The differences between The Mask of Zorro (1998) and the new The Legend of Zorro can be explained by comparing one feature of both films: Zorro's horse. In the first film, the giant black horse had a definite personality—stubborn, defiant and independent. He got laughs by being very human. In the sequel, he now drinks wine, belches and, yes, even smokes a pipe
Like the first film's horse, Mask had character, dignity and personality. But this sequel removes its sense of restraint and stoops to lowest-denominator attempts at entertaining. It is still a big, fun-loving adventure caper, but it's just not at the same level of action, amusement, story or acting. The movie replaces a captivating story with Home Alone antics (bad guys falling on their crotches and landing in cactuses). In only two movies, the Zorro franchise has gone from being a rousing throwback to old Saturday afternoon westerns to being a Saturday morning cartoon. That the two movies were both directed by the same man, Martin Campbell, is mind-boggling.
So, what happened? Well, part of the problem is the story's focus on the ten-year-old son of Zorro, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). Sure, many films do fine with young kids in central roles. But little Joaquin is to Zorro what Cousin Oliver was to The Brady Bunch. He just ruins everything. The result? This Zorro film becomes Spy Kids. Being a family adventure (aka The Incredibles) would be fine if the movie had something of merit to offer young viewers. Instead, Joaquin is a jerk. He picks fights, swears, and disobeys everyone. But the film doesn't present this negatively—instead he's a hero. He saves the day, he makes key discoveries for his Dad, and teaches his elders some lessons. And yes, he even has his own faux-swordfight—he flips, spins and performs other derring-do in a ruler duel with his monk teacher. Why? Who knows? Apparently Campbell or his screenwriters thought it would be funny.
The plot of Legend takes place ten years after Mask. Don Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) has not been active in the life of his son because of his quest—while in the guise of his alter ego, Zorro—to peacefully usher California into statehood. But even as California is on the eve of statehood, Alejandro decides maybe he won't hang up his fancy boots after all. His wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), isn't happy. Neither is Joaquin, who thinks his dad's a wimp. Meanwhile, a mysterious count (Rufus Sewell) opens a plantation that Zorro suspects is hiding something.
The plot is conventional, relies on coincidence, and often doesn't feel authentic. Instead, many reactions and events seem to happen only because the screenplay calls for them. In fact, it kind of feels like Campbell and his writers just made up the movie as they filmed it—What would be cool now? Hmmm, it'd be funny if the horse smoked! And then Zorro should do a back flip and kick somebody!
The plot also portrays God and his believers in somewhat ambiguous terms. One of the bad guys, McGivens (Nick Chinland), is ruthless and cruel but claims to "do the Lord's work." He even has a cross-shaped scar on his face. Joaquin's monk teacher is a strict doofus, and Zorro's clergyman friend is a good companion but jokes about not forgiving people.
On a positive note, there's a fantastic scene of Zorro seeking God when lost. He begins with anger by yelling, "What do you want from me? I've only ever tried to protect those I love and I've lost them!" And then he turns: "Help me. I've always listened to my heart and now I find great darkness. Give me courage and strength." Unfortunately, this theme is then abandoned and explored little further.
This is an ongoing problem with The Legend of Zorro. Intriguing themes are brought up concerning relationships— Alejandro and Elena, Alejandro and Joaquin, Alejandro and God—but they are not sufficiently taken to conclusion. Therefore, it's hard to say what the film was really saying with each exploration. What were Mr. and Mrs. Zorro needing from one another? Did they find it? What did Joaquin want from his father? Is it really what he most needed from a father figure? I left the theatre wishing for less forgettable action sequences, less goofball comedy, and more depth into themes like hinted at in this great quote: "We see the people we love as we want them to be, not who they really are."
Ironically, this is part of the film's troubles. We don't really see who Zorro really is. Instead of being the good-hearted peasant turned swash-buckling gentleman, he's often a bungling buffoon. Hopefully, Zorro will return as we love him to be—and not who this film painted him to be.Discussion starters
- McGivens says he does the Lord's work and even at one point claims to speak for God. What do you think of these claims? Why do you think this character was written this way? How do people in real life use God's name to cover up bad intentions?
- In the film, a character says, "We see the people we love as we want them to be, not who they really are." What does this mean to you? What are some examples from the movie of this? What examples in your own life have you seen of this?
- Do you think Alejandro has the right intentions for being Zorro at the beginning of the film? Why or why not? How about at the end?
- Joaquin is proud of his dad at the end of the film. Is it for the right reasons? What is it that mends this relationship? Do you think this relationship is now healthy? Why or why not?
- How do you see God portrayed in the film? Do you think Zorro acts godly and follows his heart? How does God answer his prayer for strength and courage?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Rated PG for sequences of violence/peril and action, language and a couple of suggestive moments. Zorro's ten-year-old son uses swear words. The violence is typical to that of calmer Saturday westerns and swordplay adventures. A man who does truly horrible things claims they are done in the Lord's name.
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compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 11/03/05
Comparing The Legend of Zorro to its predecessor, 1998's The Mask of Zorro, The New Yorker calls the sequel "busier, sloppier, less coherent and more frantic." Other mainstream critics agree.
Director Martin Campbell has apparently come up short this time around, in spite of the chemistry between his two superstars, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Is it better or worse than the original? David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says it "lacks the freshness of the original and the plot is rapier thin, but as popcorn fare goes it deserves to be rated 'Z' for zestfully entertaining." He praises "the spirited chemistry between Banderas and Zeta-Jones, whose verbal fencing skills have remained saber-sharp."
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) says, "In spite of its uneven tone and ridiculous plot, a lot of things about this film feel old-fashioned … old-fashioned bad guys, an old-fashioned climax on a speeding train, and an old-fashioned feeling that the good guys will win and everything will be OK. Legend also earns cheers for its ultimately heroic family themes. … But that's not to say it's a complete winner for families." He goes on to list various concerns that parents should note before taking the family to see it.
But Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says, "Zorro is a movie with everything to offer during the fall family entertainment season:adventure, romance and heart."from Film Forum, 11/10/05
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) lowers the boom. "After the high standard set by the original, The Legend of Zorro ranks among this year's biggest disappointments. Other than the action, the one thing that keeps the film halfway watchable is Banderas and Zeta-Jones, who still have charisma and chemistry to spare … More precisely, it's a 'funny family action film' in the Fantastic Four mold—that is, a movie whose key qualification as kid entertainment is that it isn't good enough for grown‑ups. Too bad. Our kids deserve better. For that matter, so do we."
Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) say Zorro "has morphed into a caricature of his former self," and yet the movie "is supportive of the importance of family, the need for commitment to marriage and the need for fathers to care for their children."
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