|Legend of Zorro, The|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 31 January 2006|
Zorro is an iconic hero, one of those born into the mythology of today’s generation, encompassing those ideals that stand for what many people idealize. Where Superman stands for truth, justice and the American way, where Batman stands against the darkness of the urban world, where Tarzan exhibits the noble savage, Zorro strikes against the iron hand of oppression. In “The Legend of Zorro,” Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) champions the statehood of California and takes up sword and whip against those who would destroy the United States.
Directed by Martin Campbell, who also helmed this film’s predecessor, “The Mask of Zorro,” the new movie plays across the big screen to the sound of thundering hooves and ringing steel. “The Legend of Zorro” delves a little more deeply into Californian and United States history, perhaps to the detriment of the film for those viewers who only wanted the blood and thunder of an action-packed story, but provides a nice diversion for armchair historians who want a neat little what-if tied together in the package.
“The Legend of Zorro” also places an emphasis on family and the effects of leading the life of a masked vigilante. By the end of the movie, we get to see that only a few men in the world can become warriors, who answer a clarion call to stand for honor and self-sacrifice.
Chapter 1 opens with the sound of thundering horses’ hooves banging through the subwoofer, something that becomes a familiar backdrop to much of the action taking place in the movie. The clean, quick slashes of the sword that make the letter Z rip through the surround sound system. Pure guitar strumming and sounds of flamenco dancing gear the viewing excitement up. A bell thunders five times, signaling Zorro that evil is afoot. The action opens up on the vote in 1850 to determine whether or not California will join the Union, which will throw off the North/South balance that has been agreed upon. The surround sound system plunges us into the center of people, chickens and horses.
Rifle shots punctuate Chapter 2 as the election is invaded by McGivens (Nick Chinlund), a religious zealot and bigot dedicated to keeping the United States white and not allowing Hispanic citizens into the Union. The music swirls and – with a daring throw of a black, broad-brimmed hat – Zorro arrives among the people, ready to deal with the threat of injustice that has suddenly overshadowed them. (An interesting side note: Banderas does nearly all of his own stunts, having to be called down from some of them. He was also acknowledged to be a better swordsman than the stuntmen.) The battle is quickly joined and Zorro gives chase across the rooftops in an acrobatic display, while McGivens drives through everything and everyone in an effort to get away with the ballot box.
The sheer imagery of the chase in Chapter 3 is eloquent and moving, accompanied by the sounds of thundering hooves, whirling metal wheels, various clanking pulleys and other devices, all of which echo appropriately in the surround system. When the movie errs on the side of action, the action itself is always underscored by thudding impacts and slams of wood on wood, or metal on metal, or some mixture of those. The whip cuts through the air with a unique sound all its own. Then, as the battle winds down, Zorro is unmasked and is seen by two Americans. The humor reasserts itself quickly as Zorro addresses his horse in English, only to be reminded that the stallion only speaks Spanish. The cheering throng at the governor’s mansion echoes all around the surround sound system.
Chapter 4 takes the viewers to the de la Vega home as Zorro puts his horse away and goes to meet his wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has been worried about him. The love between the two is palpable. Now, with California becoming a state, Elena believes Alejandro will no longer have to don the mask of Zorro. However, Alejandro is having a hard time stepping away from being the hero. Elena and Alejandro argue over their future and what it will mean to their son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). Then, in the midst of this argument, the bell rings five times clearly, thundering through the subwoofer. Alejandro can only answer Elena with, “It’s who I am.” We get a preview of Joaquin’s behavior, showing that he has already inherited his father’s rebelliousness and taste for adventure. The image of Zorro torn between the moon and the woman is a strong one – pulled apart by his two loves and his two destinies.
In Chapter 5, Elena finds out her husband’s secret life – and hers – has been unraveled. A fight scene is very well choreographed and offers a bit of humor mixed in with the trepidation. Alejandro, who’s been away from home, is ready to beg Elena’s forgiveness. However, before he can do that, he is notified that she wants a divorce.
The time jumps to three months later in Chapter 6, as we discover that the divorce hasn’t agreed with either Alejandro or Joaquin. Zorro’s son has become something of a hero to the rest of his class. The mock swordfight with a ruler and pointer is underscored by music, cheering and amplified contact between the weapons that peals through the surround sound system.
Alejandro and Joaquin’s relationship comes to the forefront in Chapter 7. They argue over how Joaquin is growing up, and over what kind of man Alejandro is. McGivens returns in this scene, threatening to take away land owned by peasants.
Chapters 8 and 9 encompass one of the more effective, emotional sequences between Alejandro and Elena. She shows up as the escort of Count Armand (Rufus Sewell), who becomes Zorro’s archenemy for the movie. The dance between the triangle of Zorro, Elena and Count Armand is hilarious and troubling all at the same time. The fireworks whistle and rip through the air, screaming through the surround sound system. The presence of the two men who intercepted Elena point to how Elena has ended up in the situation she’s in.
Chapter 10 moves into another moment of hilarity as Alejandro and Denardo, his horse, both end up drunk. Alejandro has decided to make Elena want him back no matter what happens. There is a sonically potent explosion at the end of the chapter, which detonates through the subwoofer and leads Alejandro to realize that more is at stake than what he believed.
Some moviegoers complained of the movie’s length, stating that it took too long to develop and keep moving. However, many others believe the time was well spent, digging more deeply into the characters and the problems that face them individually and together.
The final chapters of the movie are as tense and filled with over-the-top excitement and adventure as anyone could ever hope for. Alejandro’s impassioned plea to God in Chapter 12 to give him strength gives chills, and his promise to his son in Chapter 20 that he is going to get Joaquin’s mother back makes the heart swell with emotion. This is a hero, and this is a hero’s tale of rebirth of a sort.
The added features on the single disc are all good and enjoyable. Quite a bit of the content is supplied by director Campbell, as well as the commentary and information about the show. The stunts featurette is well worth watching, as is the section dealing with the train.
Overall, “The Legend of Zorro” is highly recommended as family fare. The action is swift and plentiful, but there’s nothing too objectionable for parents to worry overly much. Fans of Campbell’s previous outing with the Zorro franchise will enjoy this one as well. It also fits the bill as neutral ground for date night, offering action as well as romance.