For this month’s final review for Genre Grandeur – Swashbuckler Films, here’s a review of The Mask of Zorro (1998) by Richard of Kirkham A Movie A Day
In case you missed any of the reviews, here’s a recap
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) – Keith
- The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1949) – Steve
- The Three Musketeers (2011) – Kim and Elwood
- Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) – Darren
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Richard
- Robin Hood (1973) – Rob
- The Mask of Zorro (1998) – Jeanette
- The Mask of Zorro (1998) – Steve
- The Mask of Zorro (1998) – Richard
In addition, I watched and reviewed 10 movies for my companion series Genre Guesstimation. Unfortunately, none of them will now be considered among my favorites of the genre.
- Cutthroat Island (1995)
- Treasure Island (1972)
- The Ice Pirates (1984)
- Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
- Waterworld (1995)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Thanks again to Richard of Kirkham A Movie A Day for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Steve of The Movie Movie Blog Blog and it is Screwball Comedy Films
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Sep by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Steve!
Let’s see what Richard thought of this movie:
I’ve started this review at least twice before and gotten bogged down in describing the plot and all the characters. I’m going to keep it simple from now on and only provide the briefest descriptions of each of those things because the element of this movie that makes it most worthy for the Swashbuckler Genre Grandeur, is not narrative but action, and this film has plenty of action to go around.
When I first suggested this as the Genre for MovieRob, I sent him a definition that I think I should share here.
Swashbuckler” is a compound of “swash” (archaic: to swagger with a drawn sword) and “buckler” (a small shield gripped in the fist) dating from the 16th century. While men at arms and sellswords of the era usually wore armor of necessity, their counterparts in later romantic literature and film (see below) often did not, and the term evolved to denote a daring, devil-may-care demeanor rather than brandishment of accoutrements of war, and modern “swashbuckling” heroes might not carry swords at all.
The 1998 film “The Mask of Zorro” fits this definition to a tee, and it features more swordplay than just about anything this side of the Star Wars films. This pulp character was created a hundred years ago as an old California hero. “Zorro” is Spanish for Fox and the world of Swashbuckling heroes has had many dashing characters referred to as Foxes. Zorro himself has been featured in over forty films, and this version updates the technology, stunts and camera work to take an old style storyline and bring it into the modern era. The main twist this version features is that the original Zorro is passing on his mantle to a new generation.
Anthony Hopkins is featured as the original Zorro in a prologue sequence which shows the daring of the masked defender of the downtrodden. The cruel Spanish Governor has chosen three random peasants to be shot to bait Zorro into a trap. Of course Zorro rides in and saves the day. This sequence is filled with sword fights against multiple foes, daring jumps from high places and a final shot that gives us the heroic image of Zorro that should stay in our minds for the rest of the film.
Ultimately Zorro is imprisoned before the Governor is exiled for twenty years, and the evil man takes the real Zorro’s infant daughter away to raise as his own child. When he returns twenty years later, he has a plan to restore his power but first must insure that Don Diego, his nemesis who is Zorro is truly out of the picture. This provides the opportunity and impetus for for Diego to escape in a Count of Monte Cristo manner and begin to seek revenge on Don Montero.
You may be wondering where Antonio Banderas fits in. He plays the adult version of a teen who idolized Zorro, but has now become a bandit. He has crawled into a bottle to drown his sorrows over the killing of his brother by an American soldier in the employ of Don Moreno. His partner in crime, three fingered Jack, played by the great L.Q. Jones, is taken prisoner and forced to work in a slave mining operation that Don Montero and Captain Love are using to acquire the gold necessary for their plan. Captain Love is portrayed as a sadistic psychotic with a twist, he is a handsome man who has designs on the former governor’s daughter.
Ultimately, Hopkins rescues Banderas’ character from wallowing in self pity and begins to train him to be Zorro so they can foil the plan and take revenge on the two men who have wronged them. Banderas as Alejandro is a comic character at first. He is full of misplaced bluster and lacks sophistication. The closing of the first act of the film involves some fun training scenes between him and Hopkins. They also engage in increasingly effective swordplay as Diego molds Alejandro into something much more resembling a hero.
Alejandro decides to test out his new abilities by sneaking into the villa of the enemy and stealing a horse that he hopes will provide him with the same kind of support Zorro had twenty years earlier. This is another excuse for dramatic sword fights and acrobatic stunts that a thrilling to watch. There are also humorous moments with an oversized enemy and the horse of his objective.
The plan that Don Diego has hatched is to pass off Alejandro as a visiting Don from the court of Spain and ingratiate him with the conspirators that Don Montero is pulling into his scheme. As a guest at a banquet hosted by the villain, Alejandro encounters Elena, Diego’s daughter who has been raised in Spain by Montero. When he raided the villa earlier he made a substantial impression on the young woman, played by Catherine Zeta Jones. She has a lesser opinion of Don Alejandro, as he is trying to pass himself off as a money hungry aristocrat. Of course a romance is in the offing, and the confused Elena has a hard time trying to figure out why she is sometimes attracted and repelled by this priggish visitor. She is even more confused when he steals her from Captain Love off the dance floor and tangos with her in front of the crowd in a very sensuous manner.
In a second raid on the villa, this time to obtain information about the enemy plans, Zorro encounters Elena and discovers she is quite the swordswoman. They engage in a different dance, this time armed with weapons and the results are the same, their repartee is sexy and she is left more confused about how she should feel.
As you can probably guess, the climax of the film involves the old enemies confronting one another as the younger counterparts do the same. There are a couple of very elaborately staged duels with swords. The director of this film is Martin Campbell, who twice revived the James Bond franchise and clearly shows that he knows how to stage some spectacular action sequences and fights. There is also some great visual flair in the fights as well. When the Alejandro version of Zorro faces down Captain Love, there is a beautiful moment as he brandishes his sword and the sun reflects off of the blade as if it was water falling off a ledge.
When the battle is resolved, Zorro dramatically whips his mask off so that he is face to face with the loathsome enemy as he goes to his deserved reward.
The fight with Hopkins and Stuart Wilson as Montero is also very dramatic. It has the added element of the conflicted Elena, who has learned who her true father is, but still feels loyalty to the man who raised her. All of this is shot with a lense that finds the most beautiful element in each scene. The sound design of the film is also quite effective.
This was my favorite film from twenty years ago. The sequel is not as memorable or worthy but you might find it entertaining. When it comes to modern swashbucklers, you will not find a modern film with more derring do, swordplay, whip work or romance than this.
Thanks Rob for taking my suggestion for your genre this month.