zeta-Jones are brimming with chemistry. He is fully embraces the role of a dashing hero out to rescue the world. Zeta-Jones stands out not only for her beauty, but also for her exquisite wardrobe. She portrays Elena, the gorgeous daughter of Don Rafael Montero. There are several memorable scenes between Elena and Alejandro: the scorching tango, the unforgettable duel, and a scene in a confessional where Alejandro is impersonating a priest. All three of the main protagonists are excellently portrayed and believable. Captain Love and the Don, the two antagonists, are merely slightly developed caricatures. While the actors did a credible job, the roles where written to be extreme villains. As such, the antagonists are the least developed characters in the film. However, this movie is about good triumphing over evil. So the protagonists are naturally portrayed in the best light possible. Overall, this film is exactly what is promised to be, a lighthearted action adventure. If swords and swashbuckling sounds appealing, this film is worth watching.

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