Running Time: 129 mins.
Rated: Rated M.
Action, romance and comedy. Ingredients for a crowd-pleaser. Capitalising on the huge popularity of 1998's The Mask of Zorro, stars, director and many of the production team have come together again to bring us what may well be one of the most popular films of 2005.
It comes as something of a surprise to learn that Zorro was created for a 1919 novel, 'The Curse of Capistrano' by an American writer, Jackson McCully. Almost immediately, Zorro starred in a silent film in the form of the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, who then appeared as Son of Zorro in 1925. Since then he has been continually on screen, including a 1930s serial of twelve episodes, a television series in the 1950s and many films. For those who enjoy some internet research, there are 69 entries under the name of Zorro in the Internet Movie Database!
This time around, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have settled down into a comfortable family life with their son, Joaquin. But, of course, that is all on the surface. Don Aleyandro is always available when the mission bell tolls and the people need Zorro. This happens as soon as the film starts. It is the day of voting for California to become the 50th state of the Union. Everyone is rejoicing to become American and free. However, the vote does not go smoothly. They seem to have had far more trouble and disturbance in old California than in modern Iraq. Robber barons try to steal the ballot papers. Zorro to the rescue. With athletic prowess and skilful stunts and special effects, the film is off and definitely running.
This is really old-fashioned film making on a contemporary big-budget and none the less entertaining for that. James Horner's score with orchestra crescendos, guitars and castanets keeps us in the mood. The 19th century costumes and décor evoke the past. The continuous cliff-hanging climaxes capitalise on our eagerness for excitement. And, by the end, with Zorro, his wife and son disarmed and at the mercy of the villain, you don't exactly fear for Zorro and the family but wonder how on earth they can all possibly get out of this fix. It does not spoil the ending to know that they do!
Antonio Banderas still cuts a dashing figure as Zorro. He is matched by Catherine Zeta-Jones as Elena. In The Mask of Zorro, she had to join in the sword-fights and she does again. It reminds us, even though there are punch-ups and knocking people on the head, sword fights look visually spectacular.
There is a literally ugly villain played by Nick Chidlund and a suave villain, a British actor, of course, Rufus Sewell. There is always a grandee with ambitious plans for self-aggrandisement. However, this time the writers have been absorbing Da Vinci Code conspiracies and present us with another variation: the Knights of Aragon whose sway in Europe is being menaced by the power of the United States and who, therefore, must resort to sabotage. They plan to produce a weapon of mass destruction in a plant hidden underground, nitro-glycerine, and, with the help of Southern Army generals, explode bombs in Washington DC.
The serial-like scenario is not without its parallels with contemporary American world leadership issues and terrorist attacks.
One of the reasons given for the continued popularity of Zorro is that he is a hero of the people, a defender of ordinary people's rights against ruthless and greedy oppressors. He is a mysterious masked man who, unlike the comic book heroes with special powers, relies on his own wit and stamina and sense of justice to do good.
Fr Peter Malone is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.