The Mask of Zorro (1998)
The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Genre: Action and Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 16 min.

Release Date: July 17th, 1998 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Martin Campbell Actors: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Stuart Wilson, Tony Amendola, Matt Letscher, Catherine Zeta-Jones

 


 

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he title credits include Zorro’s silhouette walking into the frame before brandishing his sword and slicing at the screen, reminiscent of James Bond’s signature entrance – which might not be a coincidence, since this film is directed by Martin Campbell, who helmed “Goldeneye” just a few years prior. The story proper involves invading Spaniard Governor Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) as he presides over a public hanging in California, which infuriates the gathering crowd. But two young boys, Joaquin and Alejandro, surveying the stage from behind a curtain, are positive that legendary Mexican vigilante Zorro will save the day.

And, indeed, Zorro arrives just in the nick of time, engaging in some thrilling daredevilry, swordfighting his way through squadrons of armed guards, swinging through the air with the help of his whip, and riding off into the sunset astride his mighty black steed Tornado – all before returning to his lair beneath a waterfall (not unlike Batman). But Zorro – in actuality Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) – is getting too old for these sorts of foolish and dangerous activities. Plus, his wife and infant daughter depend on him. Morbidly, the vengeful Montero soon catches up to the masked crusader, managing to not only capture Zorro, but also burn down his residence, murder his wife, and steal away his daughter.

Twenty years later, brothers Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) and Joaquin Murrieta (Victor Rivers), along with Three-Fingered Jack (L.Q. Jones), are now clever thieves, routinely outsmarting the authorities. But when cavalryman Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher), now working for Montero (who has returned to the territory once again), catches up to them, only Alejandro makes it out alive. Meanwhile, having rotted in prison for two decades, Don Diego finally plots a grand escape – copying Edmond Dantes’ iconic jailbreak almost identically. Despite finding an opportunity to reap vengeance against Montero, Diego pauses when he sees his daughter, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), by the governor’s side, now all grown up. And so he hatches a new plan of retribution – one that involves training the bitter, drunken, but younger Alejandro to replace him.

Here, there’s no shortage of injustice in need of reprisal; the villains are always more plentiful than the heroes. This is a good thing for the film’s sense of adventure, which amusingly remains lighthearted, rapidly paced, and always a few minutes away from a rip-roaring action sequence. And those moments boast excellently choreographed fights, riveting stunts, and rousing music. From stealing the perfect black Andalusian horse to encountering the breathtaking beauty of Elena to accidentally destroying bevies of buildings, Campbell’s version of Zorro is continually funny, charming, passionate, and exciting – all of the dependable elements that made former iterations so enjoyable.

Part of what makes this update work so well is the combination of the master and the apprentice; Hopkins brings the sincerity while Banderas provides levity in a partnership that smartly divides the tasks of ingratiation, sowing discord, plotting revenge, and wooing the damsel in distress. Some of the villainy is a bit heavy-handed (there are enough notable henchmen to fill a 007 installment), while the premise contains a few too many subplots (such as extra opportunities for sharply arranged swordfights or horse-bound chases) and the romance is overly sappy, but the pacing is keen and the fervor is genuine. “The Mask of Zorro” is a very competent actioner, even when it dwells on overly intricate (or convenient) setups for poignant encounters or showdowns. The final set piece, complete with annihilative destruction and pitiable innocents awaiting last-minute saving, is particularly drawn-out, with repetitive face-offs and excruciating pauses for one-liners or ultimatums (or just defiant glares), but it’s nevertheless a satisfying close to a picture brimming with over-the-top spectacle and heroism.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10