'Live Free or Die Hard' notwithstanding, it seems that sometimes there actually is an expiration date when it comes to movie sequels. Simply put, if you don't strike while your big blockbuster is still fresh in the public's mind, you run the risk of audience apathy. Such is the fate that befell 2005's 'The Legend of Zorro.' Coming a full seven years after the 1998 worldwide smash 'The Mask of Zorro,' the sequel was a perfectly entertaining follow-up, but nonetheless it tanked at the box office, failing to capture the same swashbuckling zeitgeist.
However, now that the dust has settled, it's easier to appreciate the minor charms of 'Legend of Zorro.' It's certainly not a perfect movie, but thanks to the return of the core creative team (including Antonio Banderas as Zorro, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the beautiful Elena, and director Martin Campbell), it retains much of the chemistry and spirit that made the first flick such a charmer, and stands tall as one of the more consistent sequels in recent memory.
Having spent the last ten years fighting injustice and cruelty, Alejandro de la Vega, aka Zorro (Banderas) now faces his greatest challenge: his loving wife Elena (Zeta-Jones) has thrown him out of the house. (One wonders what her expectations were when they got married, but whatever.) Elena has filed for divorce and found comfort in the arms of Count Armand (Rufus Sewell), a dashing French aristocrat. But Alejandro knows something she doesn't -- Armand is the evil mastermind behind a terrorist plot to destroy the United States. And so, with his marriage and his country's future at stake, it's up to Zorro to try to save both unions before it's too late.
Okay, so 'Legend of Zorro' sounds pretty stupid -- and it is. The film's misguided detour into domestic comedy and a particularly lame villain certainly don't help matters. But this is a 'Zorro' movie, so all it really needs to win us over is genuine passion between Banderas and Zeta-Jones, some funny quips, and lots of action. It pretty much succeeds on all fronts. Despite the seven-year gap between 'Legend' and 'Mask,' both Banderas and Zeta-Jones continue to fling zingers at each other almost as fast as they cross swords, and it's this fire that propels 'Legend' even when the more rote machinations of the plot fail.
Director Martin Campbell also delivers some pummeling action sequences. The film's setpiece on a roaring train is a real highlight, thanks in part to Campbell's insistence on doing many of the stunts live on the set without the aid of phony CGI. There is a moment when Zorro rides atop a horse as the train barrels down the tracks that truly took my breath away.
At the time of its release, some critics complained that 'The Legend of Zorro' was historically inaccurate. Apparently, the film's timeline of events and technology is considerably off, and for those sensitive to such things, such glaring plot holes may be too much to ignore. But I personally don't understand the fuss -- this is 'Legend of Zorro,' not 'Dances with Wolves,' so who really cares? A film like 'Zorro' is more about our collective nostalgia for a period that now resides only in the misty, sepia-toned banks of fantasy, and on that level, the movie is plenty entertaining.
Make no mistake, I still prefer the original 'Mask of Zorro,' and it's a particular shame that Sony hasn't decided to release that film on Blu-ray along with 'Legend.' Still, if you've been waiting to get your high-def Zorro fix, this lighthearted follow-up should quench your thirst.
'The Legend of Zorro' first hit standard-def DVD back in early 2006, and utilizing the same master, this Blu-ray looks barely a day old. This is a lovely 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, with an bright, detailed and colorful visual image that's sure to please.
The source is in great shape, with a film-like look free of imperfections. Colors are very well modulated, with a warm, golden hue to the proceedings that looks quite pretty in high-def. The fleshtones make the actors look even more gorgeous, with no chroma noise or oversaturation to mar the illusion. Black levels and contrast are also very strong, particularly bright daylight exteriors. The result is a very detailed presentation that almost uniformly looks three-dimensional.
I have only two complaints. The first is that the darkest scenes look a bit soft and flat. The second is that there are some very slight edge halos visible, although they're only minor intrusions. As such, 'Legend of Zorro' wouldn't be my first choice for a true demo disc, but overall this is definitely a Blu-ray you can throw in and impress your friends with.
Just as strong as the visual presentation is this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit). The standard DVD already sounded quite dynamic, but still the upgrade to high-res audio offers a noticeable improvement -- 'Zorro' is alive with great action and envelopment, so much so that a few scenes could easily rank as reference-quality.
There's plenty of swordplay, stampeding horses and rocketing trains in 'Zorro' to keep the sound designers busy, and they don't disappoint. The attenuation and sense of clarity to the soundtrack is fantastic -- at a decent volume, I was truly startled by how realistic the mix sounds. Surround use is very aggressive in the action scenes, with nicely dispersed discrete effects, but also a very majestic and pronounced heft to the score by James Horner. This is also a wonderfully recorded soundtrack, with dialogue very crisp and defined, and no volume balance problems. The audio on the Blu-ray edition of 'Zorro' may not ultimately be as whiz-bang as a 'Transformers,' but for this type of traditional, swashbuckling material, it's perfect.
Sony has ported over all of the same extras that graced the standard-def DVD version of 'Legend of Zorro' to this Blu-ray edition. Although there's no upgrade to HD this time around, this is still a pretty nice little package of goodies.
'Legend of Zorro' isn't a bad little sequel, but coming seven years after the original, it would seem this one simply passed its sell-by date. The inclusion of cutesy family elements doesn't help, but if you keep your tongue firmly planted in cheek, you might enjoy yourself. As a Blu-ray release, this one's certainly solid, with Sony delivering excellent video and audio alongside a pleasant package of extras. Nothing about 'Zorro' will blow your mind -- either as a movie or a Blu-ray release -- but it's worth checking out for night of harmless popcorn entertainment.