The Mask of Zorro
Another of the swashbuckling movies produced in the nineties, like Three Musketeers and Prince of Thieves and like those two, it’s very well done. Stars Anthony Hopkins (a classic Welsh actor who is Odin in MCU Thor, famous as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs [and I refuse to watch that movie, I do not need the nightmares], was Van Helsing in 1992’s Bram’s Dracula, was in A Bridge Too Far with the other great actors of that time) as Don Diego de la Vega, Stuart Wilson (an older Robin Hood in Disney’s Princess of Thieves) as Don Rafael Montero, Tony Amendola (Marco/Geppetto in ABC’s Once Upon a Time series amongst other TV series) as Don Luiz, Antonio Banderas (this is probably his most famous role) as Alejandro Murrieta and Catherine Zeta-Jones (who is actually Welsh, and married to Michael Douglas since 2000; this was her breakthrough role, and she went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2002’s Chicago) as Elena. This is not the first appearance of the character Zorro; he dates to 1919 and was originally supposed to be a one-time character, then the popularity of the 1920 movie had the author create dozens of further stories. However, this is probably one of the more well-known iterations.
The story begins in 1821 as Spain is leaving Mexico due to a rebellion led by General Santa Anna. The last governor, Don Rafael Montero is ordered to leave, but has one last piece of business to take care of. He gives his friend Don Luiz orders to distribute the Spanish land amongst themselves and pay taxes to Santa Anna, thereby maintaining their wealth. Montero is planning to execute three innocent men amidst a protest. Two boys are waiting for the legendary Zorro to appear and he does not disappoint. The boys even save Zorro from a trap and in return, he gifts them with a medallion. The crowd cheers for their hero and protects him from the guards. He confronts Montero and marks his neck with a “Z”, three slashes for three men. Montero would murder a hundred innocent men in order to kill Zorro. But Zorro rides away.
There is a lair beneath his estate (the original Bat cave; in fact, Zorro is considered an influence to Batman); Zorro remarks to his faithful black steed that they are both getting too old for their activities. Zorro without the mask is Diego de la Vega and he visits his infant daughter in her nursery and tells her stories about his escapades. His wife, Esperenza joins the pair. They are interrupted by Montero and his guards. Montero has an inkling at this point that de la Vega is Zorro and pressing on his arm reveals a bloody scratch de la Vega received during the fight that day. He attempts to arrest de la Vega as a traitor to both his country and his class, and oddly apologizes to Esperenza. Turns out, Montero loves Esperenza and is upset that she married de la Vega; but now, he probably is thinking with de la Vega out of the way, he can claim Esperenza. But Esperenza tries to protect her husband during his duel with Montero and a guard accidentally shoots her. Montero dispatches the guard, and de la Vega goes for his crying daughter; a fire has started during the scuffle. Montero knocks de la Vega out, puts him in chains, and claims his daughter. Montero leaves with young Elena for Spain and de la Vega is taken away to prison to rot; Montero’s parting words to de la Vega: you must “live with the knowledge you have lost everything you hold dear,” and “your child should have been mine.” (This of course, takes away the notion of Esperenza’s own choice; she seems very happy with de la Vega and aware of his secret, most likely meaning it was a love match, so no, Elena should have never been Montero’s child.) de la Vega swears to Montero, “you will never be rid of me!”
Twenty years later: the Murrieta brothers have been caught…well, actually, they were in on their capture so they could steal the guard’s money and redistribute it to the poor (a la Robin Hood). But there is a new Captain in town, Captain Love from Texas; he ends up shooting Joaquin and capturing Jack. Alejandro escapes, but watches his brother shoot himself instead of being captured. Alejandro collects his brother’s medallion, then tries to barter it away for a drink. In the meantime, Montero has returned to California. His first stop is the prison, in order to be sure that Zorro is dead. Several prisoners claim they are Zorro (like the famous “I’m Spartacus” scene), but Montero doesn’t believe any of them. He walks right by an old man with an eye patch, pauses for a moment, but dismisses him. He deduces Zorro is dead.
Wrong. That old man is de la Vega and he manages to free himself and get smuggled out of the prison by impersonating a dead body; meaning he then digs himself out of the grave. He will exact his revenge on Montero. He attends Montero’s official arrival the following day, where Montero plays to the crowd, insulting the other Dons so he can claim he works for the people. Obviously, de la Vega knows better and starts to make his way to the former governor, until Montero’s “daughter” arrives, Elena. This halts de la Vega. He must rethink his plan. On his way to his hideout, he comes across Alejandro and his old medallion as Alejandro prepares to barter it away. He easily bests Alejandro in a fight, but offers to train the young man.
Alejandro is eager to start fighting, though his answer of “the pointy end goes in the other man, [sounding like Jon Snow or Arya Stark]” shows de la Vega that he must start with the basics. The master has a new apprentice. de la Vega has Alejandro bathe and trim his hair. After disarming the old fox once, Alejandro figures he is skilled enough to capture a black Andalusian, like Zorro’s Tornado. Alejandro, in a mask, encounters Elena and she is quite taken by the dangerous man. When his plan goes a bit awry, Alejandro hides in the church and ends up hearing Elena’s confession, that she is starting to have thoughts about the masked man and her heart is too wild for her father’s liking. Alejandro manages to escape before Captain Love appears, but he leaves the “Z” mark to let them know Zorro has returned.
de la Vega, expertly using a whip to extinguish candles (Hopkins could do that trick and was added into the movie), is not pleased with Alejandro; Zorro serves the people, not himself. Alejandro is tired of the lectures and demands de la Vega duel him. The older man holds up a spoon. Alejandro must have the polish of a proper gentleman, and needs to spy on Montero. The two men attend a gala held at the estate, de la Vega masquerading as Alejandro’ s servant, who goes by the title Don de Castilio. Alejandro is properly presented to Elena, but his gentleman charm does not impress her, though he is impressing Montero. However, when Alejandro has to stall Montero, he dances quite passionately with Elena (it is a wonderful and lively dance). Alejandro gains an invitation with the rest of the Dons and Montero reveals his plan; he means for the Dons to claim California. They will buy it from Santa Anna with gold from a mine on his own land that he is unaware of. Santa Anna will take the gold because a war with the United States is expensive. Montero shows off the mine the next day and Alejandro discovers that poor Mexicans who have gone missing have been taken to the mine.
Elena has a conversation with de la Vega the next day in the stables, only knowing him as Alejandro’s servant. But de la Vega remarks that she looks like her mother. Elena has been told that her mother was very proper. And de la Vega’s voice is familiar. Then, in the market, her former nursemaid makes a gift to her, recognizing her as the daughter of Esperenza de la Vega. Elena tries to tell the woman she is mistaken and that she was born in Spain. But she’s already encountered native Californian flowers she remembers the scent. Montero’s tale is starting to unravel.
de la Vega gifts Alejandro with a proper Zorro mask and instructs him to sneak into Montero’s office; they need the location of the mine. de la Vega sets a flaming “Z” on the hillside as a distraction, but Alejandro still encounters Captain Love and Montero and even duels them both. he escapes through the stables and faces off with Elena, who is skilled in sword fighting as well (I love that she’s an action woman). He does delicately cut her clothes off her as a way to stop her (her hair covers her top). Alejandro still has hilarious issues with his new horse, but does demonstrate that he is a good rider. de la Vega returns that evening to confront Montero and demands that Elena be brought out. Montero’s tale fully unravels; the name “de la Vega” is a clue from the woman in the marketplace and the truth comes out. She persuades de la Vega to put down his sword to save himself from being shot. At this point, Elena must be wondering what did Montero do that he was able to take her from de la Vega and what truly happened to her mother. Then she later frees him from the cellar he’s been thrown into and they race off to help Zorro.
Zorro sneaks into the mine and discovers the people are locked in. Captain Love’s suggestion is to blow up the mine once all the gold is out and kill the people as well so there are no witnesses. But when Zorro shows up, Love cuts the fuse so he has time to deal with the nuisance. de la Vega confronts Montero again as Elena watches. Montero seems willing to kill her to stop de la Vega, but he wouldn’t actually hurt the woman he views as a daughter, though it gives him the chance to shoot de la Vega. Zorro dispatches Love, even after being stabbed and unmasked, then Montero is caught behind the wagon as it falls. Elena goes to rescue the trapped people and the fuse has restarted. Zorro helps her with the last cells and they save the day! Alejandro holds de la Vega as he bids his daughter farewell; she has the same spirit as her mother. He even blesses Alejandro and Elena, then passes away. Elena mourns de la Vega; not Montero.
There must always be a Zorro; it is a destiny and a curse, for there is always another battle. But both Zorros have loved Elena. And now Alejandro tells the story to his son.
In 2005, there was a direct sequel to this film, The Legend of Zorro, bringing back both Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones to reprise their roles. Rufus Sewell (Knight’s Tale, Tristan and Isolde, Victoria) joins as Armand, a former friend of Elena de la Vega’s when she grew up in Spain. This film is not nearly as good as Mask of Zorro. The premise is that California is voting to become part of the United States in 1850, but there is a secret organization attempting to block it. Zorro is doing his best, but since he is gone often, his marriage is strained and he’s missing out on seeing his son grow up. His secret is found out by mysterious men, who blackmail Elena into working undercover for them. She divorces Alejandro and he must make a choice between being Zorro and saving his family.
Of course, several of the fight scenes are still good and Elena retains some of her action-girl status. But there are several glaring errors. California at that time was Catholic; divorce was not allowed and Elena’s status would have surely suffered. Mentions of the Confederacy are inaccurate since it didn’t form until 1861. The inclusion of nitroglycerin is just barely factual; it was invented in 1847 as an explosive, but to me, still seems a bit farfetched. The overall feeling I get from the film is that they were trying too hard. The villains are flat. Of course, the son learns who his father is, and the marriage is put to rights. I argue how could Elena say to Alejandro “we were never meant to be together?” You married him knowing full well who he was and what he did. That was what attracted you to him. There was a more logical way to deal with the matter.
So, definitely watch Mask of Zorro, it is a classic. Hopkins is excellent and I actually would love to see more of him in that role. Antonio is charming and this is why Puss in Boots in Shrek is a takeoff on Zorro, since Antonio voiced the cat (despite the tale being French). As I’ve stated before, I love a good sword fight.
Next Time: Top Gun