Pantomime comes early this year as The Legend of Zorro leaps and bounds onto screens with a helping of camp and a large slice of ham. Packing in explicit American history lessons such as the rise of the Confederacy with more thinly-veiled comments about the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, this unnecessary sequel forgets that no one will listen to a film marketing itself as a family-friendly blockbuster in which no character can be taken seriously.
Having inherited the Mask of Zorro, Don Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) is facing a dilemma: the people of California need his protection, but wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) wants him to give up the heroics and spend more time with their son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). When Alejandro is divorced by Elena for former finishing school classmate and French aristocrat Armand (Rufus Sewell), he begins to uncover a sinister plot threatening the America his people are so desperate to become part of while fighting to win back Elena.
His horse is a comic sidekick, puffing on a pipe and getting drunk to ridiculous effect.
Director Martin Campbell, Banderas and Zeta-Jones all return to their roles from the 1998 original remake, but this Zorro has lost the dignity and charm of its predecessor. Zorro himself has become almost inhuman, jumping rooftop to rooftop and dodging bullets in superhero style. His horse is a comic sidekick, puffing on a pipe and getting drunk to ridiculous effect. If Zorro needs someone to banter with, it would have been a better idea to involve Joaquin in the action. As it is, the 10-year-old has no knowledge that his father is Zorro yet inexplicably fights off his teacher and tries to foil the subplot gangsters as though he had been in training from birth. With Elena also getting in on the action, it is almost like watching the family fights of The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004) with none of the clever humour or originality. Some poor CGI, especially in the unimaginative climactic runaway train scene only further undermines the action scenes that veer from seriousness to a camp flair for acrobatics.
The story is unengaging, jumping from scene to scene without much thought on how to get there. The leads have little to work with beyond getting the film to its obvious conclusion, solving a sub plot along the way that only serves to distract the viewer from the main line of action rather than adding to it. The dynamic of Alejandro and Elena facing marital problems is just too mundane a story for their larger-than-life roles as saviours of their community and will bore younger members of the audience. Saying that, anyone will be bored as the runtime ticks past two hours of dull dialogue and pointless action stretched out to one last explosion to cap it all off. If there is a message in there about the threat of terrorism to America, it is lost in the sea of ‘Zs’ that will be coming from the audience.
Banderas, Zeta-Jones and Sewell ham it up as the disgruntled lovers
A good comparison comes with the Batman sequels. The Legend of Zorro falls more line with the garish and over-the-top style of Batman and Robin (Joel Schumacher, 1997) than the more accomplished and measured Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992). Banderas, Zeta-Jones and Sewell ham it up as the disgruntled lovers and the trio of de la Vega crime fighters places the same confused effect on the story as that of the six heroes and villains in Batman and Robin. The Legend of Zorro fails not because it lacks talent or ability, but because it is a film too lazy to instil the same pride and honour into its heroes that Anthony Hopkins, as the outgoing Zorro in the first film, taught his apprentice.