When cable began, one of the first companies to take advantage of this new broadcast opportunity was Disney. My family, I feel, got in pretty early with this up-and-coming way of watching television. My sister and I were never huge Disney people, but we loved watching the Disney channel. I suspect it was for vastly different reasons. In those days, the original programming was less frequent, but that was what my sister liked most. I was drawn to the old stuff. A cable network required twenty-four hours-a-day viewing material. Hence, Disney had to find stuff to fill all those time slots. This is how I first learned of a character named Zorro, the legendary hero of Old California. By “Old California,” I mean the way that state was under Spanish and Mexican rule, lest we forget that it was not always a part of the United States. Also, like many things Disney has done, it was not until I was older that I realized that this Robin Hood-esque personage was not a Disney invention. The illusion was shattered further with the release of The Mask of Zorro (1998).
The Mask of Zorro takes us to 1821 and a part of the vast colony of Mexico known as California. By the way, kids, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. I say that because Mexico is about to gain its independence from Spain, and you might be thinking that day (which actually celebrates an event forty years later) is a part of what you are seeing. Overseeing the final days of Spanish rule in this area is Governor Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). An angry crowd jeers at him from below his palace balcony as he is about to execute three random peasants. They await Zorro (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who has been helping ease the burden of Spanish rule as symbolized by Don Rafael. Zorro, of course, comes to save the day and he rides back to his bat cave, er, I mean lair before changing into his guise as the affable Don Diego de la Vega. Unfortunately, Don Rafael has figured out his identity and has arrived with armed guards to arrest Don Diego. In the ensuing kerfuffle, Don Diego’s wife is killed. He is taken to prison and Don Rafael makes off with his infant daughter, Elena. We then jump ahead twenty years and we catch up with Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) and Joaquin Murrieta (Victor Rivers), who have formed a small gang of outlaws with an American bandit named Three-fingered Jack (L. Q. Jones). In attempting to get away from another heist, they are stopped by a group of soldiers led by Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher). Captain Love wounds Joaquin, who encourages his brothers to run. Joaquin then kills himself rather than be captured, which is completed with Captain Love cutting off his head. Meanwhile, Don Rafael returns to California after twenty years in Spain. He desires to form an independent state of California, but one of his first stops is to visit the jail in which he had Don Diego incarcerated. Don Diego is there, but Don Rafael does not recognize him and presumes his former enemy dead. Good move, right? Well, Don Diego takes this opportunity to shuck his shackles with the intent of getting his revenge. Before he makes his move, though, he finds that Don Rafael has brought with him Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones). This complicates his vengeful spirit. Instead, he finds a drunk Alejandro with the same intent, and notices the medallion he had given to Joaquin twenty years ago for their assistance to him. Don Diego stays Alejandro’s hand, and instead invites to train the young man to, well, take up the mask of Zorro. There are many different aspects of this tutelage, and during Alejandro’s first outing as the famous bandit he meets Elena. Of course, there is an instant attraction. The one piece that is still lacking, though, are the kinds of gentlemanly charms that Don Diego used to keep his secret identity. When Alejandro finally gains some schooling in this regard, he and Don Diego, disguised as Alejandro’s servant, gate crash one of Don Rafael’s party. Alejandro is, er, masquerading as a newly arrived nobleman from Spain. Doing so gains him access to Don Rafael’s trusted circle where he informs the other dons of his ultimate plans for California. Soon thereafter, he reveals how he will fund his new nation: a gold mine using what appears to be enslaved labor. While Alejandro and Don Diego each have their personal scores to settle, Alejandro determines that they must act now to save the people in the mine. It is at this moment, though, that Don Diego decides to look after his own interests and go after Don Rafael personally. With a sword to his enemy’s neck, he has Don Rafael call to Elena so she can tell her who is her true father. As this unfolds, Alejandro goes to rescue the people at the mines, who Don Rafael plans to kill en masse to cover up the source of his riches. He gets a little timely help when Elena appears with Don Diego. Inevitably, Alejandro faces off with Captain Love, while Don Diego and Don Rafael cross swords. This goes as you would expect, although Don Rafael mortally wounds Don Diego before meeting his end. With Don Diego’s dying breath, he gives Elena’s hand in marriage to Alejandro. We close with Alejandro and Elena, husband and wife, putting their newborn son to bed.
There are many ridiculous moments in The Mask of Zorro. Hopefully, you notice some of the sarcasm in the last paragraph. There is also a scene where Zorro cuts off Elena’s clothes. That is not ideal Christian behavior, particularly for a woman who apparently goes to Confession once every three days. If only more faithful kept that sacrament with a fraction of that kind of regularity, we could already have Heaven on Earth. There are more subtle references to Faith, such as each iteration of Zorro seeing their activities as a duty to the people. I would wish for a more peaceful solution, but I appreciate that dedication to service. Alternatively, there is the musings of Don Diego when, early on in Alejandro’s training, the pupil wonders why the student had not been doing more in the intervening years. Don Diego replies by saying that when the student is ready, the master will appear. As a Catholic, I love this line. Jesus’ coming into this world is described in the Bible as occurring at the “fullness of time.” This means that when God sent His only Son, it could not have happened at any other time. It also speaks to the prophecies that pointed to Jesus’ birth. There are no such tales about Zorro. However, both of the men who take on that mantle understand that when the need for such a man comes, he will arise. That is because God provides. Christian history has examples of both warriors and men and women of peace who did things at precisely the moment at which they are needed. This works, too, in our own lives, perhaps in far less dramatic, but no less miraculous, ways.
If only The Mask of Zorro produced feelings of having seen a miraculously good film. There is nothing wrong with watching it, it is just silly. The giant explosion that destroys the gold mind at the end made me think Michael Bay directed this movie, and I was slightly surprised when the end credits proclaimed somebody else occupying that chair. It is a solidly heroic movie, but dumb.
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