At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Mask of Zorro “98”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action-Adventure-Comedy/ Stars: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, Tony Amendola, Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., Victor Rivers, William Marquez, L. Q. Jones, Julieta Rosen/ Runtime: 136 minutes

Fresh off his appearances in numerous literary works, TV shows, and other movies, the infamous masked hero Zorro decided to come out of a lengthy retirement in the late 90’s in a film known as The Mask of Zorro. Yet somehow despite first coming to the public’s attention over 90+ years ago has the creative genius of a man by the name of Johnston McCulley, and although this cultural icon, the Mexican equivalent to The Lone Ranger minus the Indian sidekick and using a sword more than a pistol, has managed to grow and change with the times, it is astonishing to see that his adventures were not as beautifully realized until Martin Campbell came along and gave us a film adaptation that is absolutely spot-on in nearly every way. Indeed by providing audiences with pitch perfect turns from a fantastic cast, truly phenomenal work from the set and costume departments, a script that is equal parts quippy and pathos driven, and a delightful hint of romance about the whole affair, The Mask of Zorro is one movie which will always best the test of time and still manages to be an excellent showcase for true movie magic at work even after some 2-plus decades following its initial time spent in theaters nationwide.

The plot is as follows: That famous and intriguingly masked hero of the people known only as Zorro has once again managed to do his hero’s duty, and save the day. A task which on this particular go-around has consisted of rescuing a trio of innocent individuals who were sentenced to be shot by a group of men who answer to one Don Rafael Montero; a man who, besides everything else, is a wicked ruler who looks at the masked hero as no more than a thorn in his aim to be the say-all, end-all ruler of a territory known as California. However tragedy soon strikes when Montero deduces Zorro’s real identity, that of one Don Diego de la Vega, and tracks him back to his estate to have him arrested; an action that sadly results not only in Diego getting taken away, but also his infant daughter Elena taken by Montero, and his wife murdered by Montero’s men. 2 decades later, Diego manages to break free and decides to seek revenge on his nemesis only to have his measures thwarted by the sight of his now grown-up daughter arriving back in California after a long time away. Thankfully, Lady Fortune provides Diego with yet another opportunity to get back at Montero when he stumbles upon a young man by the name of Alejandro Murrieta. A young man who, in addition to functioning as a very unkempt and loving of the bottle individual who also recently lost his beloved brother to Montero’s 2nd in command of sorts Captain Harrison Love is also a young man who, a long time ago, unknowingly aided Diego, in the guise of Zorro, in his last triumph over Montero. Thus, taking pity on the young man and perhaps seeing a bit of his younger self in him as well, Diego brings Alejandro in as his pupil to train: not only to become a better man altogether, but also to become the next Zorro which the people need now more than ever. Together both Zorros, past and future, will embark on a dual-tiered mission: not only to stop Montero and his twisted schemes for the people, but to also give the people a new itineration of a warrior whose sense of justice is just as timeless as ever….

Now if you could describe this film in one word then I most definitely feel that the word you are looking for would most undoubtedly be fun. Indeed with a seemingly endless amount of both exciting adventure and action in store for its target audience, The Mask of Zorro is a serious film that also has a sense of humor running throughout it. Indeed it makes for a terrific mixture, and  serious motion picture with and not to mention is a mixture that most definitely is a brilliant fit for this movie’s cast of characters, and the overarching narrative wonderfully. Suffice it to say then that the helmer of this film, a Mr. Martin Campbell manages to knock this one out of the park completely. Indeed this film is a truly incredible look at a variety of adventure in the swashbuckler genre that, despite the film’s runtime, never once ever feels tired or boring in any way. For a brilliant example of this look no further than this movie’s phenomenal opening. Indeed it may be a brilliant look from a visual perspective on how to phenomenally choreograph a moment where the main protagonist saves the day, and it may be cartoony in how it deals with violence, but the end result is most certainly a happy and exciting opening to a movie that retains the same excitement and joy whilst also seeming slightly less than realistic throughout. Despite that however, The Mask of Zorro does possess just the right degree of pathos which gifts the movie with a sense of peril and realism at every given moment thus permitting the movie to utilize the best possible blend to showcase high adventure at its finest.

Now another arena that The Mask of Zorro manages to succeed quite admirably in is in how it manages to bypass the fact that its narrative is as predictable as you could get. Indeed even when the narrative is as engaging as this one, it is also never a grand secret where this one is going to wind up. Despite this stumbling block however, The Mask of Zorro manages to magnificently best this otherwise crippling ingredient and is a better movie for it. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the lighthearted nature of the narrative as well as the movie’s overall brilliantly done construction manage to permit the film to be rewatchable as many times as the viewer wants. Indeed this is a film that, no matter if this is your first or 300th time watching it, never seems to ever feel tired or dated in even the slightest; rather it is a truly eternal in many respects film of action and humor, and a fun little outing that is a true success thanks not only to its refreshing spin on the Zorro mythos, but also because it is able to flesh out all of the wonderful supporting ingredients at play within the time-tested narrative. Indeed the film manages to blend together a perfect mix of action beats, humor, legitimate pathos, and lovely romance alongside a powerful script, a wonderful sense for editing and direction, terrific work from the stunt teams in regards to the brilliant swordfights, and a perfect musical accompaniment from James Horner. Thus when all of these elements are brought together, they manage to completely cancel out the unsurprising narrative and allow the film to prove timeless, and also show that it is worthy not only of being an official “Zorro” movie, but also a genuine piece of movie magic every single time you watch it.

Now the key to ensuring that all of these ingredients mix together as well as they do would most certainly have to be not only this film’s sharp yet quippy dialogue, but also this terrific cast’s gift of getting every bit of enjoyment possible from the script itself. Indeed through a mixture of both the dialogue and the visuals that are presented to us, the film is able to insert quite a bit of comedy to sync up with the action, adventure, pathos, and the romance yet never does the humor feel misplaced in any way. Indeed this is because not only does the cast understand the basic foundation of this movie’s script, but each and every one of them manages to really accept and go along with the material they are given thus giving us a cast where everyone manages to portray their roles with such ease and strength that they seemingly become their respective parts. Indeed as Zorro Senior, Anthony Hopkins is, it should come as no surprise, quite a joy to behold as the aging warrior with a strong overwhelming desire to get his personal revenge, and as Zorro Jr. Antonio Banderas manages to provide a pitch perfect turn as his rough and tumble successor. Indeed the casting of these 2 gifted thespians does a wonderful job of making their mentor-pupil bond more believable and engaging and the narrative also gives their different ways of tackling the same objectives to really blend together as they wind up becoming like the other and actually manage to team up in order to save the day. We also get wonderful work from Catherine Zeta-Jones as the gorgeous grown-up Elena who finds herself torn between the protagonists and antagonist, between who she loves and who she lusts, and the ever-evolving situations that slowly but surely result in her comprehending just who she should side with, and more crucially, who she really is. Finally, it should also be noted that Stuart Wilson does a wonderful job, and his turn in this is every bit of a match to the rest of the cast as he manages to prove wonderfully ruthless, but also fun in a way as this film’s despicable yet almost pitiable villain. Suffice it to say then that this one cast that is taking full advantage of the material being presented to them, and making it work to the absolute best of their abilities.

All in all a truly fantastic cast, a quippy and engaging script, wonderful and incredible work from Martin Campbell at the helm, terrific work in the swordfight department, and a dynamic musical score all manage to blend together in order to make The Mask of Zorro one of the best more recent movies in its particular genre. More than that however, the movie is also a delightful throwback to the swashbucklers of yore and comes equipped with enough exciting action, riveting drama, heart-pounding romance, and chuckle-worthy humor to help ensure this film shall too stand the test of time while also being one of the more engaging and entertaining films I’ve seen here lately. Indeed it may not have as much in terms of substance as some audiences would like, but regardless the movie manages to work because all the ingredients are working as brilliantly as they are thus making The Mask of Zorro a relaxing and fun film that most assuredly is not only worth adding to your own movie collection, but is one you will enjoy watching time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Mask of Zorro “98” a solid 4 out of 5.