Three Slashes, No More, No Less
The Legend of Zorro
I can't fault anyone for enjoying 1998's The Mask of Zorro. While that film is uneven in places, it does have a generally fun, go-for-broke vibe. It's elevated by fantastic performances by Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas, and worked as a solid way to bring the cavalier swordsman into the modern superhero pantheon (just as that whole cinematic movements was getting its feet under it). The film stayed true to the roots of the character while being the kind of spectacle audiences at the time expected. It worked, and worked well (to the point that i was surprised how well it held up).
With that said, the sequel, The Legend of Zorro is an absolute bust. Produced and released seven years after the original hit the Silver Screen, this sequel doesn't really do much or say much that wasn't already done and said, but better, in the original. It's a sad and shallow retread that basically puts the characters through their paces only to end up exactly where they were at the end of the first film. It has its moments, and the cast is still game, but this was an absolutely unnecessary sequel in every sense of the word. It's a pity, but you get the vibe the franchise could have been so much more if it wasn't mismanaged with a project such as this.
The film opens seven years after the end of the previous film with Zorro (Banderas) working to ensure a free and fair vote for the fate of California. The potential state is voting on a referendum to join the Union, with most hoping that California would join, as a free state. One particular ruffian, Jacob McGivens (Nick Chinlund), invades the free and fair election with his own band of outlaws and steals the box of votes, riding of into the wilds. Thankfully, Zorro is there, and he gives chase, eventually defeating McGivens and getting the votes back for the people. Unfortunately, during the fight, Zorro loses his mask, revealing himself to be Don Alejandro de la Vega, a fact two Pinkerton agents, Pike (Shuler Hensley) and Harrigan (Michael Emerson), witness.
After the fight, and restoring the election, Zorro goes home to his loving wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Sadly for the couple, they almost immediately get into a fight. Alejandro promised that once California was free and in the Union he would hang up his mask and be Zorro no more. Elena feels that the time is now, but he disagrees. They fight, he leaves (when Zorro is summoned) and then, soon after, Elena files for divorce. Three months pass, and when next we see them, Alejandro is drunk and angry that his wife is now seeing someone else, Count Armand (Rufus Sewell). Things begin to get suspicious, though, when McGivens returns and appears to be working for the count. What is Armand up to? Does Elena know? Can this evil plan be stopped by Zorro in time?
I gotta be honest, this particular case for Zorro feels beneath the hero. Fighting for a free California is a great goal, and that's something I think Zorro would do. Failing to see Armand for the snake he is, and then spending a lot of time failing to stop the count's dastardly plans, though feels very out of character. It's obvious to everyone watching that, when a rich person moves into town and then bad things immediately start happening, the rich person is at fault. That's the standard modus operandi for every Zorro villain, and the fact that our hero doesn't see it immediately is just stupid.
The film tries to cover for this by making the movie more about Elena and Alejandro, keeping him distracted by his relationship issues to invest in his Zorro life. That would work, except for the fact that they break up so he can be Zorro, and then he goes off continuing to Zorro every night. Yes, he spends his afternoons drunk at times, but he's still Zorro most of the time, and the hero should be able to see evil coming in the moment. That's what he does. The complication thrown by the film doesn't work.
It's made even worse when you learn that the reason she divorced him was so that Alejandro would stay out of the case. The Pinkertons wanted him out of the way so they blackmailed his wife. Not him, mind you, but his wife. Instead of going up to him and saying, "yo, you're Zorro, mate. Stay out of this case so we can investigate," they take a backwards circuitous route, one that absolutely doesn't work as intended, and frankly only causes more issues. If Elena and Alejandro had been working together from the beginning they probably could have had the whole case solved in half a day. The second they start working together they solve it just that quickly. If anything, the Pinkertons only ensured the Count would very nearly get away with his whole scheme.
That scheme, mind you, also is pretty stupid. The Count, working in California, decides to sell nitro glycerin to the South. He has to manufacture the liquid and then ship it, very carefully, across the open territories by train, all so the South can then take control of it and use the explosive liquid to launch a preemptive strike against the Union. Even if we accept that the South could somehow transport this liquid safely (when we're shown just how volatile it is when shaken), it doesn't make much sense to make the liquid half a continent away before transporting it. If Armand was dead set on giving the South and edge before the Civil War broke out, he should have set up shop in Georgia, or Texas, and does his work there, where it would be close enough to the target to actually be useful.
Of course, if Armand set up shop in a locale other than California then Zorro wouldn't be able to get involved. But that just speaks to another issue: what the Hell is Zorro doing involved in a case for the Union. He's California's vigilante hero (although the movie basically treats him with the same governmental reverence as BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. in Batman '66). This isn't really a Zorro case and the film struggles to make some connection between the bad guys and the people of California just so Zorro has a reason to be involved. It's especially stupid when you consider the liquid could easily have exploded at any point during the transport, causing this whole plan to go tits up all on its own. Zorro is as useful here as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (i.e., not at all).
And this doesn't even get to the worst part of the film: Zorro's kid. This film is absolutely in love with Zorro having a little pipsqueak, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), but my god is this kind obnoxious. He's basically just a little Zorro without any of the charm or charisma. He's that default headstrong child who always winds up getting himself in danger, and then acting cute while the bad guys chase him. I know you're not supposed to want harm to come to children in films but, man, this little shit really needed someone to throw him off a cliff. His whole job is to act like a deus ex machina, accidentally causing things to happen so his father will come to the rescue and stop the bad guys. He's not a necessary character by any stretch and, frankly, the film would be better without him. Not just more enjoyable, but tighter, with a better flow to it.
The movie even ruins the one thing we should like: the relationship between Elena and Alejandro. Zeta-Jones and Banderas have solid chemistry, and the times they get to share the screen together absolutely crackle. But the film relegates them away to two different storylines, keeping a rift between them for most of the movie. And all they learn, after all of that, is that they do love each other and go right back to being the same couple we knew from the first film. It would have been nice if keeping them apart actually made them learn anything, but it doesn't. Elena even comes on board with Alejandro staying Zorro for the foreseeable future, meaning even their fight was pointless. It was just there to force them apart and pad the story out. It sucks.
Zorro movies should be fun, lighthearted romps with a lot of kick-ass swordplay. This film has the swordplay (which is okay), but it lacks the heart. It's a tired, and tedious, and barely goes anywhere. Worst, it betrays the characters to spin them around for no reason. If ever there was a sequel that proves is absolutely doesn't need to exist, it would be The Legend of Zorro.