With the acrobatic slash of a steel blade and the mark of a “Z,” he defends the weak and oppressed. Who is this masked man? In 1820, Mexicans called him Zorro. In 1998, many parents of older teens—especially thrill-seeking males—are calling him the best thing to happen to action/adventure movies since Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Mask of Zorro recaptures the swashbuckling heroism of classic Hollywood serials while avoiding many of the corrosive elements common among modern action films. Sex? None. Inappropriate language? Not a single profanity! And even its frequent flurries of violence (which earned Zorro a PG-13 rating) aren’t unduly explicit or gratuitous. In dispatching bad guys, Zorro humiliates more scoundrels than he eliminates. Furthermore, this humble, chivalrous champion of the people is a dedicated husband and father.
Early in the story, Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins as the original Zorro) is tracked down by his powerful arch-rival, Don Rafael Montero, a scheming politician who imprisons Don Diego and steals his baby daughter to raise as his own. Twenty years pass. After escaping from prison, Don Diego encounters a roguish outlaw (Antonio Banderas) who has his own score to settle with Montero, and recruits him to become the next Zorro. Don Diego must harness the young man’s arrogant rage, transform him into an elegant hero . . . and reconnect with the daughter who doesn’t know he exists.
Despite being one of the year’s most pleasant cinematic surprises, The Mask of Zorro isn’t for everyone. In addition to violent moments, cautions involve alcohol use, quests for vengeance, steamy Latin dancing and brief rear nudity of banditos tied to a cactus. Zorro also cuts a woman’s clothing from her body with his sword (her long hair and clever camera angles obscure her nudity). Hiding in a church, young Zorro tells a woman confessing lust, “The only sin would be to deny what your heart truly feels.” Disappointing. These scenes may cause some families to pass on Zorro. But for others seeking a light in a dark genre, this is the brightest one to come along in quite some time.