I used to read a lot of Zorro comic books, and like Batman and Phantom, Zorro is a normal human without any extraordinary super powers fighting to overcome injustice and oppression. The Mask of Zorro is an exciting tale that occurs a bit after the original Zorro years, and unlike recent movies about the other two characters, this one is done more in the style of the early novels and comic books.
The film begins in 1821 (the Zorro character himself was introduced in 1919). Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), the original Zorro, is finally baited and captured by his arch enemy Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). Montero's attempt to capture Zorro results in de la Vega's wife being killed and Montero adopts de la Vega's infant daughter as his own.
Fast forward twenty years. Montero returns from exile with an evil plot to turn California into an independent Republic. This enrages de la Vega who escapes from prison and begins planning his revenge. He runs into Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas) who once help saved Zorro's life and who now has a grudge against Montero's right-hand man. De la Vega begins training Murrieta to become his successor and Murrieta begins wearing the mask and thwarting Montero's plans. As he does this, Montero's adopted daughter Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is now all grown up (and how), runs into the new Zorro and sparks fly. You can fill in the blanks.
The action in the film is cheesy, but it is good cheese. It is refreshing to see that, in this day where action scenes involve numerous explosions and crashes and death-defying stunts, the scenes in The Mask of Zorro rely on good old-fashioned choreography and inventiveness to liven things up. In particular, the scenes are all done comic-book style, where things happen that are highly unrealistic but are acceptable only from a panel-by-panel perspective (for example, the classic use of Zorro's sword as though it were a man to mark whatever he chooses). The acting is pretty good, and both Banderas and Zeta-Jones are good looking people with plenty of charisma and chemistry. The dialogue is humourous and irreverent and the naturally-filmed cinematography is bright and attractive.
Due to rather odd circumstances, I only got to see the second half of The Mask of Zorro and what I saw was pretty cool. Definitely worth renting.