PLOT: Just as the hero of colonial California is considering giving up the mask to spend time with his family, Zorro is called back to action to thwart forces that are trying to keep the state from joining the Union.
When you wait seven years to assemble a sequel to a surprise hit like 1998's The Mask Of Zorro, the downside is you have time to hold lots of meetings.
So let's do a mini-post mortem of what worked the first time. Antonio Banderas as Zorro/Alejandro de la Vega and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the fiery Elena were a surprise, an example of actual chemistry rather than the usual fish-and-bicycle romantic pairings where "chemistry" is mendaciously claimed.
Ergo: In the sequel The Legend Of Zorro, let's have them divorce and encounter each other only sporadically. And let's give her a subplot that happens mainly offscreen.
Second, The Mask Of Zorro was an earthbound film with a detestable local villain (Anthony Hopkins), in which the hero prevailed through the modest means of swordplay.
Ergo: Let's make this "bigger and better!" like The Wild, Wild West. We'll have a villain with dreams of world conquest and a plan to cripple the U.S. via advanced 19th century technology, and explosions -- lots of explosions! -- all of which will make Zorro and his sword look quaint and ridiculous. Director Martin Campbell needs to warm up for his Bond film job after all.
Oh, also, let's make their kid a cute mini-Zorro.
And here we are with a big, noisy and needlessly long load of bloodless nonsense, with lots of oversold tomfoolery and plenty of scenes of Zorro doing flips and making short work of groups of a half-dozen or more swordsmen. For some reason, however, it's always a much closer fight when he has to square off against one.
The movie opens with a vote for California to leave Mexican oppression for freedom as a U.S. State. And Zorro is on-scene stopping a murderous, baddie named McGivens (Nick Chinlund) from stealing ballot boxes.
Back home, Elena puts her foot down, demanding that Alejandro give up swashbuckling to spend more time with her and their hyperactive son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso who, yes, grabs a sword later and swashbuckles at school). Bad timing, since McGivens is a footsoldier for a far more nefarious and far-reaching plot. Elena and Alejandro argue. He leaves. Later he receives a divorce decree, prompting so-hilarious "drunk Zorro" scenes.
We lose Elena for a considerable stretch, to have her show up on the arm of an obnoxious French Count named Armand (professional villain Rufus Sewell). Well, I never.
Not to worry, she's not really a turncoat. As we find out, just prior to that big finish with a train and enough experimental nitro to blow up Hollywood.
As a Zorro-fan friend of mine said when I related the plot, "That doesn't sound like my Zorro." Mine either.
BOTTOM LINE: Antonio Banderas still cuts a dashing figure as the Man in Black, but much of what made the first Zorro a charming and involving action-romance has been bled dry or cut away in the quest to make it "bigger and better!" There's also a cute/obnoxious 10-year-old Zorro Jr., which may be all some of you need to know.
(This film is rated PG)