Zorro (Antonio Banderas) places his vote in favor of California joining the Union only moments before Harrigan (Michael Emerson), a religious zealot arrives and wants to place his vote. The Polls have just closed and he is informed that he will not be able to vote. This doesn't stop him and he decides to steal the box of ballots because he claims that if California joins the Union, the half breeds will take over. Naturally, Zorro can't let this man stop the democratic process and he swings into action. Harrigan, the henchman, is a small cog in the nefarious plan of a master criminal. Is this master criminal trying to destroy California? Will he set off a nuclear bomb in the San Andreas Fault and allow half of the state to fall into the ocean? Will he send a select group of people into space to start a new colony while every living creature on Earth is killed by poisonous orchids? Is this a James Bond film or "Zorro" set in California in 1850?
At various points throughout the film, it is difficult to tell.
If you think the story for a film like "The Legend of Zorro" is going to make sense, you are in for a rude awakening.
Director Martin Campbell and the screenwriters do manage to paint this preposterous story against a real historical timeframe in the history of California, but beyond that, the film smells like bad James Bond. Actually, the analogy is more than a little appropriate. Campbell directed "Goldeneye", one of the better Bond pictures, and will direct the upcoming "Casino Royale", starring newly minted Bond Daniel Craig ("Layercake"). If "Legend" is any indication, the new Bond will have an uphill battle.
As the story unfolds, many of the trademarks of the Bond genre become evident. The `Pre-credit' sequence involving great stunt work and a character who will later prove prominent in the "mad villain's grand scheme". The mad villain's attempt to take over the world. Seriously. The villain isn't intent setting his sights on California, he has designs on the world. When a Count (Rufus Sewell) moves to California, from France, to open a winery, he is either a man with a great deal of foresight, or a man with a diabolically clever plan. I say the former. No French winemaker is going to move to California, in 1850, to make wine. When it is revealed that the Count is developing nitroglycerin to prevent...
Whoops. I'm doing it again. Putting too much thought into the story. But really, all they needed to complete the picture was to shave Sewell's head and give him a white cat completing the parody of the famous Bond villain, Blofeld. He is already the head of a large, villainous group intent on world domination. Just go the extra few steps, Martin. You're almost there anyway.
One of the things that made the first film so much fun was the chemistry between Banderas and Catherine Zeta - Jones. "Legend" picks up ten years later. Alejandro and Elena, their character's names, although that is unimportant, have long since married and now have a young son who "doesn't know who his father is". Both a wink, wink nudge, nudge reference to his father's secret identity as Zorro and a foreshadowing of life for kids in modern day California. Naturally, because the two leads fell in love in the first film, the filmmakers came up with the great idea of breaking them up in the sequel. They actually get divorced! Who in the hell came up with this brilliant idea? The last thing we want to do in an action sequel is to watch the two sexy leads fight and glower at each other. Bad move.
Their son, who I'll venture is about eight years old, is easily one of the most precocious children to appear in film in some time. He always sneaks out of the house or runs away from his school mates during a field trip, and naturally, he always ends up in the middle of trouble.
The "Zorro" films were initially conceived as an homage to the Saturday afternoon serials which used to play, along with a cartoon and newsreel, before the main feature. Kids like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas grew up admiring the adventures of these heroes, eventually leading to the creation of Indiana Jones. Later, Spielberg's company developed the first "Zorro". Apparently, they had little to do with the sequel, and it shows throughout. The first film was more successful because it worked harder to make everything seem legitimate. The acting was good. Anthony Hopkins was in the original. His character was killed in the first film, so unless he appears as some sort of ghostly apparition, he can't be in the sequel. So the sequel falls on the shoulders of Banderas and Zeta - Jones. Banderas is a handsome man but he has never been a good actor. In the sequel, his emotions seem to flick on and off like a light switch. He walks around glowering, or drunk, or both, slurring his words, making most of what he says unintelligible. Zeta - Jones is a better actor, but this is not the type of film that will showcase her ability, allowing her to get a second Oscar. In the first film, the story was exciting and the action thrilling. In "Legend", both suffer. The James Bond - like story even goes so far as to create a henchman with false, scary teeth, ala Jaws in the Roger Moore Bond films. Both Banderas and Zeta - Jones have great difficulty making us care for their fighting `lovers'.
The one place the film almost succeeds is in the action scenes. The finale set aboard an out of control train is fun. But even this seems clichd and overdone. Any finale featuring a train is going to be an "out of control train"; it would be pretty boring if Zorro could walk up to the engine and calmly put on the brakes. But even these sequences are marred by the many instances when you can tell Banderas' double is riding the horse or, worse yet, they used CGI to complete a stunt. Both are pretty bad, but the whole point of CGI is to create something that we wouldn't be able to see otherwise, to make it believable. If we can tell CGI is being used, it isn't working. Spend a little more time, a little more money to make it work.
Catch "The Legend of Zorro" on DVD. If at all.