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(1998) (Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: Zorro, the legendary swashbuckler, trains a young protégé to avenge both his and the young man's personal misfortunes by having him take his place as the freedom fighting masked hero.
It's 1821 and the Spanish governor of Alta California, Don Rafael Montero (STUART WILSON), is prepared to leave the American west coast and his military oppression of the locals, but not before one last public execution. Before that happens, however, Don Diego de la Vega (ANTHONY HOPKINS), a.k.a. Zorro, the legendary hero, swoops in, battles Montero's forces and frees those to be executed.

Montero quickly tracks down Don Diego in his palatial estate where, after a brief battle, Don Diego's wife, Esperanza (JULIETA ROSEN), is accidentally killed. Montero then takes their infant daughter Elena for his own, and he throws Don Diego in prison forever before returning to Spain.

Twenty years later and now much older, Don Diego manages to escape from prison when he learns that Montero has returned to the California territory. Prepared to kill his archenemy, Don Diego stops when he spots Elena (CATHERINE ZETA-JONES), now a ravishing young woman who believes Montero to be her paternal father.

Needing someone to enact revenge for him, Don Diego recruits a local outlaw, Alejandro Murrieta (ANTONIO BANDERAS), who happens to be seeking his own revenge on Montero's American military leader, Captain Harrison Love (MATT LETSCHER), for recently killing his brother, Joaquin. Recalling that the two brothers saved his life some twenty years ago in an earlier skirmish, Don Diego decides to train Alejandro to be the next Zorro.

As Alejandro becomes more proficient in his swashbuckling skills and learns to control his temper, he must deal with his growing attraction to Elena who is bedazzled by the charming, but masked figure. After learning that Montero is preparing to enact an outlandish plan that will make him the owner of all of California, however, he & Don Diego set to learn more. At the same time, both men prepare for their final, avenging encounters with the men who have wronged them.

It's hard to tell. Swashbucklers probably aren't high on most kids' "must see" lists, and it's questionable how much of a draw the cast will be for them.
For some intense action and violence.
  • ANTONIO BANDERAS plays the former thief turned adventurous hero who fights with many bad guys while trying to avenge his brother's death, save others' lives, and win the affections of Don Diego's daugther.
  • ANTHONY HOPKINS plays the former Zorro who likewise fights and fought many people to protect the innocent, and sets into motion a plan to avenge his wife's death and the theft of his infant daughter twenty years earlier.
  • CATHERINE ZETA JONES plays Zorro's adult daughter, a stunning beauty who can hold her own with any man in wit or with a sword.
  • STUART WILSON plays the dastardly and ruthless governor who takes Don Diego's infant daughter for his own, and isn't above killing many people or stealing others property to further his status.
  • MATTHEW LETSCHER plays Montero's ruthless military henchman who doesn't care who he kills.


    OUR TAKE: 8.5 out of 10
    The first mainstream Hollywood picture to depict the legendary swordsman in quite some time, "The Mask of Zorro" is a throwback to filmmaking of yesteryear. No more can people complain that "they don't make 'em like they used to," for this exciting, high adventure swashbuckler is easily the most enjoyable and one of the best movies of 1998. Forget the leaping lizards and falling space debris -- this is the movie to see this summer.

    Based on the character created by pulp novelist Johnston McCulley, Zorro first appeared on the big screen as portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in 1920's "The Mask of Zorro." Twenty years later Tyrone Power played the masked man who battled the villainous Basil Rathbone, while Guy Williams (from TV's "Lost in Space") played the legendary hero in the late 1950's on TV. Of course, many other versions have come along in the intervening years, featuring a wide range of actors playing Zorro, including Frank Langella, George Hamilton, and Clayton Moore (who later went on to fame as another masked hero, "The Lone Ranger").

    Beyond Fairbanks, Errol Flynn also popularized the swashbuckler genre in films such as "Captain Blood" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood," and the "Three Musketeers" films briefly brought them back into vogue decades later. Since then, however, swashbucklers haven't done much -- remember "Cutthroat Island?" -- although "The Man In The Iron Mask" did okay, but mainly because of its post "Titanic" leading man.

    This film should change all of that, although today's kids -- who've been weaned on high testosterone-laced, low I.Q. action films -- may initially believe the movie too "quaint" for their tastes. If they, and everyone else give it a chance, however, they'll find that it's as exciting as any of those other "action" films and of far better quality.

    Besides the requisite swashbuckling scenes -- which are outstanding in their own right courtesy of consultant "sword master" Bob Anderson, and stunt coordinator Glenn Randall, Jr. and his fabulous team -- the picture succeeds on many levels.

    For an action/adventure film, the script by John Eskow, Ted Elliot, & Terry Rossio -- while hardly an Oscar nominee -- is very good. Its multilayered plot, featuring dual revenge stories and the woman who connects the two Zorro's together, is quite compelling and complex for this sort of movie. Working from that script, director Martin Campbell (who also helmed the James Bond flick, "Goldeneye"), has delivered a nice combination of action and straight dramatic scenes, including some effective moments between Don Diego and his daughter, and more fun romantic ones between her and Alejandro.

    In fact, it's those performances and the natural chemistry between the characters that really allows the movie to be as superbly entertaining as it is. As the elderly Zorro, Anthony Hopkins ("The Silence of the Lambs," "Nixon") is as good as ever, and it's a pleasure to behold him in a role that's mostly atypical for him (especially when he handles most of his sword and whip action).

    The real standout, however, is Antonio Banderas. While he's progressively shown greater signs of brilliance in his roles (from the charisma oozing gunslinger in "Desperado" to his acclaimed performance in "Evita"), this one -- that fits him like a glove -- should put him on the "A" list of Hollywood actors. Deftly balancing physical stunts, self-deprecating humor, and again tons of charm, Banderas plays this role as if the character were written specifically with him in mind.

    What makes him and his Zorro character particularly endearing is that he's not the "perfect" action hero. Things don't always go his way, and he's often made to be the butt of several slapstick style jokes. Yet he never gives up, and accordingly improvises a way to get himself out of his latest predicament, all of which makes the character an instant audience pleaser.

    One of the film's additional pleasant surprises comes in the form of Catherine Zeta Jones in the role of Elena. Having paid her dues working mainly in British theater and TV, this ravishing beauty is ready for the big time and this film may just be the catalyst to get her there. Instead of simply playing the pretty face or the standard damsel in distress, Jones gives her character loads of spunk as well as complete confidence not only in her beauty, but also her ability to display her wit or physical prowess with a sword.

    As the villains, Stuart Wilson ("The Rock," "Lethal Weapon 3") and Matt Letscher ("Gettysburg") are decent, but not outstanding. While Letscher's character isn't developed enough to allow him to do much more than play the stereotypical right-hand man, Wilson has been given enough leeway to make his an interesting character.

    Even so, the overall weakness of the villains -- when compared with our dual heroes -- is one of the film's minor problems. While the swordplay/fighting between the good and bad guys is believable, we rarely or truly believe that Capt. Love will actually defeat Alejandro at any given moment. The rule of good drama usually dictates that the better (or stronger) the villain, the better the conflict. Had the filmmakers made the villains just a little more menacing, the film may have been a bit more exciting. That, however, is a very minor point and certainly doesn't distract from one's enjoyment of the proceedings.

    A bigger objection involves Campbell's decision to occasionally shoot Jones with an extremely soft focus. While that effect was often used years ago to give women a softer look (or to hide wrinkles), it only serves to be a distraction in an otherwise technically flawless film. The first time it happens you'll think that the projector has lost its focus, but when shots of her are cut with razor sharp images of others, you'll realize, but certainly not understand, what they're doing. Beyond that, the film could have used a little editing (it runs about 2:15), but I'm hard pressed to pick out any particular scenes that should have hit the cutting room floor.

    All of that, however, is just some minor nitpicking in an otherwise tremendously entertaining picture. Action fans will love all of the high adventure, and the film's many settings have been constructed to allow for maxim swordplay, as well as acrobatic maneuvers along flagpoles, roof tops, and scaffolding structures. For those who like characters more than action, the leads here are well-drawn creations who dabble in enough drama, romance, and humor to keep the quieter moments interesting.

    With plenty of action and adventure, as well as humor and romance to please nearly every sort of moviegoer, this film deserves to be a big hit. Featuring charismatic performances and a rousing score from Oscar winning composer James Horner ("Titanic") -- that may just earn him another Oscar nomination -- this is an outstanding example of how summer "action" films should be made. We thoroughly enjoyed this fabulously entertaining picture and believe you will too. Accordingly, we give "The Mask Of Zorro" an 8.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Violence is extreme as the movie is filled with a great deal of fighting, and several people are killed. Yet, while some of the deaths are a little bloody, much of the violence is similarly presented to the non-graphic way in which violence was portrayed decades ago in other swashbuckling films. Even so, the sight of a decapitated head in a water filled jar may be unsettling to some viewers, and some of the scenes may be too intense for younger viewers.

    Beyond the standard issue bad attitudes of the villains, and a brief shot of some men's bare butts in a comic scene, most of the other categories have little or no major objectionable material. Nonetheless, you may want to more closely examine any specific categories that may be of concern for you and/or your children.

  • Alejandro tells a bartender that he wants more whiskey and doesn't "want to see the bottom of this glass," and appears to be slightly drunk, but we don't see him drinking any.
  • Don Diego drinks wine, and after a training session he tells Alejandro, "Time for a drink" (and we see him drink wine again).
  • Some soldiers drink and a few appear to be a little drunk.
  • Guests drink wine at a party held by Montero.
  • Don Diego drinks wine.
  • Montero and Love nearly drink some liquor during a toast, but are interrupted.
  • Zorro slices his trademark "Z" on Montero's neck, drawing some blood.
  • We see some blood on Don Diego's sleeve and then on Montero's gloved hand after he touches Don Diego's arm. Later, we see that Don Diego has a minor bloody gash/cut on his head.
  • After capturing an outlaw who then killed himself, Love issues the command, "Bury the body, bag the head," and we later see a full bag that's bloody on the bottom.
  • We see the slightly bloody face of a man who's just been thrown against a wall.
  • A dying man's mouth is full of blood.
  • We see a decapitated head and a dismembered hand floating in separate jars.
  • Don Diego has a bit of blood on his head after being thrown into jail once again.
  • Several men who are fighting each other at the end are a little bloody.
  • Montero, Love, and the rest of his men have both as they don't care whom they kill or what laws they break on their way to becoming wealthy land barons.
  • Believing that he was destined to have married Don Diego's now dead wife, Montero takes their infant daughter and raises her as his, lying to her all along.
  • Alejandro, his brother and another partner are outlaws and rob people, including a group of soldiers.
  • Alejandro, after training with Don Diego, steals a horse from some soldiers.
  • Some may see Alejandro briefly posing as a priest in a confessional as having some of both, but he's really only hiding there and listens to Elena's confessions because he's interested in her.
  • Commenting on Elena's recent discussion, Montero belittles her in front of others by saying, "A woman's grasp of politics. What can I say?"
  • Montero is stealing gold from Santa Anna's land (using slave labor of old men and young kids), claiming it as his, and then hopes to buy California from Santa Anna with the stolen gold. Later he tells Love to destroy all evidence of the mine, including the laborers.
  • Very young kids may find all of the swashbuckling/fighting scenes as tense (as might a few, but probably not many, adult viewers), but nearly all of them are played more for action and adventure than for suspense.
  • Three villagers are about to be publicly executed when Zorro swoops in, battles Montero's forces, and saves the men.
  • Scenes inside a darkened and dank prison may be unsettling to very young viewers.
  • Captain Love shows Alejandro a decapitated head and a dismembered hand floating in separate jars.
  • The long ending sequence where the good guys battle the bad guys while lit fuses race toward barrels of gunpowder may be tense to some viewers (but in a fun, action-oriented fashion).
  • Swords/Knives/Pistols/Rifles/Canons/Whips: Used to threaten, wound or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Gunpowder: Used by Don Diego to blow open his prison shackles and later to blow up several buildings/structures.
  • Phrase: "P*ckerwood."
  • Some kids may want to imitate all of the swashbuckling and other acrobatic fighting that occurs during the movie.
  • Alejandro's brother spits at Love right before committing suicide.
  • A hand suddenly thrusts up out of a freshly dug grave (which will only surprise the youngest of viewers since everyone else will know it's coming based on the scene immediately preceding it).
  • A mild amount of action-oriented (and some standard) suspense music occurs in many scenes during the movie.
  • None.
  • 2 phrases using slang terms for male genitals ("p*ckerwood"), 2 damns, and 1 use of "For the love of God" are used as exclamations.
  • We briefly see the bare butts of several male soldiers after they've been tied up nude (and standing and facing) several cacti.
  • A few of Elena's outfits show some cleavage.
  • In one scene, Alejandro playfully slices Elena's outfit, causing its entire top to fall to the ground (but her long hair covers her bare breasts so we don't see anything).
  • Elena states (in a confessional to Alejandro believing him to be the priest) that she's had impure and lustful thoughts about the masked man.
  • Montero snorts two pinches of tobacco.
  • Don Diego smokes cigars several times.
  • Guest smoke cigars at a party held by Montero, and later we a meeting of the Dons where most of them also smoke cigars.
  • The following, while tragic, aren't dwelled upon for long other than as catalysts for revenge.
  • Don Diego must deal with the murder of his wife and the abduction of his infant daughter, who grows up believing her abductor is really her paternal father.
  • Alejandro must deal with the murder of his brother.
  • Seeking revenge upon those who may have wronged you in the past.
  • The real life history that's touched on in the movie (Spanish rule in Mexico, the history of California, etc...).
  • That Zorro doesn't kill everyone he fights (compared with more modern day action heroes) but instead uses his wit and quick thinking to thwart the villains or allow for his escape.
  • Despite the abundance of material listed below, a great deal of it isn't graphic or bloody, and most is done in a fashion reminiscent of such violence found in movies from the 1940's and back.
  • Soldiers push around some villagers at a scheduled public execution, and one hits a villager with his rifle.
  • Montero's soldiers prepare to execute some villagers when Zorro swoops in and diverts their rifles just as they're fired, hitting and killing their squad leader. Zorro then fights (with swords and punches) Montero's men during which one is impaled and killed on another's sword, and a young Alejandro and Joaquin push over a statue that nearly strikes other soldiers and sends them falling to the ground (and destroys the stairs/scaffolding near them). Villagers also throw fruit at the soldiers as do the young brothers who briefly throw rocks at them, and a man elbows a soldier preparing to shoot Zorro.
  • Soldiers shoot at Zorro as he runs along the tops of walls. Moments later, Zorro slices his trademark "Z" on Montero's neck, drawing some blood.
  • Don Diego gets into a sword fight with Montero and his men. Both men are mildly sliced during this. One of Montero's men then shoots Don Diego's wife dead as she tries to come to his aid, causing Montero to stab and kill that soldier. Montero then hits Don Diego on the head, nearly knocking him unconscious. Moments later, Montero and his men allow Don Diego's hacienda to burn.
  • Alejandro, his brother, and their partner rob some soldiers, tripping them to the ground with a rope. Right before that, a soldier hits one of the brothers causing the other to draw his gun on the soldiers.
  • Moments later, Love shows up, and shoots both Alejandro's brother and their partner, wounding both. His brother, not wishing to be captured, hits Alejandro to make him run away and then takes his own pistol and shoots himself in the chest, committing suicide. Love then takes his sword and strikes the brother's dead body (we don't see the impact). Love then issues the command, "Bury the body, bag the head," and we later see a full bag that's bottom is bloody.
  • A guard takes a prisoner and throws him hard against a wall in his cell, presumably killing him.
  • Don Diego grabs a guard by the neck through his cell bars and either kills him or renders him unconscious. He then takes some gunpowder and blows open his leg shackles.
  • Don Diego pushes Alejandro against a wall and then briefly spars with him, ending with a sword tap to Alejandro's crotch. Later, while training, Don Diego hits Alejandro several times with his whip.
  • Alejandro steals a horse that begins to buck and kicks several soldiers. Thrashing about inside the soldier's quarters, it also causes much property damage such as when the stacks of their bunks crash to the floor. Alejandro then fights with the soldiers (with swords, fists and a bullhorn rack) and they shoot back at him.
  • A huge soldier picks up Alejandro and throws him across the room. Alejandro then grabs several cannon balls and repeatedly bashes them against the soldiers head (played to comic effect) until he eventually falls to the ground after spitting out several teeth. Alejandro then fires a cannon at the soldiers and later a huge explosion rocks the barracks (but presumably no one is killed).
  • Love fires a shot into a confessional, believing Zorro to be inside (he no longer is).
  • Don Diego punches and knocks out a guard at a party.
  • We see guards whipping laborers at Montero's gold mine several times.
  • Capt. Love shoots a man who flies through the air toward him with a pick ax, killing him.
  • Captain Love shows Alejandro a decapitated head and a dismembered hand floating in separate jars.
  • Alejandro holds his sword on Capt. Love, threatening to run him through. He then physically kicks two guards out through an upper floor window to the ground below. The two then get into a sword fight that's joined by Montero.
  • Alejandro knocks or throws several soldiers from their horses and one is "clotheslined" by a tree branch.
  • Don Diego holds his sword to Montero's neck, threatening to kill him.
  • Elena knocks out a guard.
  • Soldiers shoot at Zorro as he races to free some laborers from certain death. He then gets into more fights with the soldiers (swords and fists) and some of the soldiers are wounded. At the same time, Don Diego fights with Montero.
  • Two soldiers fall the height of some scaffolding at a gold mine, presumably to their deaths.
  • An explosion knocks several men to the ground.
  • Montero holds his gun to Elena' neck.
  • Several main characters are killed or die at the end of the climatic battle scene (one is run through by a sword and then crushed by a falling wagon that also kills another man).
  • A tremendous explosion blows up a large structure.

  • Reviewed July 13, 1998

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