After taking on corrupt, power-hungry men as a vengeance-seeking, gun-toting musician dressed in black for Robert Rodriguez's 'Desperado,' Antonio Banderas donned a black cape and mask with a sword to fight injustice perpetrated by corrupt, power-hungry men in Martin Campbell's 'The Mask of Zorro.' Once again, we see Mr. Banderas caught in death-defying acts, where he's just slick enough to narrowly escape some really tights scrapes. As the legendary California hero of the classic serial novels by Johnston McCulley, the Spanish actor is an excellent fit in this Robin Hood-esque, swashbuckling adventure, bringing plenty of charm and panache to the role. There's very little negative that can be said of his performance as he's almost always perfect in these sorts of portrayals — dashing and comical all at once.
Banderas is joined by another smooth-tongued and sophisticated actor, award-winner Anthony Hopkins as the original cape-crusader. (Legend goes that young Bruce Wayne watched a Zorro movie the night he witnessed the murder of his parents.) And this is where some of the fun in the script begins, revealing a few clever conceits and allusions within the narrative. With Steven Spielberg being attached to the production, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise, wanting a team that does the research and has fun with the mythos of the Zorro legend. Basically, the character names of the two leads relate back to McCulley's first novel while also creating a sense of passing on the torch to a new generation.
Hopkins plays Don Diego de la Vega, a role initially meant for Sean Connery. And he portrays the aging hero in black with a refined and distinguished attitude that seems to harken back to the classic performances of Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power ('The Mark of Zorro (1920, 1940)') — pencil moustache and all. Banderas is an outlaw named Alejandro, which happens to be the same name as Diego's father in the series and whose brother is Joaquin Murrieta — the real-life bandit known as the "Mexican Robin Hood" and possible inspiration for the Zorro character. Hopkins later takes on the position of Bernardo, Don Diego's mute servant in the original stories, as a slightly witty quip for fans, never uttering a line during a party sequence when he's first introduced.
That lavish and extravagant party is hosted by the rather sinister and conniving Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). Earlier, he's seen as the rapscallion responsible for the murder of Don Diego's wife and for kidnapping their baby daughter, Elena. Twenty years later, she grows up to be the always dazzling and impeccable Catherine Zeta-Jones, one actress who can never do ugly no matter how hard she tries. She's terrific as Alejandro's love interest, a prim and proper lady annoyed by Alejandro's foppish attitude but swoons at the sight of Zorro — another throwback to the original serials. One minute she's delicate and genteel, but on a turn, proves herself equal to the boys, both in discussing politics and in a swordfight. Well, except for her one va-va-voom! moment against Zorro inside a horse stable. That really serves no other purpose than to make guys giddy and drool with wide-eyed delight.
'The Mask of Zorro' was at first planned for Spielberg to direct — possibly as an attempt to create another Indiana Jones serial — but that responsibility was soon handed over to Mikael Solomon ('Band of Brothers,' 'Hard Rain'). The task later landed on the lap of Robert Rodriguez ('Planet Terror,' 'Machete') for his talent of working with small budgets before finally settling with Martin Campbell ('Casino Royale,' 'Edge of Darkness'). Although the thought of playing musical director's chairs hints at a troubled production, the end result is anything but. This new Zorro flick is bucket loads of fun, and Campbell admirably keeps the excitement levels high, nicely balancing the cartoonish comedy with the thrilling action. The swashbuckling adventure feature is a great addition to the pulp series and its adaptations, both as a throwaway actioner and an extension to the Zorro mythos.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'The Mask of Zorro' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc, housed in the standard blue keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with typical options while full-motion clips and music from the movie play in the background.
Martin Campbell's 'The Mask of Zorro' fights its way unto Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) that really shines. Contrast is crisp and brilliant, giving the picture a pleasant depth of field and dimensionality. Brightness levels are not always perfect, losing much of their luster during dimly-lit interiors, but for most of the movie's runtime, blacks are deep and true, providing some beautiful shots both in nighttime and daylight sequences.
The transfer is highly-detailed, with sharp clarity and strong visibility in the distance. Viewers can make out plenty of fine textures and lines in various articles of clothing and the Spanish architecture. There are a few moments of poor resolution and a bit of softness here and there, but they're too distracting from the picture's better aspects. Primaries are flamboyant and energetic while secondary hues are accurately rendered and vibrant, and facial complexions appear natural and revealing throughout. Overall, this Blu-ray edition of the action-adventure blockbuster offers a first-rate and fantastic video presentation.
'Zorro' also comes out swinging with a robust DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that gives the system a nice workout. The front soundstage is expansive, displaying a great deal of clarity and presence. Imaging feels vast and encompassing as sounds, especially during action sequences, seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere in the room and pans are flawless and convincing. Discrete effects, like the noises of birds, echoes in interiors or the dripping of water, are clear and accurate, generating some amusing ambience and a pleasing soundfield. James Horner's musical score enjoys a satisfying and stable soundscape that not only fills the room with excitement and adventure but surrounds and engages the listener adequately.
Vocals remain precise and intelligible during the movie's loudest segments while the higher-frequencies are broad and sharply rendered without a loss in detail. The low-end is equally persuasive and responsive, effectively adding weight and depth to the music as well as the explosive action. All in all, the swashbuckling flick is a thrilling listen on Blu-ray.
On another side note, there are several scenes where characters speak Spanish throughout the film. Unfortunately, the subtitles accompanying the narrative are not contained within the image proper. As result, this makes the movie unsafe for viewing on Constant Image Height projection screens.
Sony ports over the same assortment of bonuses from the 2005 Deluxe Edition of 'The Mask of Zorro.'
The legendary masked vigilante of the wild west rides again for another swashbuckling adventure in Martin Campbell's 'The Mask of Zorro.' Starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the blockbuster is loads of fun, providing the excitement and sweeping romance expected of the serial. The Blu-ray comes with excellent picture quality and an awesome audio presentation, porting over the same set of supplements from the previous DVD. It's a recommended package for fans of the Zorro mythos and action junkies.