April 2024

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell


Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, L.Q. Jones


The Mask of Zorro provides just about everything we could ask for from a crowd-pleasing summer action-adventure blockbuster: swashbuckling derring-do, romance, and action-comedy, helmed with a high level of energy and flair by director Martin Campbell (Goldeneye), and a somewhat irreverent tone that doesn’t go so far as to parody the legendary character.

When we open in 1821, the man behind the mask is Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), but when his identity is discovered by his archenemy, Spanish Governor Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson), his wife is killed, his home burned, and his infant daughter Elena taken to be raised as Montero’s own. Twenty years later, Montero returns to the territory of California, which he plans to turn into an independent republic. To thwart his scheme and take his long-delayed revenge, Diego takes on an apprentice of sorts, a thief named Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), who has a score to settle with Montero’s henchman Captain Love (Matt Letscher), for the death of his brother. But a complication presents itself in the beautiful form of Diego’s grown child and Montero’s adopted daughter Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), especially when sparks quickly fly between she and Alejandro.

The set-up is suitably simple: revenge for the murder of loved ones. Despite the revenge plotlines, Zorro has nary a whiff of darkness to be found, and like the Indiana Jones series, it never pretends to be more substantial than it actually is. It’s full-blooded, action and humor-packed swashbuckling fun that doesn’t have pretensions of being anything more or less than spectacularly entertaining.

Part of the fun of The Mask of Zorro is watching one of the great thespians like Anthony Hopkins, taking a vacation from a long line of “respectable”, dramatic, award-collecting roles, literally let his hair down and have fun. Hopkins is delightful while maintaining enough dignity to provide most of the movie’s serious moments. Antonio Banderas, as he did in Desperado, again finds a role that he fills out perfectly. Banderas is sure to draw the female crowd, and he’s equally adept at the comedy as he is in the action scenes, in which he is lithe and graceful. Catherine Zeta-Jones, at the time a relative newcomer, is not only a stunningly beautiful and vibrant woman, but a worthy match for Banderas at both romance and action-comedy. Their most memorable scene together is a playfully erotic fencing duel that leaves her wardrobe in shreds. Despite the absence of anything more graphic than a lusty kiss, Banderas and Zeta-Jones’ scenes crackle with as much sexual heat as anything between Banderas and Salma Hayek in Desperado.  Stuart Wilson and Matt Letscher are fine without being particularly memorable in the villainous roles (though Wilson is at least a little better here than as the boring crooked cop in Lethal Weapon 3).

It could be said that, like its title character, The Mask of Zorro is a little old-fashioned, without special effects, just swashbuckling adventure with dashes of romance and comedy thrown into the mix, and as such it is massively entertaining and satisfying, not as memorable as Indiana Jones at his best, but not too far down the action-adventure ladder. There’s a bit of action-comedy involving nifty stuntwork that rivals anything the Indy series has cranked out, and the frequent swordfighting is among the most lively and best-choreographed dueling onscreen, in worthy place alongside the Errol Flynn-style adventuring it obviously nods to. It’s not anything substantive, nor does it claim to be, but it’s hard-working entertainment, full of zest, energy, humor, and swordplay, and at the bottom line it is exactly what it aims to be: fun.