Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Legend of Zorro

Finally, after 7 years since the last Hollywood Zorro movie hit the big screen, director Martin Campbell is back with his original cast of Antonio Banderas in the title role, and Catherine Zeta Jones as his wife Elena de la Vega. Set 10 years after the last movie, The Legend of Zorro wastes no time in plunging the audience thick into trademarked action pieces that many associate with the Spanish Fox - the acrobatic lunges, flips, swordfights, whip action and horseback riding.

It's all familiar territory with the romanticized Old California, now at a crossroads where the state is in decision to join the rest of America. Things have changed for the de la Vega family too, as they have a new addition to the family, a son named Joaquin, who takes on traits of his father, but not knowing his father's secret identity.

Naturally, family takes the central theme in this movie. Why do vigilantes wear masks - simply to protect their loved ones as they enroll in the crusade for justice. This film explores the dilemma of the avenger as he struggles to be there for the general public in their hour of need, and the balance of spending enough quality time with his own family.

Relationships aren't rosy with husband and wife, and it's no surprise, they bicker again on screen. And when this concealment and protection of identity is compromised, what could be exploited from it?

Plenty of action in this movie to keep Zorro fans happy, and it's a marked improvement from the predecessor too. Zorro moves with guile and swift agility that will raise your eyebrow at the style of his acrobats, befitting his name "the fox". The use of the whip has increased, and so is the intensity of the swordfights.

However, the plot might be a bit of a letdown. It's the usual James Bondish storyline of some Euro-knight baddie in some highly secret underground organization trying to achieve the total destruction of America. One forgot to remind him that he'll need a lot more smarter accomplices in order to fulfill his desire for world domination. With 4 writers credited for the story, it does seem convoluted somewhat to include too many scenes which clocked the movie slightly longer than 2 hours. Some comedy was injected, but those with Tornado seemed a bit contrived (a horse that smokes and drinks? Come on...)

The pacing too is somewhat erratic, dragging some scenes unnecessarily and introducing subplots that in my opinion, went against the motivation of characters. There's a stab at the high-handed tactics of a certain government agency, and it's like watching a precursor of spy-versus-spy games. The soundtrack seemed to rehash the love them from the earlier movie too, playing it each time Elenor comes on screen, and the camera still soft-focuses her a lot too.

But what could have been given longer screen time is the on-screen banter between Banderas and Zeta Jones. That was what made the first film likeable and popular, and while this movie had flashes and moments of it, we could have had more. One could have also expected the effects to be seemless given today's technology, and nothing new presented on screen, but while the end result was impressive, there are certain frames that were obviously blue-screened and superimposed.

Despite its drawbacks, this is still a worthy Zorro movie, and with the signature shot of Zorro on Tornado hoisting its legs high in the sky in an all-ready posture ready to strike, with sword drawn, all can be forgiven.

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