It has been seven years since The Mask of Zorro catapulted its stars, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones from moderate fame to stardom. Seven years is normally a very long time to wait for a sequel. There are few exceptions to the rule that more than three years equals disappointing box office and normally equally disappointing films.
This swashbuckling Spanish-American Robin Hood, however, is one of those enduring icons of the screen. He’d survived decades without a proper film to his name until the 1998 revival yet managed to pull it off and, much as with the likes of King Arthur and Sherlock Holmes, there’s rarely any reason to believe that we’ve seen the last of him – he’s simply too good a character, too fun an idea. After all, what could be more typically classic Hollywood than a cross between a Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler and a John Wayne cowboy? And that, at its heart, is what Zorro is all about. Oh, and fighting for truth, justice and all that, obviously.
While The Mask of Zorro was by no means a classic of filmmaking genius, it was, nonetheless, a great night out. After nearly a decade of modern and gritty blockbusters, it was a return to the old-school Hollywood – the glamour, the silliness, the fun. There hadn’t been a new Indiana Jones film in nine years and the public were screaming out for a true, uncomplicated hero, preferably with a whip, to leap about the shop like a deranged baboon once again.
No one really knew it at the time, but this was the sort of thing we all secretly wanted from our movies – stereotypical heroism, a glamorous girl, horses galloping and swordfights. Zorro was the perfect combination of the two genres that made Hollywood and here it was on our screens once more. We could forgive the fact that the film was fairly unoriginal, because the joy of sparkling sabres clinking against each other in a rapid dance was simply too fundamentally cinematic for us to care if the plot was up to much.
So now, with Zeta-Jones an Oscar winner and Banderas with a great line in self-parody via the Spy Kids franchise and Shrek 2, they team up once more to bring us more of the same. Is it a top-notch film? No – but neither was the original. Is it great fun? Certainly. It has all the elements anyone could want from either a Western or a swashbuckler, with chases, fights and stunts galore plus, in a fine tradition of sequels trying to bring in the kiddie market, an adorable child sidekick – this time the son of Zorro and his dear wife, caught up in intrigue seemingly designed solely to provide excuses for old-fashioned excitement.
In short, it’s pure Hollywood. Glitz galore, utterly shallow, nearly completely mindless and hugely enjoyable. As long as you don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, you’ll have a whale of a time. Just don’t analyse it too much or you’ll realise that when they used to refer to the movies as shadows on the wall it was largely because they were all just as insubstantial.