Legendary figures standing against the tyranny of oppression have long been an inspiration, both literary and symbolic. Throughout history there have been tales of singular figures that have stood the test of time, and become so ingrained with our conscious that they have become part of lore. Figures such as Robin Hood and King Arthur, have become so much a part of our history whether or not they actually existed his for the most part irrelevant, their very presence within the psyche as a figure of good against evil is enough to believe. Of course such legends aren't just invented; there was some spark of truth to their invention and over time the myth became legend. I was surprised to find out, though, that there is no legend of Zorro. Like Robin Hood and King Arthur I had grown up with Zorro, in the guise of Guy Williams, taking for granted, as children do, that what I saw was not 'real' but at least had bases on reality. But no, Zorro is a purely fictitious character invented by writer Johnston McCulley and serialised in All-Story Weekly in 1919. There have been several screen guises of Zorro, the most widely known being the aforementioned Williams between 1957-1959 on TV, though younger viewers will probably remember The New Zorro with Duncan Regehr playing out between 1989 and 1993. Although there have been a fair few big screen outings, it was probably the latter TV show that sparked and publics interest and spawned the 1998 'surprise' hit Mask of Zorro. In it Tony Hopkins portrays an aging Don Diego de la Vega training his outlaw brother Alejandro Murrieta - in part an inspiration for Zorro - (Antonio Banderas) to replace him as Zorro. And that is pretty much all I know about it, because I've never seen it. Now, some seven years later, Banderas dons the familiar black costume and cape, sword, pistol and whip to lay sway to another threat to the Spanish population of California. Now, although seven years is a long time between sequels, it's not unheard of; both Alien (1979) and Terminator (1984) had to wait that time. However what those film sequels have in common is highly rated originals and James Cameron, a director with vision enough to improve upon the stories already established. The Legend of Zorro has neither of these.
It is the late 19th centaury and America is on the cusp of become the United States, California has voted for inclusion as a free state, thereby outnumbering the confederate states; this is the backbone on which the Legend of Zorro rests. As for Don Alejandro de la Vega, he has settled down and married Elena (Cathy Jones - middle name and sole purpose for her success Zeta) and they have a ten year old son, Joaquin, (Adrian Alonso) but all is not as rosy as could be. For Elena wants him to give up his mask sighting he is missing his family growing up and with that is happening the people rarely call him now. This places Zorro in a position; torn between his duty to the people and the family that he loves. During a fight to save the election papers Zorro's unwitting unmasking is witnessed by two Pinkerton agents, information they exploit with Elena and she divorces Alejandro. Three months later he is a drunken husk of his former self, managing to drag his trusty steed into his own downfall. Luckily for him the call of Zorro pulls him towards the straight and narrow when he uncovers a dastardly plot to blow up America using soap - no really. Add into this mix Joaquin, who, without any teaching or training, has managed to inherit all of his father's swashbuckling skills as well as his sense of right and wrong, but struggles with his family perceiving his father as a coward while idolizing Zorro. Our baddies are dirty, unkept with bad teeth and no morals or high society, scheming war mongerers; both as stereotypically bad as Zorro is good.
The Legend of Zorro, as I see it, has a number of problems, the first and biggest is the script; to put it plainly there is too much. The longer the film runs the more convoluted it becomes pulling out contrivance over exaggeration in an effort to bigger the film; it doesn't become confusing, so much as annoying. At one point I estimated to the wife, after she had asked me how long was left, ten minutes only to be left aghast that there was twenty five! This is compounded by the direction of the film, it never really knows which way it is heading, with elements of swashbuckling, western, thriller, intrigue, history, action, comedy and family crisis, each get a look in but all are wholly unsatisfactory as none are lead to their ultimate conclusion. Of all of these it is the comedy that comes of the worst, without exception, any attempt made at a cheap laugh falls flat. The inclusion of the child is an obvious attempt to cash in on the family orientated film market; the PG certificate, cartoon violence and over exaggerated bad guys amplifies this and it is hammered home by the crass comedy. The trouble is kids aren't stupid, they can tell a bad film straight away, and no amount of visual flair or troubled characterization will hide the fact. Even the action sequences seem staged and need more than a suspension of disbelief to get through, as big and bold as they are there seems little originality and far too much CGI. Director Campbell knows a thing or two about action and drama, with TV series' such as The Professionals, Minder, Edge of Darkness not to mention the cinematic giant GoldenEye which single handedly revitalizing the James Bond franchise, and of course Mask of Zorro, things should have been plane sailing; so what went wrong? Well, by underplaying the family drama, over playing the villains, ramping up the 'comedy' and complicating the plot, the script meanders between scenes as if wading through porridge until the inevitable foregone conclusion. After the credits were finished I too felt like I was full of porridge, the film weighed heavy on me, it was over long, bloated and unnecessary just as there is no legend of Zorro, so too should there be no Legend of Zorro.
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