The Mask of Zorro (fight 5 of 5)

In which we go to a mine and the bad guys get the shaft.

… I’m sorry.

zorrolove

5) Zorro vs Captain Love/Diego vs Montero

The Fighters:

  • Alejandro Murrietta aka Zorro, here to foil the bad guys’ evil plan. Played Antonio Banderas.
  • Don Diego de la Vega aka the swashbuckler formerly known as Zorro. Still long-haired and decadent, he had planned to leave this fight to his successor in order to personally reclaim his daughter, but after she frees him from captivity (long story), he shows up to pitch in as well. Played by Anthony Hopkins.
  • Captain Love, the sadistic soldier who’s going to fight Alejandro. Played by Matt Letscher.
  • Don Rafael Montero, the bad guy. Played by Stuart Wilson.

All armed with rapiers, as usual. The bad guys have guns, though they don’t see much use. Elena is also there but her main contribution is to screw things up, sadly.

The Setup: Knowing that Team Zorro has the map to their secret mine, Love and Montero have decided to destroy the area and kill its workers, in order to prevent Santa Anna from finding out that California was sold to him using Mexican gold. Thankfully Zorro arrives to put a sword-shaped kibosh on that. After dispatching of a few henchmen, the hero is nearly shot in the back by Montero, but he’s saved when Diego and Elena make an unexpected appearance. Diego finally gets his grudge match against Rafael, and soon Zorro finds himself squaring off against Captain Love.

The buildup to the latter confrontation is oddly the more dramatic, playing out like the prelude to an Old West shootout. Zorro slowly unsheathes his sword and lets the sun glint off it menacingly– an idea apparently thought up by Banderas himself, and achieved by natural lighting.

Love chooses to pull a reverse Indy-from-Raiders: he removes his sidearm with the same exaggerated care as Zorro did his sword, then tosses it aside voluntarily so the two can have a real duel. Which they do!

(There’s a bit of a ticking clock here on the gunpowder trails set to blow up the mine with all the slave workers trapped inside, but honestly it’s a bit difficult to follow.)

(And yes, I am lumping two fights into one. They occur nearly simultaneously, with the same weapons, in fairly close geographical proximity. To divide them up into separate entries would be repetitive and tiresome and repetitive.)

The Fight: Much as they do with breakfast time at the Country Buffet, the old folks get moving first. After getting the drop on Rafael and punching him good in order to strip him of his rifle, Diego allows his old enemy to draw his sword so they can have a proper fight.

After a bit of cross-cutting the elder Zorro has him on the ropes, and verbally relishes the pleasure he’s soon to take in killing the evil don. But gentle-hearted Elena can’t stand to watch her adopted father get run through, so she stops her real dad from doing the deed… and unfortunately Montero uses the diversion to suddenly grab ahold of her, and threaten to kill her if Diego doesn’t stand down. Unwilling to risk his rediscovered daughter’s life, Diego complies. Rafael then confirms that he was bluffing– even he wouldn’t be so awful as to kill his own daughter. But not so un-awful as to refrain from shooting a defenseless Diego, which he does. Elena pushes the gun aside just in time so that Rafael’s shot is not fatal, at least not immediately; the wounded old fox picks up his sword and the fight is back on.

Unfortunately the gunshot wound severely degrades de la Vega’s fencing abilities, as gunshot wounds tend to do, and the remainder of his battle is a losing one. Eventually the good guy is disarmed, but just as Montero prepares to slice him open, Diego notices that his adversary’s foot is conveniently placed in a pile of leather straps attached to the wagon used for hauling up the gold. At the last moment, Diego ducks out of the way and hits… something so that the wagon comes loose from its moorings, sliding down the cliff and dragging Don Rafael with it. Adios, amigo.

While the older men’s fight gets to handle the majority of this sequence’s dramatic load, that leaves us with the Zorro/Love battle to pick up the pace in terms of excitement and fun– although not entirely without dramatic beats, since Alejandro has some emotional payback for the captain, as well. (Actually, going after Joaquin is the one lawful and “good” thing Captain Love did in the movie, seeing as how Joaquin actually was a notorious bandit and wanted criminal, so….)

Anyway, after their too-cool little standoff, the fellows waste no time getting down to clanging blades, with Alejandro tossing a pointed barb about how Love “would like [his] remains displayed,” in reference to the villain parading Joaquin’s be-jarred ahead in front of his brother earlier in the film.

Being the “fun” pairing, Z&L get more of the dynamic beats in the fight. Zorro kicks Love down a small ravine and goes chasing after him by surfing on a shovel (!); when he goes looking for him in a boiler room, Zorro realizes that his opponent set the whole place to explode and escapes just in time. Love tries to follow up by hiding around a nearby corner to get the drop on Zorro, but the hero gets the literal drop on him by jumping from out of nowhere behind the captain, happily chirping “did you miss me?” Alejandro even one-ups his mentors signature move, at one point slicing a tell-tale “M” into his opponent’s cheek (“for Murrieta!” he explains, gratuitously).

The battle finally spills out onto a suspended platform, the two fighting frantically in closer and more dangerous quarters. Zorro is at one point disarmed, but once again he doesn’t miss a beat– quickly punching his opponent in the gut, Alejandro then knocks the stunned Love’s sword out from under his hands hard enough to launch it in the air, then snatches it from above the platform’s head bar, and runs the villain through with it. A straightforward kill executed with some unexpected panache.

Love-kebab.

Although his “secret” identity is known to the villains by this point, Alejandro nonetheless removes his mask immediately after the finishing move, his true face staring into his nemesis’ dying eyes. Shortly after, the wagon and shipload of gold bars comes tumbling down on the platform, which Zorro narrowly escapes.

The prisoners are saved and the three protagonists are reunited, but Diego dies a few minutes later (boo!), barely living to see his daughter returned to her identity and finding love (yay!).

The whole endeavor can’t help but feel a bit anti-climactic after the amazing one-two punch of the previous two fight scenes (a one-two-three punch if you count the horse chase scene that follows Zorro’s duel with Elena, which isn’t quite a genuine fight but is still plenty fun). If anything, the Z-man’s performance in the preceding material makes it hard to believe that he’d face a genuine threat from Love alone, but the movie tries valiantly to sell the danger and the stakes. It’s also unfortunate that Elena’s main role here is reduced to a meddlesome hostage who inadvertently gets her dad killed, after the earlier duel set her up so well as an Action Girl. She does eventually find usefulness in freeing the trapped prisoners before the inevitable explosion, so there’s that. And at least this movie doesn’t abuse her as bad as the sequel does.

But for the most part, the whole thing works. The staging is inventive, and as mentioned before the cross-cutting between two different fights makes the entire thing more diverse and dynamic. And while still maintaining a spirit of fun, there’s definitely an undercurrent of menace and real stakes here, unlike the more breezy tone of what’s come before.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Not the hero you deserve, but the hero you NEED.

You were expecting someone else?

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The Mask of Zorro (fight 4 of 5)

HEY GIRL

4) Zorro vs Elena

The Fighters:

  • Alejandro de la Vega aka Zorro, who you know by now. He has already secretly met her multiple times: first in his proto-Zorro outfit just before stealing Tornado, again while hiding from Love’s men in a confessional booth (in a gut-busting scene, he pretends to be a priest), and again during his undercover mission as a wealthy Spanish nobleman. In that last guise the two shared a very sexy flamenco dance at her father’s party, but what they’re about to do now is even sexier. Played by Antonio Banderas.
  • Elena Montero, born Elena de la Vega. Diego’s real daughter, stolen as an infant and raised by his adversary. To her adopted dad’s frustration, she has the untameable passion of her mother and the righteousness of her real father. She’s frustrated by her feelings for Alejandro (he sent her necessarily mixed messages, being torn between his attraction to her and his mission to suck up to Rafael) and has doubts about her father’s behavior, being torn between her justice and loyalty. Played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, in a star-making performance.

Both are armed with rapiers, as usual.

The Setup: About ready to make his escape, Zorro returns to Montero’s stables to fetch Tornado but is intercepted by Elena, who holds him at swordpoint and demands he return whatever it is he stole. He keeps trying to give her the brush-off but she’s persistent; when he condescendingly tells her (or “mansplains,” to use a hilarious new expression) that he doesn’t “have time to give [her] the proper instruction,” she smirks and tells him that she’s been trained in fencing since she was four.

Even though she’s giving him some (reciprocated) flirtatious vibes– Daddy’s cooped this bird up for waaaaaay too long and she’s totally down to, ahem, fence— Zorro can tell he’s not walking away from this… not that he entirely wants to. She waits while he removes his sword (not a euphemism), and they begin.

Here’s as good a place as anyway to point out what seems to be a deliberate effort (it may just be my perception) on the part of Bob Anderson and all the principal actors: even though they all use the same type of fencing with the same type of weapon, each main character seems to have his or her own trademark fighting style— or at the very least different approaches and attitudes to the same style. Each one’s body language identifies them like a signature.

Alejandro is all limber flash and pizzazz, whereas Diego (especially towards the end) is fluid, effortless, almost lazy. Montero’s style is plain but strong, aggressive and relentless. Captain Love fights more formally & rigidly; you constantly see him with one hand firmly planted behind his back. Elena is somewhat more formal as well, but in more of a dramatic way: during the fight that’s about to ensue, she keeps re-assuming similar exaggerated starting poses, and generally moves about in a florid way.

It’s an excellent little touch that adds richness to the film, even if the audience doesn’t consciously notice it. Anyway, en garde!

The Fight: Paced and staged differently than anything that’s come before, but certainly no less fun.

Elena’s skill is evident early on, as at the end of their first exchange she ends up slashing Zorro on the shoulder… but only his clothing, she doesn’t actually seem to break the skin. He regards the non-wound with a sort of amused frustration, and by unspoken mutual consent they take a quick breather as they both slip into something more comfortable remove their more obstructive layers of clothing: Zorro his hat & cape, Elena the robe she was wearing over her nightgown.

Actually, the amount of humor/sexiness they each put behind small little dialogue exchanges and body language throughout the fight… well, it’s hard to accurately convey it into print, but it’s perfect. Both actors are absolutely on the same wavelength with each other and with what was needed out of the scene, and the resulting chemistry is impeccable. They pull if off so well you’d almost think they were an item in real life as well– and hey, who knows. Both later admitted being genuinely turned on while filming the scene. Don’t tell Michael or Melanie.

Once they begin again without encumbrance, Zorro’s superior skill comes into play, and he repays his torn shirt by ripping her dress to reveal a generous amount of thigh. “Not bad,” she says nonchalantly. “Not bad at all,” he replies as he outmaneuvers her and leans in for a surprise kiss. She gets visibly (and sexily) angry, flustered enough so that in the next exchange he slices off one of her shoulder straps, resulting in her being dangerously close to toplessness. So of course he kisses her again, getting her even more worked up.

She ends up disarming him, but without missing a beat, he outwits her by diving into a nearby pile of hay and blocking her thrusts with a horse bridle. This also allows Zorro to seize her sword, and even though she runs to grab his where it fell, he beats her there, makes her rise slowly, and tells her not to move as the camera focuses on the hero making several rapid but delicate sword swipes. He steps back looking enormously pleased with himself, and when the shot moves back to her, we see why: he’s cut her gown in just enough places so that it will fall apart on its own within seconds, leaving her stripped to the waist, save for some strategically placed hair.

I’ll just leave this here, gentlemen.

She uses his hat to cover her indecency, and after a bit more banter they embrace for their third and most passionate kiss. He disappears to collect his things just as Elena, eyes closed, leans in for more as if entranced. He says goodbye to the señorita and leaves just ahead of Don Rafael and his men. But not before popping back for his hat.

There’s a hilarious little denouement as Elena has to explain to her flustered father what happened while (not) concealing her obvious attraction to him. When she shouts “he LEFT!” it’s clear that she’s more angry that he didn’t stick around for more smooching than she is about having lost the fight. But really, in a fight like this, everyone’s a winner– especially the audience. Don’t you think?

If this scene commits any sin (besides that one from the Seven Deadlies, I mean), it’s that it’s too short, ending not too long after it starts. But that’s a bit of a necessity, given that the two could only plausibly be in there so long before somebody thought to check the stables. Plus it’s stretched out fairly well as it is with the flirtatious material in-between exchanges of blades.

It really is perfectly paced and staged. There’s an energy to it that would be hard to convey in the script, so kudos to not just the actors but also director Campbell for understanding what was needed. James Horner’s score switches to a steady beat of maracas (I think) throughout, helping enormously with the playful tone.

It’s a bit ridiculous that Alejandro, a man who’s only studied for a few weeks (months?) could stand a chance against Elena, who received 16 years of the best instruction. But that’s the kind of silly universe this movie inhabits– one where no one recognizes you if you put a bandana on your head, or where a masked man in dark black can successfully sneak around in broad daylight. It works.

Is it a bit sexist? Well, it features a woman being turned on by multiple unwanted kisses from a criminal who’s (kind of) physically assaulting her, who then humiliates her by stripping off half her clothes, so… okay, technically it is. But, I must mansplain, you shouldn’t take that any more seriously than the idea that the novice fencer can beat the expert, and so forth. It’s willfully silly, so have some fun with it. It’s still less sexist than literally anything that happens in the Twilight books.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: The, ahem, climax.

Zorro’s been looking for Love in all the RIGHT places.

The Mask of Zorro (fight 3 of 5)

Oh, I’m ready for the fun part.

Ready for Love?

3) Zorro vs Captain Love, Don Rafael, and Soldiers

The Fighters:

  • Alejandro Murrieta aka Zorro 2.0. After finding vital intel on Montero’s plans, Alejandro receives Diego’s blessing to don (heh) the full Zorro regalia: mask, hat, sword, whip and sexy Spanish ninja outfit. His training complete and his passion forged into a focused determination, Alejandro– and Zorro– are cooler than ever. Played by Antonio Banderas.
  • Captain Harrison Love, the professional soldier (and real person) who leads Montero’s men. A real sadistic SOB with whom Alejandro has a personal score to settle. Quite a skilled fighter, too; Love is a battlefield, after all. Played by Matt Letscher.
  • Don Rafael Montero, the film’s main villain, who you remember from before. Twenty years older but no less deadly or determined. Played by Stuart Wilson.
  • Montero’s men, about six or so of them. Again here as ballast. The enormous one is missing; presumably because he’s at the dentist.

All are armed with rapiers or sabers. Some of the soldiers have single-shot rifles that prove useless against the speedy fox, and Captain Love carries a pistol but he is immediately deprived of it.

The Setup: Alejandro has just returned from an extended undercover mission, impersonating a young nobleman in order to get in Montero’s good graces and find out his plan: he plans to buy California from Santa Anna, using gold from a secret Mexican mine run by slave labor. Though his performance was impeccable, Alejandro still had to suffer through a few tense confrontations with the man who hunted down his brother: Captain Love, an amoral mercenary with the face of a date rapist:

His mercenary business’ slogan: “Money CAN buy you Love!”

Frustrated at having had to restrain his bloodlust, Alejandro is encouraged by Diego to hide his rage behind the mask of Zorro. On the eve of the would-be California Purchase, the determined hero sneaks into Montero’s home to abscond with the map to his hidden mine. Meanwhile, Diego, in a distant but visible field, puts the fear of God into the villains with some not-so-subtle imagery:

After effortlessly stealing the map, Zorro surprises Love in a hallway. Holding him at sword-point, he deprives Love of his weapons, and when two guards approach, he holds their captain hostage and forces them to let him kick them out the window. He doesn’t want to deal with them; all he needs is Love. Once they’re alone, Zorro steps back and returns the captain’s sword so that they can duel, and he can give Love a bad name.

The Fight:

Who’s holding the other sword? Love, actually.

This Love has taken its toll on the hero, so he clearly relishes the opportunity to defeat and embarrass him. They start out tentatively at first, with Zorro almost teasing the villain with tiny little gestures. But soon the fight begins in earnest and it’s wonderful to behold. Love, being a many-splendored fighter, is quite good, but the power of Love is no match for Zorro. The hero easily dominates the captain and finally sends him sprawling to the ground with a brutal punch. But before Zorro can finish the job and become a murderer of Love, our old pal Don Rafael comes rushing out to the hallway, ready to fight.

Even though the apparent return of his old bete noir surely rattled Montero’s nerves, he hasn’t missed a step in the fencing department, putting up a worthy fight for Zorro.

“Rafael, without your Love, you are nothing!”

Things get even trickier when we’re reminded that despite a good decking Love is all around, and the captain rejoins the fray. Even outnumbered Zorro is still deadly, picking up a second sword and driving his opponents back. That’s a bad long-term strategy, though, so the fox escapes from the hallway and out into a larger courtyard/foyer area, pursued by his two adversaries and with yet more soldiers streaming in.

It gets even more fun from there. Zorro outfences and outmaneuvers the faceless goons even more easily than he did the main villains (who also join the battle). Even more before, Alejandro is always in motion, always in control, always too cool for school. If he’s ever anxious at all during the fight, he doesn’t show it; on the contrary, the look on his face betrays that this new hero is having the time of his life. Swashbuckling hasn’t looked this good since Errol’s days.

The fight is packed with all sorts of delightful incident. Zorro controls the terrain by jumping off & on a large table and bringing the fight up there, he clocks Love again after being momentarily disarmed, he duels Montero from the other side of a huge candle stand, he does Olympic-level gymnastics on a series of tree branches. It’s not until the fight’s end that he’s even briefly put out, when he’s literally up against the wall with all the surviving soldiers ready to close in.

zorromap

But just as they charge, Zorro sidesteps from the wall and cuts loose the enormous hanging map behind him so that it falls on top of his pursuers, leaving them in a state of confused chaos so he can escape with the goods. (There’s bit of poor staging here: Banderas steps away from his foes a few seconds too early, and the careful viewer can see the soldiers would have had ample time to stop or change course on their blind charge. Ah, well.)

Zorro is quite rightfully pleased with himself, but he doesn’t see that his escape has been witnessed by Rafael’s “daughter,” Elena….

Except for the most minor of errors, very little not to love here. The choreography is fantastic, James Horner’s music soars, Banderas’ devilish charm dazzles, and the pacing is perfect– like many of the great fight scenes, it goes on long enough that you don’t feel cheated but short enough that want more. Plus there’s some excellent comic timing at work in the moments before the fight, as Zorro dispatches of Love’s would-be rescuers. If you’re not cheering for the movie now, you’re in a coma.

Grade: A

Recommended Links: Antonio Banderas hung on to his sword prop from this movie, and once used it to scare off a burglar. It’s not quite as cool as burglars being scared off by the very IDEA of Dolph Lundgren, but still.

Coming Attractions: Best. First. Date. Ever.

And here I am, fresh out of “love” puns.

The Mask of Zorro (fight 2 of 5)

In which Zorro gets his “faithful” horse.

2) Alejandro vs Montero’s Soldiers

The Fighters:

  • Alejandro Murrieta, the young urchin from the prologue, all grown up. A semi-reformed bandit under the tutelage of escapee Diego de la Vega. He will, spoiler, soon assume the mantle of Zorro, but based on his woefully incomplete outfit and un-professionalism here, it’s safe to say he hasn’t graduated yet. Played by Antonio Banderas, who isn’t in enough movies lately if you ask me.
    • Armed with: goes into battle with a rapier here, but loses it and improvises with what he can find, including a sword and knife from his opponents, a mounted bull’s head, a pair of cannon balls, and an actual cannon.
  • A barracks full of soldiers, over a dozen or so of them. Working for Don Rafael Montero and under the direct command of professional soldier Captain Love. More cannon fodder, presumably played by stunt men and local actors. The skeezy-looking leader is played by (near as I can figure) Pedro Altamirano, and the only other notable one is a rather enormous fellow, played by Óscar Zerafín González.
    • Armed with: They may have some guns about but none of them really come into play, mostly swords and fists.

The Setup: After twenty years, Don Rafael has returned to California with some sinister scheme afoot. Upon learning of this, Diego escapes his hellish prison (he didn’t think to do that earlier?) to thwart his old rival. But after being stymied in his post-escape efforts to kill Montero, de la Vega instead takes up the cause of rehabilitating Alejandro, himself despondent and suicidal after the death of his brother (courtesy of Captain Love). Diego blows the dust off his old Zorro lair and gives him a crash course in badassery, honing his swordsmanship, strength and agility in order to help him take revenge on Love… and, Alejandro gradually deduces, to groom him as a successor.

I’ll note here that few things in movies are cooler than post-jailbreak Diego during this middle part of the movie. Good old Anthony Hopkins plays the man as a long-haired, cigar-smoking, wine-guzzling, open-shirted bohemian who uses his whip to flick out candle flames for fun.

And also just because he CAN, presumably.

He’s a retired superhero but he’s also the weirdly cool uncle you never had. It’s a riot.

Anyway, after a few training montages, Alejandro spies Montero’s soldiers with a freshly-purchased and unbroken black Andalusian horse, similar to Zorro’s old steed Tornado. Seeing a chance to irk Love’s men and still a thief at heart, Alejandro dons a subpar Zorro mask and sneaks off an unsanctioned mission to steal the stallion from the soldiers. Along the way he has his first meet-cute with the also-grown up Elena, whose natural passion and righteousness weren’t repressed even after two decades of being raised by Rafael. He sneaks into the stable adjoining the barracks (it can’t be great trying to sleep next to that smell every night, come to think of it) and locates his target easily enough, but there are… complications.

The Fight: Alejandro gets on the horse, but as soon as he tries to ride it out, it objects, and the wild bucking eventually sends the pair crashing into the soldiers’ sleeping area. The new Tornado inadvertently handles just a bit of Murrieta’s work for him by kicking a few panicked soldiers out of the way, but when the horse smashes through the wall like the Kool Aid Man, his new “owner” falls off, and is left utterly surrounded by a lot of very pissed off Mexican soldiers.

What follows is a good bit of fun. The fight signals its intentions early, as that traditional Looney Tunes bit goes down where everybody dogpiles on the hero at once, only for him to calmly climb out from underneath the teeming mass. Ridiculous, but it establishes that this is meant to be an amusing scene rather than an exciting one, and for better or for worse it certainly plays out differently than the rest of the film’s action.

And it’s inventive. After pulling off the tried & true method of swinging on the chandelier and using roped counterweights to ascend higher, the hero seizes a mounted bull’s head and uses the horns as a weapon, then ducks inside an open jail cell and when his pursuers on the other side try to stab him through the bars, he uses the sliding door to trap & mangle their swords.

Throughout the whole thing Murrieta never stops moving, constantly punching, kicking and dodging. Soon enough he grabs a couple blades of his own (sword & knife) and does even better, but he backs into a giant soldier who shakes him free of his weapons. The guy looks enormous– seemingly over seven feet tall, but possibly more in the 6′ range since he’s mostly contrasted against the relatively diminutive Banderas.

The remaining soldiers step back to gleefully watch this monstrous Mexican man-mountain take out Alejandro on his own. Backed into a corner, Murrieta grabs the nearest weapons at hand– two cannon balls– and when the giant gets close enough Alejandro bashes them simultaneously against both sides of his foe’s face. The giant is not visibly stunned at first, but after repeated blows, he eventually turns around in a daze and, rather comically, spits out a whole mouthful of teeth at once. Ouch.

While the remaining soldiers were watching dumbfounded, Alejandro loaded and primed the nearby cannon, so that when they looked back up at him the fuse was ready to light.

zorrocannon

Now they’re LITERALLY cannon fodder.

The guards scamper away and Alejandro blows a new hole in the wall, spastically proclaiming that he is Zorro and that “the legend has returned!” Of course, since we can’t leave the scene without one last joke, the hero accidentally blows up the whole building (due to all the exposed gunpowder) and barely escapes alive.

As mentioned, not much to it and more silly than thrilling, but still a lot of fun, and most importantly, a nice bit of action filler to pass the time until the next real fight sequence (which won’t be for a while). Banderas is quite capable, acting cocky but not as cool & competent as he will be later on. The actors playing the faceless goons sell everything well and the music is appropriately mischievous.

(What’s WITH this building, come to think of it? It seems to be a combination barracks/jail/arms room, adjacent to the stables. Logistically impractical.)

Grade: B

Recommended Links: If the Puss-in-Boots films don’t work out, Antonio can always go back to his– how do you say? Ah yes– talk show.

Coming Attractions: Are you ready for the fun part?

Time to play dress-up. No, not like that….

The Mask of Zorro (fight 1 of 5)

I’m excited too, Tony.

The Mask of Zorro, a deliciously fun 1998 film that was a solid hit but got nowhere near the acclaim it deserves. Directed by gifted genre helmer Martin Campbell, its fight scenes were overseen by legendary Hollywood swordmaster and GFS mainstay Bob Anderson. Here, Anderson channeled his vast skill in the service of creating a gloriously old-school Hollywood throwback.

And good thing, too, because as any Zorro fan can tell you, the thing that most separates him from his contemporaries and inspirations (Batman being among them) is the masked man’s sense of style. Even Robin Hood has nothing on the Z-man in that department. A consummate showman, Zorro always fights like he has an audience to entertain (and as he is a folk hero within his stories, he frequently does), and is fond of using his environment in creative ways and making fools of those who oppose him; even sillier incarnations such as the parody film Zorro The Gay Blade don’t fail to present a Zorro who’s always the coolest guy in the room.

Anderson’s staging combined with the flamboyant performances of Hopkins and Banderas (the latter of whom was said by Anderson to be the best talent he’d ever worked with) give the film a “classic” feel and it never fails to entertain. Unfortunately the movie is a bit backloaded when it comes to action; it’s not until well past the halfway point that the real joys begin, even if what precedes that is perfectly serviceable. And of course that only serves to make the payoff that much sweeter.

1) Zorro vs Don Rafael and Soldiers

The Fighters:

  • Don Diego de la Vega, aka Zorro (Spanish for “fox” in case you were wondering, gringo), a wealthy Spanish nobleman leading a double-life as the populist crusader of the title. It’s clear he’s been operating for some time now, but that’s about to come to an unfortunate end. Played by Anthony Hopkins.
    • Armed with: a rapier, along with pretty much everyone else in the movie. Also has a whip, though in this movie it’s largely used as a tool rather than a weapon.
  • Don Rafael Montero, the Spanish aristocrat appointed as governor of then-Spain-owned California. His oppressive policies have clearly put him at odds with Zorro. Played by Stuart Wilson, who’s fine but pales next to the original choice of master ham Armand Assante. Ah, what we missed out on!
    • Armed with: rapier.
  • Soldiers, less than ten or so. Under the command of Don Rafael, and none of them particularly skilled or competent. Pure cannon fodder.
    • Armed with: rapiers (possibly sabers) and also some with muskets. One has a handgun.

The Setup: The beginning of Mask of Zorro practically functions as the ending– if a rather dark one– to another movie that’s not shown to the audience. Between the lengthy text prologue and the implications of the early dialogue, the audience learns that the Spanish colony of California is about to come under the control of the legendary Mexican leader Santa Anna. Montero, however, has yet to leave the soon-to-be-liberated land, in order to take one last stab at killing Zorro, who has clearly been antagonizing Rafael for some time now. Montero’s hatred for the outlaw is deep and personal.

Montero has set a trap for Zorro by organizing the public execution of three random civilians, hoping that Zorro will show up and be killed in the attempt to save them. The audience mainly sees the ensuing confrontation through the eyes of two young boys, Joaquin Murrieta (who was a real person) and his little brother Alejandro (who wasn’t), both of them big Zorro fans.

[Note that this segment combines two short fights– Zorro’s exploits at the gallows and the ensuing confrontation at his home– into one entry. This combination is done in the interest of brevity, as the two battles are both short and largely against the same foes.]

The Fight: Zorro, who arrived disguised as a hooded monk, waits until the last possible moment to interrupt the proceedings, but does so with signature style, seizing one of the firing squad’s rifles with his whip and yanking it into the guns of his compatriots so that all their shots hit their captain rather than the would-be victims. Campbell wastes no time setting up Zorro’s signature cleverness and showmanship.

The battle that follows is well-done. Zorro fends off the remaining soldiers with ease, pulling a few more tricks like escaping through the gallows’ trapdoor, impaling one guard by throwing him into a sword that become lodged in a wooden pillar, and trapping another foe inside a set of stocks (you know, these things) nearby. Hopkins and/or his stunt double make for an appropriately dashing and capable figure, even if makeup and lighting couldn’t quite conceal the actor’s age and physical condition (he was about 60 at the time of filming):

Still sexier than I am, so we won’t dwell on it

The Murrieta brothers, watching from the rooftops, spot the additional set of soldiers waiting to snipe Zorro from a nearby balcony, and foil them by pushing a statue in their direction just before they could take a rather fateful shot. Zorro shows up to thank them in person, and leaves Joaquin his signature silver medallion in gratitude. This will be important later.

Before leaving (via escape into the crowd), Zorro confronts Rafael, and leaves a signature “Z” cut on his neck, telling him to go back home to Spain and never return.

Zorro would come to regret that act of chivalric mercy, because after he rides to his lovely hacienda and attends to his wife & infant daughter, an unmasked Diego is confronted by Don Rafael and a squad or armed guards. Montero has at some point deduced his adversary’s true identity, the revelation of which must be truly cutting as it’s the same guy who married Rafael’s own unrequited love, Esperanza.

Diego, naturally, resists arrest, and after fighting some guards off a heated duel soon begins between himself and Rafael– right there on the stairs, which is always neat. Though Rafael is clearly skilled, it’s likely de la Vega would have won if not for the interference of the gun-wielding soldiers. Seeing them leveling another shot, Esperanza rushes in to defend her husband and takes a bullet in the back that was meant for him, dying instantly. Shell-shocked at his wife’s death, Diego goes down to a cheap blow to the head (courtesy of Montero) as he rushes to attend to his crying infant daughter.

Zorro is hauled off to a third-world prison with his wife dead, his daughter left to be raised by his hated enemy, his home burned with his beloved horse inside. Harsh.

Overall the action is fun but not spectacular. Zorro’s acrobatic exploits in the opening set the stage and tone for what’s to come. The music is serviceable if not soaring, and the actors are all clearly committed. All of the hero’s tricks in the beginning are well-done, but my personal favorite beat is probably Montero immediately killing the soldier who inadvertently shot Esperanza.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Proto-Zorro!

Needs work.