When I heard that The Legend of Zorro was in production as a sequel to 1998’s blockbuster The Mask of Zorro, I was about as confused as Dick Enberg trying to pronounce Green Bay Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Was there anyone on this planet that was excited for it? Why was it necessary to make a sequel? Despite my reservations, the film was made, and like most sequels, it does not hold a candle to the original.
The Legend of Zorro returns Antonio Banderas as the title character Zorro (whose alter ego is Alejandro de la Vega) and Catherine Zeta-Jones as his wife Elena. The plot revolves around California entering the union as a free state, an issue that most Californians support. However, a bandit named Jacob McGivens (Nick Chinlund), who looks so much like a nineteenth century version of U2’s The Edge that I was bothered, attempts to stop the voting for statehood. At the same time, Zorro has a fight with his wife, who leaves him for Armand (Rufus Sewell), a Frenchman involved in a secret plot against America. Zorro must deal with all of this, with the added factor of a mischievous son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso) complicating matters.
Banderas, as in the first movie, epitomizes Zorro, combining the right amount of strength and humor to make the character interesting. Zeta-Jones is also effective as Elena and actually makes audience empathize with her character and her situation of being torn between Zorro and Armand. One scene in particular shows the actors’ ability and chemistry when Alejandro (in civilian attire) attends a party hosted by Armand in which Elena is in attendance as Armand’s guest, causing Alejandro to become incredibly drunk. During a dance scene, the two trade barbs as inebriated Alejandro makes a fool of himself. However, Banderas and Zeta-Jones infuse the scene with sexual tension that adds some depth to the characters.
The secondary characters do not succeed as much as the stars. As McGivens, Chinlund appears to be channeling Biff’s western ancestor from Back to the Future, Part III. There is absolutely nothing special about the character, except for a religious subtext that goes nowhere. As Armand, Sewell, normally a good actor, draws on every villain cliché in the book and ends up as simply a bad conglomeration of all the Bond villains. Alonso, like many other child actors, is incredibly annoying, his facial expressions are extremely exaggerated and his emotions seem too forced.
The biggest problem with the movie is the direction of Martin Campbell, who previously helmed The Mask of Zorro. Although at parts, The Legend of Zorro, attempts to be serious, most of the time Campbell directs the film like a kids’ movie with a multitude of childish jokes, most of which involve Zorro’s horse Tornado. The horse only understands Spanish, drinks alcohol, smokes a pipe and burps. I felt like I was watching a movie version of a raunchy Mr. Ed. In addition, there is a lot of action involving Joaquin, including a ruler fight with his teacher, who also happens to be a priest (yes, this actually happens). Also, Joaquin expertly uses his slingshot to help Zorro in some key situations. Campbell utilizes this child action way too much, and therefore the movie feels less like Zorro and more like Spy Kids 3D (but thankfully without Sylvester Stallone).
The one positive aspect of the direction is a few nifty camera angles, such as a fast moving shot that follows Zorro’s path as he jumps up and down a huge structure during the first fight scene, but moments such as this are few and far between.
The Legend of Zorro ends up being a cross between a bad Bond movie and a bad kids’ movie. Except for a few exceptions, sequels should never be made, and this film is nowhere near exceptional. While Banderas and Zeta-Jones make the movie mildly entertaining, it fails overall. If you want entertainment, stick to the original Zorro, however, if you’re into burping horses, I guess this is the movie for you.