A sweeping romantic adventure of love and honor, tragedy and triumph set against Mexico's fight for independence. Twenty years have past since Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins) fought oppression as the legendary hero, Zorro. Now he must find a successor and he chooses Alejandro Murietta (Banderas), a bandit with a troubled past who he must, somehow, transform into the fearless fighter he once had been. Then, armed with sword, whip, mask and the jet-black stallion, Tornado, the new Zorro must stop tyrant Raphael Montero, newly returned from Spain with a plot to actually buy California and enslave the populous to work in his mines.
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A lusty and rousing adventure, this calls to mind those glorious costume dramas produced so capably by the old Hollywood studio system--hardly surprising, in that its title character, a de facto Robin Hood in Old California, provided starring vehicles for Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power, the '50s TV hit, and dozens of serials and features. Zorro, a pop-fiction creation invented by Johnston McCulley in 1918, is given new blood in this fast-moving and engaging version, which actually works as a sequel to the story line in the Fairbanks-Power saga, The Mark of Zorro. A self-assured Anthony Hopkins is Don Diego de la Vega, a Mexican freedom fighter captured and imprisoned just as Spain concedes California to Santa Ana. Twenty years later, he escapes from prison to face down his mortal enemy, a land grabbing governor played with slimy spitefulness by Stuart Wilson. Too old to save the local peasants on his own, he trains bandito Antonio Banderas to take his place. Much swashbuckling ensues as Banderas woos Catherine Zeta-Jones, becomes a better human being, and saves the disenfranchised rabble. Director Martin Campbell wisely instills a measure of frivolity into the deftly choreographed action sequences, while letting a serious tone creep in when appropriate. This covers much ground under the banner of romantic-action-adventure, and it does so most excellently. --Rochelle O'Gorman
In this day of movies in which one can't tell whether the action was manufactured by computer generation or by a cookie cutter, The Mask of Zorro is a grand throwback. It recalls and celebrates the fantasy workshop that Hollywood was and can be at its best. It's an audience pleaser in the best sense of the word, combining great-looking performers with gorgeous vistas and production design, a story that is familiar yet never insults the viewer's intelligence, and plenty of eye-popping action.
Anthony Hopkins stars as the original Zorro, a masked vigilante protecting his people from official corruption in Mexico and what will become California (from Hannibal Lecter to Merchant-Ivory to action hero--is there nothing this man cannot do?). He's imprisoned for his troubles, and upon his release, mentors an impetuous pupil (Antonio Banderas, more suave than ever) in the fine arts of swordplay and triumphing over evil. Catherine Zeta-Jones capably portrays the beauty linked to both men--Zorro I's daughter, Zorro II's object of desire.
The plotting contains few surprises, but the interplay between the three leads is always winning, and the winks to the swashbuckling genre are playful without ever being heavy-handed or campy. --David Kronke