Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, the stuntman for Anthony Hopkins (who I think we can all agree deserves a lot more credit than he’s gotten so far)
Have I Seen it Before: Oh, sure.
Did I Like It: I like it a lot. Had it not been followed by one of the most indifferent sequels in history with The Legend of Zorro (2005), it might be remembered as a more seminal film today.
Anthony Hopkins might not be just a great actor, but also one of the more underrated movie stars in the history of cinema. Sure, he can play Hannibal Lecter and various near-Hannibals with aplomb, but the fact that such a pointedly English actor could convincingly the wit and swashbuckling bravura of Mexican California’s greatest hero. Antonio Banderas as his heir presumptive is pretty intuitive, but the star of Remains of the Day (1993)? On spec, I don’t see it, and yet, he delivers. He delivers so well that the movie lives and dies by his presence. Just see the aforementioned Legend to see how such a film without Hopkins can only generate a lifeless quality.
And yet, while he is the strongest link in the chain, there is one part of the conceit of Hopkins-as-Zorro that takes one out of the movie. At the time of filming in 1997, Hopkins was already 60. It’s pretty clear in the early goings—when Diego’s Zorro is repelling the Spanish oppressors— that he isn’t doing his own stunts.
It’s a minor quibble in movie that works by its own standards. The plot actually tracks for the most part. The bad guys are dastardly. The good guys play out their revenges in a gallant sort of way. The action is all of the firey explosion and clanging saber variety, with nary a pixel of computer generated imagery. Which also puts it in that rare breed of films that ages in such a way that—without further context—you wouldn’t necessarily guess when it was made*. What more can really be expected of a movie?
* Unless of course you count the obligatory love ballad over a James Horner melody that places it firmly in the shadow of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), but that is only over the end credits, and should hardly count against the film as a whole.