Judge Dennis Prince sometimes wears a mask in his courtroom. That's all, just a mask. En garde!
Our review of The Legend Of Zorro, published January 23rd, 2006, is also available.
The legend returns…but did anybody notice?
If you're a sucker for romantic adventures filled with plenty of derring do, diabolical denizens, and dreamy defenders, you'll want to grab yourself a copy of 1998's The Mask of Zorro. Sure, The Legend of Zorro, under scrutiny here, is the follow up to the original picture and, even though it manages to reassemble key cast and crewmembers, it feels like some of the passion has leaked out over the years. And while the high definition treatment gives this one a sharp look and sound, it still fails to draw us in to it's nineteenth century setting.
Facts of the Case
It's just not easy being a defender of justice, so laments the swashbuckling Spanaird, Zorro (Antonio Banderas, Spy Kids). Oh, he's immensely capable when it comes to defending the hapless citizens of an emerging state of California, offering plenty of high flying heroics and dizzying acrobatic assaults against would-be aggressors, but when it comes to his own personal relationships, well, this Hispanic hero simply hasn't been able to perfect a work/life balance. Married now ten years to the strikingly beautiful Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ocean's Twelve) and also responsible to father their feisty and fearless son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso, I Love Miami), Zorro is unable to uphold his promise to leave behind his mask and cape in deference to serving his family. Incensed, Elena makes good on her threat to leave her hero-husband, leaving him on his own to fight ill doers while alternately posing as the wealthy Don Alejandro de la Vega. But this doesn't sit well with Zorro, especially when he discovers his ex-wife is entertaining the advances of the mysterious Count Armand (Rufus Sewell, The Illusionist). But Zorro's jealousy is only the beginning of his new troubles after he discovers Armand is behind an evil plot to destroy the United States. Who knew?
Without question, the plot here is nothing short of, shall we say, fanciful? While the initial 1998 film, The Mask of Zorro, rode a tighter trail of straightforward adventure with an occasional wink to the audience, this outing plays more like a flamboyant episode of The Wild Wild West. The humorous barbs are much more prevalent here than in the first picture (with Zorro's horse oddly serving up many of the gags) yet they don't quite hit their intended target. Banderas is as magnetic as ever and the fetching Zeta-Jones is always easy on the eyes. While we're happy to see the two of them return following a long lapse between adventures, we're disappointed to see they're immediately saddled with a trite prove-that-you-love-me spat. This is the stuff that hamstrings other heroic endeavors, the romantic interest pouting over the hero's dedication to his civic duty (even though she knew this was part of the deal). There's no fault in the performances from Banderas and Zeta-Jones, just disappointment in the context of their relationship in this overdue follow up. Also along for the ride is the precocious de la Vega offspring, Joaquin, who looks more like a seedling for Zorro 3 than anything else. The youngster, Alonso, plays his part well enough but the role is rather distracting to the sort of adventure we'd hope for. When all is said and done, the result is an overlong 130 minutes that could have been more compelling had a few plot elements been excised, delivering a 90-minute solid action picture instead.
Now on Blu-ray disc, The Legend of Zorro nonetheless gets a boot up on the DVD incarnation, boosted by a sparkling 1080p / AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer, presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The image quality is largely a crisp and clear affair with a terrific amount of subtle detail without artifacting. The color palette leans to the amber hues to match the story's setting but refrains from becoming too muted by exaggerated dust and drabness. Black levels and contrast are both well represented, offering us a good amount of dimensionality to the overall image, only a few dark scenes suffering from a bit of crush and infrequent softness. It's not a top-tier transfer but it looks good in high definition just the same.
Audio is offered in a nicely rendered Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround mix that, when fully extracted via an HDMI audio interface, is lush with a solid core and plenty of attending sound effects that fill the soundstage. The bass rumbles pleasingly during explosions, gunshots (I jumped at the suddenness of the robust rifle blast during the opening sequence), and pounding hooves. As discrete effects emerge around you, the main dialog is well anchored in the front and always intelligible.
As for bonus content, first up is an audio commentary within which director Martin Campbell and cinematographer Phil Meheux discuss practically every aspect of the production on a scene-by-scene basis. Neither is vocally exciting—they tend to speak in low and practically monotone quality—but they keep the information coming for the duration. A collection of four featurettes is up next, each discussing a different aspect of the production and tallying up a 43-minute total run time. Four deleted scenes follow (with optional director's commentary), eliminated to improve overall pacing (although I wish there was more material here and less in the final cut of the feature film). The Multi-Angle Scene Deconstruction allows you to use your remote's angle function to dissect two action scenes from the film, giving you a look at the process of going from rehearsal to final cut. There isn't a theatrical trailer for the film, only a couple of Blu-ray plugs including one for the recently released Close Encounters of the Third Kind Blu disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's nothing inherently wrong with this film and certainly both Banderas and Zeta-Jones do well in reprising their first-installment roles. The return of original director Campbell also serves the picture well in achieving consistency of visual style, the sort that made the first film such an impressive success. There's an increased amount of silliness this time around though, the injection of self-deprecating hero humor and the tired spousal antics dragging down the action element. It's not an Indiana Jones picture, that's for certain, but it can still be considered entertaining for the family. Just expect that some viewers will become impatient with the picture's somewhat plodding pace.
It's more than a bit confounding that it would take seven years to follow up the highly regarded The Mask of Zorro. While the character is certainly sustains immediate name recognition, the fact is he isn't the sort of franchise draw as would be a Spider-Man, Batman, or Indiana Jones. For that reason, this film required a much stronger script with more adventure and less matrimonial acrimony if it were to truly succeed. Unfortunately, it can only amount to some rainy-afternoon entertainment.
Guilty of failing to live up to it's legend.
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