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The Mask of Zorro (1998)
Written by John Eskow, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Directed by Martin Campbell
Runtime 136 min.
4 out of 5

A small-time thief’s brother is killed before his eyes. Wanting to exact revenge against the soldier that killed him, Alejandro Murrieta seeks him out only to run into the original Zorro who is now retired. Knowing that if Alejandro tried to kill the soldier right away that he would only get himself killed, he decides to train Alejandro as the new Zorro and use him to stop the evil Rafael Montero from getting rich off the backs of the people and bring freedom to California once and for all.

 

I was introduced to Zorro when I was a kid by my dad. Watched the movies, was Zorro for Halloween in grade two, played dress-up around the house—I’ve always had a soft spot for the swordsman in black. Even dressed up as him again at Halloween eleven years ago.

He’s the historical Batman—side note: depending which Batman origin you read, the movie theatre that Bruce Wayne and his parents left that fateful night was showing a Zorro movie—and packs a punch as deadly as the best of heroes.

This movie was the first time I saw Zorro on the big screen. What a cool opening with him walking against a spotlit backdrop and doing his famous Z-slash across the screen. And they got right into the action, too, showing us the first generation Zorro’s last adventure and using that as a catalyst to the main story to bring in a new one.

I was especially impressed with the swordplay in this. I mean, it had to be good, right, because that’s Zorro’s thing. There was no way the filmmakers would fall short in this area, above all else. The costume looked good, too, and they didn’t try to be all fancy and stylize the thing. They kept it simple just like it would’ve been in long-ago California.

The writing was real good, with a strong story. The tragedy of Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) is what made the tale. You got this guy who’s given it all for the people of California and then just when he thought his mission was through, everything else that he’s held dear is taken from him as well. To see him endure such emotional pain raises the hero bar because being a hero goes beyond the physical. There has to be a cost, some sort of sacrifice and/or loss.

Which brings us to the new Zorro, Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas). First, Mr. Banderas was the only choice for the role, in my opinion. Aside from casting an unknown, what other famous Spanish actor does Hollywood have to offer who has the charm, good looks and charisma needed to play Zorro’s alter ego never mind the black swordsman himself? Throw that together with Banderas’s acting chops and you got a Zorro who was dead serious at the right moments, witty in others, and played it straight throughout.

Of course, there had to be a love interest and Catherine Zeta-Jones filled in the role of Elena, Diego’s daughter. She did fine and conducted a fine balance between a strong and fiery woman with a dainty feminine side.

I’ve said it in other reviews and I’ll say it here: I like origin stories. What makes this one special is it’s not just a how-Zorro-came-to-be movie, but a passing-of-the-torch one as well, giving you Zorro lore from start to finish and opening the door for a sequel, which ended up coming some seven years later.

I know there’s plans to reboot the character, but for right now, this movie’s a favorite of mine.

With a great soundtrack, great story and solid acting, The Mask of Zorro is a recommended flick in my books.