Who doesn't love Zorro, the Hispanic Robin Hood? Who doesn't love the nimble Man in Black, the caped crusader whose fashion statement was copied by Superman, Wonder Woman and Underdog? Who doesn't love the caballero who first swashes, then squashes, evil under his silver spur?
The Legend of Zorro, filmmaker Martin Campbell's sequel to his brazenly enjoyable 1998 flick, The Mask of Zorro, is a movie-movie - big, lush and sexy.
And formulaic, saddled with more plot than it needs and more Spy Kids references than it should have, but still... It makes you smile to behold Antonio Banderas, debonair (and a little debauched) in his flamenco hat, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, with her epic mouth and epic hair and epic epic-ness.
Like Banderas, the film has a twinkle in its gait. Like Zeta-Jones and the black Friesian who plays Zorro's inebriated stallion, it runs at a gallop - although at 2 hours and 5 minutes, it's pretty long for a family movie.
As befits a superhero tale, Legend is an origin story - about the origin of modern California. Set in 1850, Legend opens with the peasants of California territory voting on a constitution that prohibits slavery, thereby paving the way for statehood. Like many wives, Mrs. Zorro, that is, Elena, (Zeta-Jones), wants her husband (Banderas) to spend more time with the family and less time defending the rights of the people.
In a dazzling intervention on behalf of the peasants, Zorro, alter ego of Don Alejandro de la Vega, swings onto the hustings, marks his ballot with a "Z," and rescues the ballot box from the mitts of pro-slavery sympathizers who don't want a free election that would certify the territory as a free state. (Yes, California did become the 31st state in 1850. Otherwise looking for historical accuracy in Legend is like looking for meaning in a Rob Schneider movie.)
Cheering on Zorro is young Joaquin de la Vega (adorable Adrian Alonso), who doesn't yet know that the masked man he wishes were his father actually is his father.
But back at the rancho, the guy cheered by the public gets jeers from the wife demanding quality family time. Zorro/Alejandro bridles at the ultimatum and storms out of the rancho to seek consolation in a flask of mescal. Elena files for divorce.
Much swordplay ensues, with a superhero whose power comes from his family, a superheroine whose beauty is as lethal as her aim, a superson who has his papacito's way with a rapier, and a stallion who follows commands only in Spanish. Never mind that the plot is half Spy Kids, half Notorious. A fiesta will be had by all.
The Legend of Zorro **1/2 (out of four stars)
Produced by Lloyd Phillips, directed by Martin Campbell, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, photography by Phil Meheux, music by James Horner, distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Running time:2 hours, 10 min.
Zorro... Antonio Banderas
Elena... Catherine Zeta-Jones
Armand... Rufus Sewell
Joaquin... Adrian Alonso
Jacob McGivens... Nick Chinlund
Parent's guide: PG (swordplay, explosions, discreet violence)
Playing at: area theaters