Film Review: The Legend of Zorro (2005)

Also known as: Zorro Unmasked, The Return of Zorro, The Mask of Zorro 2, Zorro 2 (working titles), Z (alternative title)
Release Date: October 24th, 2005 (UK)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rufus Sewell, Nick Chinlund, Adrian Alonso

Tornado Productions Inc., Amblin Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“[after making a “Z” mark on Armand] So the devil will know who sent you.” – Zorro

Unlike the previous Antonio Banderas starring Zorro picture, I had never seen this one before and wasn’t sure what to expect.

What I do like is that they got the first film’s director, Martin Campbell, back. However, they replaced the original writers with the dynamic duo of failing upwards, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Those guys have been instrumental in turning once great franchises into Port-O-Lets at a music festival.

Since neither Orci or Kurtzman are actually real human beings with real human being emotions, they completely fumble the ball in regards to the romantic relationship between Zorro and his babe, Elena. In fact, it’s handled so badly that when Elena splits with the kid, very early in the movie, I nearly wanted to turn this off. It was nonsensical, didn’t mesh with who she was in the first film and frankly, Martin Campbell should’ve stood up and said, “What is this?! Fuck this shit!”

Anyway, I stuck around because I wanted to review this and at least there were some things that made me enjoy the film. Although, it does pale in comparison to its incredibly fun predecessor.

For starters, I really liked the kid in this. He was badass, amusing and even if he was sometimes a prick to his dad, he made up for it when the time was right.

I thought that the general story was weak and that’s probably because the rivalry between Zorro and the villain is connected to the breakup of Zorro and Elena because the villain is her new boyfriend. But of course he is, as we’ve got to shit writers that have to follow the easiest path because they might hurt their brains.

What mostly saves this film from being a pile of shit is the swashbuckling action. Banderas is just a fun and cool Zorro and he gets to be involved in some great moments. Granted, I don’t know how much of the action is his stuntman or Banderas, himself. Still, Banderas’ Zorro is one of the most energetic and entertaining incarnations of the character and that’s not going to get diminished by a shit script.

Beyond that, the comedy in the first movie was well-balanced with the rest of the story and it fit. Here, the comedy is nowhere near as polished and this felt like a bad sitcom pilot at times.

Coming out of this, I can see why a third chapter was never made. Although, this has a happy ending and also concludes in a way where it wasn’t necessary to continue the story.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Also known as: Mark of Zorro (working title)
Release Date: July 10th, 1998 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: John Eskow, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, Maury Chaykin

David Foster Productions, Amblin Entertainment, TriStar Pictures, 136 Minutes

Review:

“There is a saying, a very old saying: when the pupil is ready the master will appear.” – Don Diego de la Vega

Wow! I forgot how ridiculously fun this movie was. That’s probably because I haven’t seen it since the theater and for whatever reason, I just never got around to seeing it again. Also, I haven’t seen the sequel either but I’m going to rectify that very, very soon.

To start, Antonio Banderas was pretty damn perfect as Zorro. Almost too perfect, honestly. But then, Anthony Hopkins is also pretty close to perfect as an aged Don Diego a.k.a. the most well-known Zorro.

If that’s confusing, it shouldn’t be. You see, this is a movie with two Zorros in it! Yes, two!

Hopkins’ Don Diego is at the end of his swashbuckling career due to his older age but also because he was imprisoned by an evil bastard that stole his daughter and raised her as his own. The villain also carried a grudge because Don Diego had the child with the woman he loved.

Upon escaping prison, Don Diego still has a score to settle and he must bring down the villain. However, he meets a young man with an enemy of his own, who is the right hand of the big villain. So Don Diego takes the younger Alejandro Murrieta and trains him to be the next Zorro.

Over the course of the story, Alejandro falls in love with the villain’s daughter, Elena. Elena, by the end of the story, learns that Don Diego is her true father and shit hits the fan in one epic, incredible finale.

This motion picture truly embodies everything a Zorro story should have: adventure, action, romance, swashbuckling and a lighthearted, playful style of humor. Again, Banderas was perfect as this story’s primary Zorro and it’s as if he was born to play this character. Additionally, his chemistry with Catherine Zeta-Jones and camaraderie with Anthony Hopkins are immensely enjoyable.

Man, I just loved the hell out of this and even though I haven’t seen the sequel, it’s kind of a shame that this didn’t become an ongoing franchise with Banderas as the lead. Although, there have been rumors that Quentin Tarantino wants to bring Banderas back for a Zorro meets Django movie. Tarantino actually wrote a comic book miniseries that featured both characters. I reviewed that here.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Phantom (1996)

Release Date: June 7th, 1996
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Based on: The Phantom by Lee Falk
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Casey Siemaszko, John Capodice

Boam Productions, The Ladd Company, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“When darkness rules the earth, America’s in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on a brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. Like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos. And so, my brothers, I give you… [raises out the first skull] The skull of Touganda. This skull is one of three. When all three skulls are united, they will produce a force more than any army on Earth.” – Xander Drax

A lot of people, myself included, slept on this movie when it came out because even for 1996, it looked hokey and cheap. Granted, it was actually made by a larger studio and it was a more expensive picture than one might think.

I feel like the tone was off for what was becoming the popular trends at the time and that this would’ve fared much better, half a decade earlier. But even really solid comic book movies like The Rocketeer and The Shadow struggled to find an audience before this flick was even greenlit.

While I’ve seen this a few times over the years, I think there are things within it that one can appreciate that would’ve most likely been overlooked in 1996.

To start, this is just a fun adventure movie, a popcorn picture at its core that features good actors, cool characters and period piece sets that show you where most of the budget went.

There is a very pulpy vibe to this and it almost calls back to the tone of old school swashbuckling epics without having any real swashbuckling in it.

It mostly taps into the film serial genre that helped make The Phantom character more of a household name in the ’30s through ’50s. For modern audiences, it will play like a superhero picture with elements of an Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to it.

While it’s not particularly well-acted, the core cast still give good performances that really show that they’re committed to this film’s pulpy goodness. Treat Williams’ over-the-top antics as the villain are superb and I liked him immensely in this. I also thought that Billy Zane made a really solid Phantom and Kristy Swanson was a good choice for her role. I can’t say that this is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ best work but she did look like she was having a blast hamming it up in this goofy but stylish movie.

The Phantom is far from being a classic in the superhero genre but its much better than a lot of the other offerings in the pre-Dark Knight and MCU era. Frankly, I wish it would’ve done well enough to have had a few sequels but since this felt somewhat dated for 1996, I can’t imagine any sequels connecting with the audience of that era.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other comic book adaptations of the era like The Shadow, Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer and the early, cheap Marvel attempts at live-action.