It's been more than seven years since we took our leave of the masked man in The Mask of Zorro, and in the interim he has settled down, gotten married and fathered a son. But you can't keep a good (and restless) hero down for long.
In The Legend of Zorro, Antonio Banderas returns as Don Alejandro de la Vega, the handsome and seemingly laid-back landowner who moonlights as the dashing Zorro. Catherine Zeta-Jones is also back as his hot-blooded, beloved wife, Elena. Newcomer Adrian Alfonso plays their impetuous son, Joaquin, who doesn't know his father very well but is enamored of Zorro's heroism.
In the guise of Zorro, Alejandro is repeatedly called away from home to do battle. It's the eve of California's statehood, so the region is a hotbed of activity, not all of it benevolent. The five peals of the church bell mean that Zorro is needed nearby, and the bell has been ringing off the hook lately - much to Elena's dismay. She wants Alejandro to be more of a family man and boots him out of the house when he refuses.
Given Zorro's travails at home and on the job, one might think that The Legend of Zorro would give its hero a dose of reality. But reality is the furthest thing from the film's agenda. Pure, unadulterated escapism is first and foremost - and consistently delivered.
Running over two hours, The Legend of Zorro is too long, but it's also great fun. Director Martin Campbell (also returning from the first film) has never displayed such a sense of humor before, and the story wisely lets the audience in on the joke from the get-go. One needn't have seen the first film to enjoy this one.
Rufus Sewell slithers through the proceedings as the villainous Armand, whose nefarious agenda includes wooing Elena, whom he knew during their school days. This does nothing for Alejandro's disposition and certainly complicates his efforts to thwart Armand. Young Joaquin, meanwhile, is proving himself a chip off the old block, having inherited his father's particular knack for derring-do. It certainly comes in handy when Mom and Dad already have their hands full.
Banderas and Zeta-Jones romp through Zorro with appropriate panache, neither taking things too seriously, and 11-year-old Alfonso (who also appeared in Luis Mandoki's Innocent Voices) plays precocious without being precocious.
The action scenes are funny and exciting without being excessively violent, so The Legend of Zorro can be enjoyed by all ages. The heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous and the Mexican locations look great. It's all perfectly silly and stacks up as the perfect diversion.