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The Mask of Zorro

By Luisa F. Ribeiro | Posted

The original masked man is back and, as he himself says, he's looking better than ever. The Mask of Zorro, starring both Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins as Mexico's version of the Scarlet Pimpernel, turns back the clock with refreshing old-fashioned storytelling and heroics. Bright, colorful, loud, and peppered with a mischievous sense of humor and dashing romance, this 15th screen version of the Zorro saga (The Mask of Zorro was directed by Kiwi Martin Campbell, who helmed the James Bond flick Goldeneye) suggests Hollywood can still make 'em like they used to if it tries.

Based on the Johnston McCulley pulp-fiction series that began in 1919, the legend of the fox (in Spanish, zorro) hit the screens the following year with a spirited rendition starring Douglas Fairbanks. An aristocrat who disguised himself to help the Mexican peasants fight off their Spanish oppressors, Zorro is the precursor of several modern 20th-century heroes, including Batman. The Mask of Zorro, written by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Randall Jahnson, uses all of the story's earlier traditions while putting a distinctively new spin on the old myth.

Things open with a bang and never look back. Determined to hang up his sword once and for all, Zorro--in private life the aging Don Diego de la Vega (Sir Anthony Hopkins)--outwits the dastardly Spanish governor Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson, of Death and the Maiden) once more. But just before departing for Madrid, Montero exacts a bitter revenge. His family taken from him, Don Diego languishes in prison for 20 years until Montero returns.

Don Diego's plans to retaliate against Montero take an unexpected turn, and instead he finds himself joining forces with the young thief Alejandro Murieta (Antonio Banderas). Alejandro seeks vengeance too--upon Montero's mercenary captain of arms, the chillingly perverse Captain Love (Matt Letscher, Gettysburg). Don Diego offers Alejandro the possibility of a more noble and complete revenge, and begins training the coarse younger man to take up the heroic mantel of Zorro. Spicing things up to an extraordinary degree is Montero's daughter Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Phantom), and a subplot of Montero's plans to take over Southern California. It all makes for a juicy, action- and romance-packed two hours plus.

As the first Spaniard to play Zorro, Banderas is thoroughly at ease both as the crude, petty thief and as the witty, debonair hero, displaying a delightful flair for light comedy. Hopkins appears slightly embarrassed in the opening sequence as his blue-eyed Zorro saves the day, but he brings a melancholy dignity and faded elegance to the mellowing Don Diego. Zeta-Jones, a relative newcomer to Hollywood, positively snaps with Latin attitude as the bold Elena, all the more impressive considering her real-life Welsh background. A former dance champ in Britain, Zeta-Jones uses that experience not only in a smoldering fandango with Banderas but also in their racy and provocative sword fight.

With lavish set and costume designs and a crashingly dynamic, castanet-laden score from Titanic's John Horner, The Mask of Zorro is big, cartoonish, bombastic amusement. Viva!

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