Making the Grades
The legend of Zorro is nearly as long as this over two-hour movie. Dating back to the silent film era, Zorro is Mexico's Robin Hood -- a hero who defends the rights of the peasants without regard for law.
An aging Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) dons his Zorro mask and cape to spoil a public execution ordered by the unjust ruler Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). Zorro's spectacular rescue performance is witnessed by young peasant boys Alejandro and his brother. Although Zorro escapes, Montero is waiting for him when he resumes his identity as Diego. In the ensuing arrest, Diego's wife is murdered, his daughter kidnaped, and Diego placed in jail.
It is over twenty years before Diego escapes. Now too old to fight Montero on his own, he enlists the help of the now adult Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), tutoring him to become the new Zorro. Lessons begin with swordsmanship, but Alejandro badly needs enrolment in Charm 101 -- a course he excels in. Women swoon over him, especially Diego's grown daughter who has been raised to believe Montero is her father. In one scene her clothes are delicately sliced right off by Alejandro's sword. Fortunately he left her hair to cover the important parts.
The new Zorro's main concern is stopping Montero's scheme to buy California using stolen gold mined by slaves. This calls for many an ambush with swords and fists swinging, an activity that occupies most of this film. The fighting is staged in impressive choreographed moves with little blood, yet other incidents add to the reality of the violence. One of these is when the pickled head of Alejandro's murdered brother is displayed in a jar, from which Alejandro is forced to drink.Although fun and visually engaging, Zorro's tale of men who exploit the weak for personal gain seems more of an example of movies exploiting the fight-for-right cliche to justify violence. Certainly if I had a nickel for every seen and implied death in this epic, I could put a down payment on California myself.