There are times when your inner 10-year-old outshouts your grown-up reserve and forces you to submit to mindless delight. One of those times, for me, came seven years ago with the release of "The Mask of Zorro." The movie was a rare, welcome exemplar of operatic pulp, its kitschy bombast released at acceptable levels. Everybody on-screen seemed to be having as grand a time as you were. And then, there were all those stunts, chases and flashing swords. Anyone who didn't get a rush watching Zorro spin and slide away from capture must not like the movies.
"The Legend of Zorro" is louder, brasher and kitschier than its predecessor. It's closer in spirit to the Sunday-funnies cacophony of the "Spy Kids" movies, offering some of those movies' goofy pleasures.
Chief of which, of course, is Antonio Banderas, returning in the role of Don Alejandro de la Vega, onetime street thug who inherited the cape, mask and mission of the late Don Diego and, as you'll recall, married the latter's beauteous daughter Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones, also back and looking as refreshed and confident as she has in years).
Alejandro and Elena have been married for 10 years now, long enough to have a son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), who's carrying the couple's anti-authoritarian gene while being kept in the dark about "Papi's" secret life. Now that California is about to achieve statehood, Elena wishes Zorro would retire, and leave justice and protection of the innocent to the U.S. government.
Trouble is, there are ugly, misshapen varmints like McGivens (Nick Chinlund) who are bullying and beating the locals out of their property. So Zorro still has to work odd hours away from home, saving the people while putting family duties on the back burner. Elena, apparently tired of this state of affairs, leaves Alejandro for a haughty French nobleman named Armand (Rufus Sewell), whose secret desires are far from noble.
Director Martin Campbell, also returning from the first installment, barely manages to contain all the movie's blocky plot points, piling on the set pieces and somersaults. The prevailing boom and bombast can squeeze your head like a grape. But the two leads are magnetic and vibrant enough to cushion the pounding. Once again, you wonder why Banderas isn't a bigger movie star, given his razor-sharp timing and engaging self-deprecation. When his character winks slyly and affectionately at his son, it's as though the movie itself is inviting us to wink back. Against one's better judgment, one does.