After watching The Legend of Zorro (2005), a current house guest of mine and I went down to the beach. We did so because an expensive looking yacht had beached itself, a rare occasion. At this particular moment, they were beginning the process of towing it off the sand in which it had become lodged. While we did not stick around to see whether they were successful, they at least seemed to be moving with a plan and purpose. This is all in stark contrast to today’s film. If I were to institute a rating system for the movies I see, it would be based on the number of times I exclaim, “No!” while viewing it. The more times I utter the word, the worse it is. I lost track of how many times I said no with today’s film.
The Legend of Zorro begins in 1850 on the eve of California entering statehood in the United States. In the plaza of whatever unidentified Southern California city where these events take place, the people are gathered to cast their vote in favor of this new status. There are those, however, that are not keen on this idea. As the ballots are about to be transported to wherever they are to be counted, a gang of ruffians led by Jacob McGivens (Nick Chinlund) rides into town intent on stealing the votes. Naturally, it is the masked protector Zorro (Antonio Banderas), Don Alejandro de la Vega by, well, also by day. The townspeople saved once more, Alejandro returns to his hacienda to his beautiful wife Eléna de la Vega (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and young son Joaquin (Adrián Alonso). With the coming of statehood, Eléna foresees the end of a need for Zorro. She wants to travel and do other things as a family. Alejandro is hesitant to give up his secret persona. As an argument brews between them, the church bells ring alerting him to the townspeople’s need for their protector. She threatens him, saying that if he goes their marriage is over. He leaves anyway. The following day, after Eléna takes Joaquin to school, she is followed by a pair of Pinkerton agents. They had been on hand to witness Zorro’s swashbuckling ways and saw his face revealed when the mask was ripped off during the fight. Though this is revealed later, they use their knowledge of Zorro’s true identity to blackmail Eléna into helping them. What they need assistance with is a new perceived threat in the area. This is Count Armand (Rufus Sewell). He had grown up with Eléna in Spain, and three months after the fallout with Alejandro, she is seen on his arm at a party he is hosting to celebrate his new vineyard. Whatever. Alejandro has not been taking separation from his wife well, but he allows himself to be convinced by his friend, Padre Felipe (Julio Oscar Mechoso), to attend the soiree. Seeing Eléna there with Count Armand enrages Alejandro and he decides to get raging drunk. On the heels of being tossed from the party, he is not too inebriated to notice the giant explosion near Count Armand’s estate. This is, of course, suspicious. Meanwhile, Eléna is investigating her own suspicions, and she is increasingly exasperated with Alejandro and his supposed meddling. He is extra vigilante because it looks to him like he is going to propose marriage. While he feigns not caring, it is painfully obvious they are still in love. She is also not telling him about what she is doing, and it is evident that she has been forced into this role in order to protect Alejandro. What he discovers on his own is a symbol on a bar of soap that had been shipped with others of its kind by Count Armand. Showing it to Padre Felipe, the friar (which is problematic) recognizes it as a symbol for a secret society bent on trying to take over the world. On the same night, though independent of each other’s plans, Eléna and Zorro decide that they are going to dig further into Count Armand’s activities. I am going to talk more about this in a moment, but the upside is that he is using the soap as a front to make enough nitro-glycerin to threaten the United States and essentially take over the world. It is convoluted, and like everything else in the movie, dumb. In the process of uncovering Count Armand’s machinations, Eléna and Zorro bump into each other. As dumb movie logic would dictate, they take this “opportunity” to make amends and begin working together. Unfortunately, they are both captured and Zorro is unmasked once more. Breaking the cardinal evil-overlord rule, Count Armand does not promptly kill Alejandro, but is saved by Eléna asking that Alejandro not die in front of Joaquin, who also manages to get mixed up in this nonsense. Count Armand boards a train with his hostages, intent on using the nitro-glycerin to blow up the delegation signing the papers to grant California its statehood. Predictably, Zorro is freed and goes after the train. A bunch a sword fighting ensues, and the long and short of it is that they manage to stop Count Armand, who dies when the train crashes unleashing the deadly cargo. This leaves Alejandro and Eléna to officially fix their marriage, and for him to continue to be Zorro.
That was a somewhat shorter version than usual of a plot synopsis for The Legend of Zorro. That is because I wanted to include a fifth paragraph for this one, something I typically reserve for the new releases. The biggest problem with the film is tone. I am not sure how one can take a film at its word that is trying to be serious about a hero of the people helping them to become Americans, while at the same time you have some of the cartoon antics you see. For example, Zorro’s horse Tornado at one point smokes a pipe, and gets the kind of big eyes you see in Looney Tunes when one of the characters is startled by danger. The film insults the intelligence of its viewers, and specifically this trained historian. There are the physics defying stunts that Zorro pulls that had me sighing. There are a number of historical flubs. The Confederacy did not exist in 1850, and it certainly did not possess an army. Bathrooms were not really a thing, at least not how they are here presented. For whatever reason, they decide to change Alejandro’s last name from Murrieta, as it was in the last film, to de la Vega. There is also an actor that dies in the previous movie, and played a villain, only to come back in this one as a completely different character. I could go on, but the gist of all this is that it is a sad, but sometimes hilarious, mess.
What is less messy is the Catholic commentary I would give to The Legend of Zorro. There are some less than ideal parts, which is why it gets the “less messy” designation. On the negative side is how they do not seem to know how to accurately depict Catholic clergy, but this is not unique to this film. On the plus side is Padre Felipe being saved from a bullet by his Crucifix. On a broader level, what I appreciate is Alejandro staying true to his calling to be Zorro. Eléna believes him to be doing it for selfish reasons, but the torture he undergoes after she leaves suggests otherwise. At one point, he says that it is who he is, and he is a servant of the people. That is the nature of any calling that God brings us, and to ignore it would be a worse kind of suffering. There is also another moment when he says that he will only do one last mission as Zorro before giving up the mantle. As silly as this movie is, it reminds of Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane asking God to take this Cup from His hands. Jesus is thinking of the pain to be endured on the way to His Crucifixion. Yet, it is what He says next that redeems it, and relates to Alejandro continuing on as Zorro. Jesus tells His Father in Heaven that not His will, but Thy will be done. For Alejandro, it is the will of the people that need his help that guides his actions. Of course, I could hope for a more peaceful solution, but at least he is following a higher calling.
Is The Legend of Zorro heroic? Yes. Is it one of the stupidest movies I have ever scene? Also, yes. The two can be true at the same time. It is one of those films that needs to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000 to be truly appreciated. Until then, there is no reason to see this one.