Show of hands: Who remembers any details from 1998’s “The Mask of Zorro”? No one? Whew. So it’s not just me.
Smartly, the not-awaited sequel, “The Legend of Zorro,” is self-contained and requires no foreknowledge of the story. It is good fun, but not great fun, and it’s much longer than it ought to be (though, I note, still seven minutes shorter than its predecessor, which I saw but have no memory of). It has a plot that is elaborate and silly, and everyone seems to be having a good time enacting it.
The year is 1850, the place is California, where the citizens are about to vote on whether or not to ratify statehood. (I’ll save you the suspense: They do.) Our caped, masked friend Zorro (Antonio Banderas) is still defending his village’s helpless against injustice and what-have-you, but his wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) wants him to quit buckling the swash and settle into his life as Don Alejandro de la Vega, wealthy nobleman. Their little boy Joaquin (Adrian Alonso) idolizes Zorro and has no idea his dad — whom he doesn’t see much of — is the very man he adores.
Elena and Don Alejandro have such a fight about his Zorro-ing that she throws him out of the house and subsequently divorces him. Three months later, she has taken up with Armand (Rufus Sewell), a wealthy French ponce who has acquired ownership of a winery and has sinister intentions. (Remember: If only one character in a movie has a European accent, he is the bad guy.)
So Zorro pines for Elena while trying to figure out what Armand and his cohorts are scheming, all while two mysterious outsiders in suits are lurking around acting like FBI agents, all while young Joaquin keeps almost discovering his father’s secret identity. Ã‚Â¡Dios mio! Who can keep up with this?
Not director Martin Campbell (“The Mask of Zorro,” “GoldenEye”), who lets Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman’s jam-packed screenplay nearly overwhelm him. The lengthy fight sequence set aboard a moving train feels like Campbell left it running while he went to run some errands (“Shoot! Was this thing on the whole time?!”), and the numerous reversals, setbacks and twists start to seem obligatory by the end, like they’re just trying to see how many false conflicts they can have before the film reaches its REAL climax.
It’s a little tiring, but it’s a pleasant, upbeat film with happy endings and a lot of amusing banter between Banderas and Zeta-Jones, and Banderas and the little boy, and Banderas and his horse. (There’s a joke about the horse not understanding commands unless they’re in Spanish.) It’s easy to overlook a film like this in a crowded marketplace, and I suspect that’s what most viewers will do. Except, of course, for that cache of hardcore Zorro fans who have been waiting eagerly since 1998. Their day, at last, has come.
B- (2 hrs., 9 min.; )