Monday 16 April 2012

Movie Review: The Mask Of Zorro (1998)

A grand, old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure, The Mask Of Zorro entertains with a smile on its face. With a steamy chemistry between Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the sage presence of Anthony Hopkins, this is an enjoyable romp in which the characters matter at least as much as the hyper-kinetic stunts.

With revolution sweeping across Mexico and California against the ruling Spanish, the evil governor Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) plans his escape. He bequeaths all the California properties to powerful land barons, and makes one final attempt to capture Zorro, the legendary acrobatic master swordsman and masked hero of the people. Montero uncovers Zorro's true identity as Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), imprisons him and abducts de la Vega's infant daughter Elena to raise as his own.

Twenty years later, Montero returns to California to ferment a movement for independence, while de la Vega finally escapes from prison. Montero's dirty work is carried out by the ruthless Captain Love (Matt Letscher), who in cleaning up the territory brutally kills one of two brothers.  The surviving brother Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) teams up with de la Vega to plot joint revenge: de la Vega against Montero and Alejandro against Love. de la Vega trains Alejandro to become the new Zorro, but before they can achieve justice, they need to reconnect with Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), now a stunning 20 year old, raised by Montero and oblivious that de la Vega is her real father.

Lavishly produced with Steven Spielberg among the backers, The Mask Of Zorro is carefully constructed to appear effortless. While there are clearly some borrowed elements from legends of the past, notably The Count of Monte Cristo and Star WarsThe Mask Of Zorro gleams with a fun attitude, a smooth cast, and an old-school emphasis on fundamentals: revolution, adventure, suffering, revenge, love, and clear battle lines between good and evil.

Director Martin Campbell twice rescued the James Bond franchise with GoldenEye and Casino Royale, and he inserts many superhero staples into The Mask Of Zorro, including training with the old master, self-depreciating humour, immediate appeal to the opposite sex, and countless escapes from impossible situations.

Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones enjoy an instant chemistry that ignites the screen with mischievous passion. They make the most of it first in a pointy sword fight then in a smoldering dance sequence, the sparks flying on both occasions.

But the centre of gravity of The Mask Of Zorro is Anthony Hopkins, all other characters and all the film's events revolving around the original Zorro. At 60 years old, Hopkins delivers an essential performance filled with mature self satisfaction and an appreciation for the role of weathered wisdom in the sweep of revolutionary history. The younger actors may have all the right moves, but they need the old guard to point them in the right direction.

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