Our rating: 3 out of 5
A sweeping epic tale of romance, deception, honor, and revenge, The Mask of Zorro carries us to an enchanted land of long ago, a time of treachery and betrayal. It's what's known as "a good, old fashioned swashbuckler" with gorgeous ladies, dashing young heroes, and epic fending duels. Wealthy Don Diego de le Vega (Anthony Hopkins) is better known as "Zorro," the masked man who fights for the good of the oppressed. His sworn enemy, Raphael Montero (Stuart Wilson), the Governor of California, is being forced to flee due to Santa Anna's invasion. Before he leaves, he wishes to leave a parting gift... the carcass of Zorro. Arranging innocent people to be executed in the plaza, Zorro undermines his intentions, frees the men, and leaves the mark of the Z on his enemy's neck. Knowing the outsider was wounded in the fray, Montero notes a corresponding injury on Diego's arm and arrests him at his hacienda.
Resisting the governor's soldiers, Diego's wife takes a bullet meant for him and dies. His baby daughter is kidnapped to be raised by his mortal enemy. Diego is sentenced to a lifetime in prison. Twenty years later, Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) and his brother Joaquin encounter brutal force when attempting to steal a strongbox. The two banditos, along with their partner Three-Fingered Jack, are captured by Captain Love (Matt Letscher). Joaquin kills himself rather than to give the captain the pleasure of hanging him. Furious over his brother's needless death, Alejandro swears revenge. But his plans don't begin in earnest until meeting up with Diego, who, on learning his enemy has returned to California, escapes the prison. He nearly kills him in a welcoming ceremony on the shores, but is stopped by the vision of a beautiful woman. Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a perfect replica of her mother, but has grown up believing she is Montero's daughter.
Diego must learn how to extract his revenge without forever severing his ties with an estranged, innocent daughter. Alejandro meanwhile must learn to play the fool and progress into Love's inner circle. As their plans are forged, they soon learn of a great and terrible plot by their adversaries to purchase California... with Santa Anna's own money. One of my favorite movies of all time, The Mask of Zorro is ideal for everyone... there's enough romance and gorgeous scenery for the ladies, while still leaving plenty of swashbuckling adventure and sword play for the man of the house. Some believe Hopkins was miscast but he pulls it off with just the amount of passion and expression. Banderas has been quoted saying his lifelong dream was to play the part of Zorro, and in this epic he got his chance. Zeta-Jones is ideal as the strong-willed Elena, whether dancing romantically with Alejandro, engaging in a verbal battle with the Dons, or whipping out a fencing foil of her own in a challenge.
The fencing is excellent. Choreographed by the same man who arranged the saber battles in Star Wars, he throws in superb parries and thrusts to keep you on the edge of your seat while mixing in fancy footwork. The entire film is simply breathtaking, from the gorgeous California backdrop to the elaborate haciendas and intricately-designed costumes. The soundtrack is spirited and lifting, and with forty stuntmen working on one production, you can bet there's going to be plenty of heart-pounding adventure. Rated PG13 for violence and sensuality, there's little to offend. The violence is done without gore and there's very little blood. There's a great deal of kicking, fighting, hitting and stabbing. Several people are killed on-screen (one shoots himself, another is impaled, and one falls from a cliff) and there's an unsettling glimpse of a head and a hand in a jar on Captain Love's desk. (He shows them to shock and disgust Alejandro.) There's brief rear nudity on some soldiers Alejandro and his brother leave tied around a cactus.
Elena and Alejandro perform a "spirited" dance but I found nothing offensive in it. They also engage in a sexy swordfight while she's dressed in only her underclothes. He slashes off the top but her hair covers any indecency. Language was extremely minimal -- three uses of "d-mn," and one crude anatomical reference. All in all a refreshing and thrilling addition to the Zorro classics. Though slightly marred with the theme of revenge, this welcome adventure brings back the days of big summer blockbusters.