The Mask Of Zorro

The Mask Of Zorro

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

With the flash of a smile, a graceful leap from a high balcony and mastery of athletic fencing, buckles are swashed again, and the spirit of Flynn returns to the silver screen. Not so long ago, Cutthroat Island demonstrated that derring-do doesn't in pirate movies, causing financial ague amongst investors and instant ennui from everyone else.

No longer. Kiwi director, Martin Campbell, nudges a wink at the genre, without going so far as to cast Leslie Nielsen in the lead. A balance is struck. Be serious about the swordplay and have fun with the rest. Bob Anderson, who started his movie career as a fight choreographer after the 1952 Olympics when Errol the Perril invited him onto the set of Master Of Ballantrae, provided the tutelage and the swordsmanship is akin to gymnastics.

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Zorro began life in a 1919 pulp novel. Since then two movies (Douglas Fairbanks in the Twenties, Tyrone Power in the Forties) and a TV series have camped him up something rotten. As a Mexican masked hero, who protects peasants from the cruelties of the Spanish upper-class, he has the instincts of Robin Hood and enough hot-blooded passion to hyperventilate swooning senoritas.

Played here by a dashing older man, Dr Lecter himself, he has the privilege of being treated with respect, as Anthony Hopkins does nothing by halves and would be incapable of walking through a role with the casualness of, say, George Clooney. At the moment when Zorro is thinking of sheathing his blade in favour of responsible parenthood, the wicked Spanish governor (Stuart Wilson) of what will become California throws him in a dungeon, burns his house, kills his wife and steals his baby girl.

Twenty years later, he escapes and takes on a pupil, Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), whose experience as a bandit has been tragically marred by incompetence. Alejandro worships the memory of Zorro, as do the suffering poor. Soon, after a strict training regime, which he does not like at all, he gets to wear the mask and fight the good fight.

Banderas is adept at comedy and more than a match for Flynn in chandelier swinging. His swordsmanship is complimented by an energy and commitment that exemplifies the film. Campbell has encouraged enthusiasm amongst the cast and welcomes exuberance. Hopkins holds the centre with great dignity and Catherine Zeta-Jones is more than a pretty face, as Zorro's grown-up daughter. She fights like a lynx and, naturally, fancies the audacious Allejandro. Who wouldn't?

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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The Mask Of Zorro packshot
The man who makes the sign of the 'Z' takes on a pupil.
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Director: Martin Campbell

Writer: John Eskow, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, José María de Tavira, Diego Sieres, William Marquez, Stuart Wilson, Tony Amendola

Year: 1998

Runtime: 136 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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