The film opens in the final days of the Mexican revolution. The Spanish governor of California, Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson), has done his best to oppress the people and support the aristocracy. The people's only hope comes from the masked swashbuckler, Zorro (Anthony Hopkins). Don Rafael vows to destroy Zorro with one final plan, before he is forced to leave his governorship.
Flash forward twenty years. Don Rafael has returned to California, now under Mexican rule, with a new scheme that will enable him to rule once again. Twenty years older, Zorro is in no shape to oppose him... so Zorro sets about finding a replacement.
He finds Alejandro Murieta (Antonio Banderas), a common thief in whom he spies the seeds of talent. But can Alejandro learn the talents of Zorro in time to defeat Montero's evil schemes? And can he place the needs of the people before his own personal quest for vengeance?
Both Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas are impressive as the respective Zorros. Both men embody a certain air of adventure appropriate for the role. Hopkins gives the elder Zorro wisdom, whereas Banderas is given a much broader range, from comedy to romance.
Cast as the younger Zorro's love interest, Catherine Zeta-Jones is able to keep apace with the fiery Banderas, whether on the dance floor or in a seductive swordfight. The weakest links would have to be the villains, Stuart Wilson as Don Rafael, and his crony Capt. Harrison Love (Matt Letsher). They are not poor adversaries, but neither can hold a candle to Zorro.
Director Martin Campbell, who directed Goldeneye, approaches The Mask of Zorro with much the same style. The end result feels much like a period-set Bond film, starring a suave superhuman hero, and filled with outlandish stunts. This approach actually works refreshingly well, and puts to rest the notion that any modern Zorro film would have to seem dated.
The stuntwork throughout The Mask of Zorro is superb, with the high point being the film's numerous swashbuckling sequences. Sure, at times things tend to get a little unbelievable, but you are too swept up in the film's atmosphere to notice.
In a mostly disappointing summer (so far), The Mask of Zorro is finally a summer movie that lives up to its promise.
[PG-13 - some intense action and violence] (TriStar)