The Mask of Zorro Reviews
Well played - with a big heart, a smirk and a wink.
4 whip snaps out of 5
Fresh off the bat from his success in Desperado (1995), Antonio Banderas takes it to a much higher scale with The Mask of Zorro and has huge production values to support him in doing so. Alas, the film seems to rely very heavily on his charm to carry it and not so much on story originality. As much as I love the man and his brilliant charisma, there is only so far he can carry things when the story around him is so formulaic. Adhering to commercial demands The Mask of Zorro follows a conventional plot structure. The extended intro to the film characterizes the story as a familiar origin story narrative with dynamics driven by the theme of vengeful redemption. Following a similar path to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Mask of Zorro makes an effort to capture the cheesy adventure fun of the cinematic swashbuckling heyday while using its modern technological potential to create a genuine action spectacle. There is certainly a lot of stylish grace in the production of The Mask of Zorro, but in terms of story there isn't all that much to boast about. The tale of a Spanish action hero on a quest for redemption and love has already been told with Antonio Banderas in the lead through Desperado, while the background to how Zorro came to be begs for a comparison to the story of The Lone Ranger. The entire film is intentionally conventional as it aims strictly at market desires rather than innovation, and though it is not without its charms it is certainly without much in the way of originality.
Yet I could forgive The Mask of Zorro more if it delivered on the exhilaration front. Unfortunately, the story moves along at a rate which is far too slow for its own good. Despite having an action hero in the starring role, there is far too little swashbuckling occurring throughout The Mask of Zorro to support the size of its budget which effectively just leaves it with a feeling of being overblown. The obsession with story transcends the need for action and ends up somehow managing to stretch things beyond two hours minutes which is way too long for any film which relies so heavily on cliches. It bothers me how much Martin Campbell obsesses over the serious nature of the story and fails to utilize Antonio Banderas' comic charisma or action skills, and it's just not enough to justify spending $95 million. I can certainly admit there is admiration to be had at the quality of the scenery and the extensive work on costume and production design to give the film value and the cinematography manages to capture it with wide-angled stability and smooth movements, but they really tease the audience since they do little more than offer a front for a generic story rather than being capitalized on for the sake of action. Within the select quantity of action scenes that ultimately appear in The Mask of Zorro the choreography is extensive and impressive while the visual style helps to bolster these and given brilliant imagery to the feature, making it all the more worse that they do not dominate more of the film. The swashbuckling fun of The Mask of Zorro is ultimately minimized by its overlong story and slow pace, and it interferes with whatever fun can be had in the long run. The musical score is the only solid element which never seems to be problematic.
The central heart of flare in The Mask of Zorro can be credited to Antonio Banderas. Restraining the angry edge from his action hero persona but maintaining the same spirit of energy, Antonio Banderas never misses a beat in his performance as the titular hero of The Mask of Zorro. Developing the character well over the course of his back story, we see Antonio Banderas develop his character from a man disillusioned by the violence in the world into a man who uses it for his gain and has some fun in the process. Between the passionate line delivery of the drama and the romance, Antonio Banderas diverts his natural suave charm into a delightfully energetic swashbuckler in a role he has maximum fun with. His confidence in his technique is impossible to ignore because he fights with such swift passion and determination without neglecting a lighthearted spirit. Antonio Banderas manages to find the perfect balance between comedy and drama in The Mask of Zorro, and though the material may not make full use of this or capitalize on his determination in the role, the full strength of his efforts truly stand out as the finest aspect of the feature.
Anthony Hopkins also makes a fine presence. Don Diego de la Vega isn't given much of a rich characterization as his existence is predicated solely on bringing Anthony Hopkins to the screen, but the actor's natural charms help to elevate the role. The one truly great thing his character actually contributes to the story is the relationship shared between Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas as there is a sense of both protege-mentor relationship and a buddy thing going on between them which allows the comic banter and drama of the story to flow from one to another. Anthony Hopkins is a natural charmer all over again.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is also powerful. In a role which could easily end up trapped in the confines of its stereotype, Elena Montero proves to be more than the damsel in distress from a Spanish soap opera. Catherine Zeta-Jones makes sure of that through capturing the gentle side of the character while maintaining the truly passionate fire of love from within, bringing the romance of the story to life. Her chemistry with Antionio Banderas has a burning spirit to it which is subtle and positive. Catherine Zeta-Jones makes a powerful addition to The Mask of Zorro and transcends a role which could have easily dragged her down.
The Mask of Zorro has a brilliant cast and an enjoyable style, but beneath the overlong, slow and predictable story they prove to only provide a modicum of support.
There's a rich motherlode of revenge running throughout the entire flick, parts of which are actually quite dark for its rating. This is also the film where Banderas first took on the role of Zorro (playing it somewhat like Mandy Patinkin's Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride), which he would later riff upon as Puss in Boots in the Shrek films, and which is much better than the somewhat lazy sequel!