Forgotten Classics: The Mask of Zorro

Martin Campbell is a strange figure to me. This is a man who saved the Bond franchise twice, with Goldeneye and Casino Royale, but few seem to talk about him. It is true that he does have some bad films, Green Lantern still stings quite a bit with myself, but few can direct action as beautifully as he can.

Edge of Darkness

Martin Campbell

With all of this in mind, I actually think I do understand why The Mask of Zorro has faded from memory. Most of the good will that this film generated was eroded away with the release of The Legend of Zorro, seven years after the originals release. However, for the purposes of this review, I would like you to cast the sequel out of your mind.

The Mask of Zorro Trailer

The plot of the movie focuses on Antonio Banderas as Alejandro Murrieta and Anthony Hopkins as Diego De La Vega. For many years, De La Vega served as Zorro, the masked hero of the people. However, he is caught by his archenemy, Don Rafael Montero, and sentenced to life in prison. To make things worse, De La Vega’s wife is killed, and his daughter is taken and raised by Montero.

Years later, De La Vega escapes prison, when he learns Montero has returned, with plans to rule California. To help him, he recruits Alejandro Murrieta, a lost soul, who saw Zorro many years earlier. Murrieta is seeking revenge for his brother, who was killed at the hands of Captain Harrison Love, a member of the US Military who is now working with Montero. The two unite, with De La Vega training Murrieta to take his revenge, as well as take over the mantle of Zorro.

I won’t lie, that is honestly one of the longer plot summations I have had to write for a film. However, the sort of Shakespearean melodrama that runs throughout the film is one of the reasons I really love it. It’s a corny story that feels ripped from a pulp magazine. However, the performances from the cast and the conviction of the crew elevate it to something truly special.

Antonio Banderas has a tough role throughout. We have to watch him evolve from a drunk in the streets to an aristocrat to the swashbuckling Zorro. Many actors couldn’t have balanced this, but Banderas handles the role perfectly, giving him plenty of charm, with various humorous moments interspersed.

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 The Evolution of Alejandro Murrieta in the Film

Anthony Hopkins brings a real sense of gravitas to the film, as he does with every performance. Hopkins sells that this is a man that has lost everything that he has ever cared for, but still has a few moments of levity, that are required for a film like this.

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Catherine Zeta-Jones has a strange place in this film, as the love interest for Murrieta and the long lost daughter of De La Vega. Overall, I think she gives a solid performance, though at some points it does feel like the movie doesn’t always know what to do with her.

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Stuart Wilson and Matt Letacher as Montero and Captain Love respectively, are very much archetypical villains. Though it is worth noting, that this really does work for this sort of film. There are a few moments, where Montero is shown to have a few glimpses of humanity, but these are relatively infrequent. The two are clearly having fun, playing moustache-twirling villains, and this does show in their performances.

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As mentioned earlier, the fights in this film are absolutely spectacular. They are very reminiscent of the early Zorro movies. There is a real sense of stakes throughout, while also being simply a joy to behold. One particular standout scene, is a horse chase that happens relatively late in the film.

Overall, I find it disappointing that this film has been forgotten. I feel that even today, it still holds up as a master class of how to direct action, and stands proudly alongside Martin Campbell’s other work. While at this point it is unlikely we will ever see this team reunite to tackle the Zorro property (especially after The Legend of Zorro), maybe one day we will see Zorro leave his mark one more time.

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Written By James Campbell

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