IN SHORT: Best summer movie I've seen in my life.
Best "film" is still Citizen Kane. You'll have to search the archives for my feelings on the difference between movies and films, or wait a pair of 'graphs. We're definitely talking movies today.
Cranky barely remembers the Zorro TV show and, honestly, didn't care when The Mask of Zorro was skedded for release. Long term readers know that Cranky prefers to see the new flicks in sneak previews, so he can gauge the reactions of the "real people" in the audience, but fellow critics have been raving about Zorro. So I buckled and went to see it in a real comfy room -- leather chairs, lots of leg room . . . but no popcorn.
Two hours later, Cranky is one happy camper. I had no expectations and never saw it coming. Batten down, folks, the superlatives are about to fly . . .
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Movies should entertain, enthrall, thrill and delight you. Sometimes they can scare or make you cry or get your heart pounding from great action or a thumpa-thumpa romance. As far as action flicks go, the good guys should be good, the bad guys bad, the women should be gorgeous -- and if they all have small flaws, so much the better for the characters. Rarely does any given movie provide all those things. Zorro does.
What Star Wars took three movies, six hours and a passel of computer generated effects to achieve, The Mask of Zorro does in a shade over two hours. It is fun, funny, thrilling, packed with spectacular fights and a story that includes kidnaping, political conspiracy, swindling and a pretty sexy romance. And, somewhat more important to this reader of old pulps and collector of comics, proper credit is given to the Creator of Zorro, Johnston McCulley. (McCulley wrote the first story back in 1919, so don't flame me that Zorro's underground training center looks like the Batcave. Batman didn't show until 1939.)
We begin with the final battle of Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) who, as the black masked and clad swordsman called Zorro, fights for the oppressed people of Spanish California (back around 1820 or so). Mexican troops led by General Santa Anna are about to "liberate" the territory. Spanish Governor Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) uses the last vestiges of his power to give the land to the rich in a way that Santa Anna must accept. As the poor riot in the streets, Zorro loses both his wife and daughter and forges an enmity with Montero that will last until Death do them part. He also endures a bit of hero worship from two small boys.
Twenty years later, the kidlets have grown into banditos. One is murdered by evil American military officer Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher). Meanwhile, Don Rafael returns from Spain with a plan to buy California back from Santa Anna and allies himself with Capt. Love. Don Diego, who has languished in prison for twenty years, finally escapes. It is time for a new Zorro to rise from the people, trained by the old Zorro. Problem is, bandito Alejandro Murieta (Antonio Banderas) is a drunkard and a lousy swordsman, filled with hate and a desire for revenge against Captain Love. He has "no vision," as Don Diego tells him. But he will learn.
Don Diego, on the other hand, has never seen his daughter grow to become the spectacularly sexy woman called Elena Montero (Catherine Zeta-Jones). OK, you've been clued in to part of the reason for Don Diego's desire for vengeance against Don Raphael. No more will I say about that. But you've no doubt gathered that Elena is the link between Zorros old and new, and that sparks will fly between Banderas and Zeta-Jones. Heck, the sparks that kick between them could light a small city.
What makes a period piece like The Mask of Zorro so refreshing is that we don't see the world in the same way we do in the standard summertime popcorn flicks. The look of the land is different. The weapons are different. The sword fighting you'll see onscreen is electrifying. Not to mention the horse riding stunts. Or Anthony Hopkins wielding a whip. Or the trademark slashing "Z" which opens and closes the movie.
Director Martin Campbell, who last did the James Bond template-flick Goldeneye, takes the gold ring with this flick. The Mask of Zorro sets a new high water mark for every other movie you'll see this summer, or any summer to come. Hopkins, for an old dude, looks great in the leathers. Banderas smokes and Zeta-Jones is a raging flame of sexual heat on the screen. Thanks to exec producer Steven Spielberg for insisting that she be cast.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Mask of Zorro, he would have paid...
I can't wait to see it again. This time with popcorn.
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