Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Movie Review: The Legend of Zorro

You know The Mask of Zorro is probably my favorite old movie. I don't mean old as in actually old. I mean old as in one of the first movies I saw that I recognized as a movie, something I saw right between that sweet spot, after my entertainment choices were dictated by my parents but before I had any sort of film knowledge or sense of aesthetic besides, hey this looks kind of cool or that was sort of funny, before I had any idea of the mechanics of film or narrative.

And you know what? It holds up. The action was great, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones had real chemistry, and the writing was pretty tight, both in terms of narrative and dialogue. It delivered! Wooed damsels, sword duels, horse tricks, vows of revenge against autocratic villians, and a hero for the people. It seems like a movie from another age. People say Pirates of the Caribbean brought back the swashbuckler. I say nay. It was Zorro five years prior. The Pirates movies, even the one I really like have a lot of flaws but as far as the genre goes The Mask of Zorro is as close as I can get to a damned perfect movie.

So as you can imagine I have much beef with it's shitty shitty sequel that seems to have missed the point of Zorro.

By the way that trailer. LIES! FILTHY HOLYWOOD LIES!

The main problem with the film is well it lacks the spirit of the first one, which was by all measures fun. It was a fun movie. And part of the problem is Zorro. In the first one the guy was digging the hell out of the gig. Kicking bad guy ass with a rapier, $200, Wooing the daughter of both your mentor and your enemy( it's complicated), $500, Being goddamned Zorro. Priceless.

But this Zorro just seems joyless. Same actor by the way. But the character seems different. Off. That's part of the point of the movie. We're watching "How Zorro Got His Grove Back", but you know I don't want to watch that movie. A lot of the jokes as well as the larger themes of the movie are about that, an aging Zorro dealing with the fact that he's not the invincible beast he was in Mask. But here is the rub Mask and by extension this movie sold us a Zorro who was an escapist fantasy. Women wanted him and men wanted to be him.

I don't want to be this guy, this miserable shell of a man.

And it's not just him. His beau, the steamy couple who flirted their way across the first movie are on the rocks.  I want to watch their spat why? Want to watch a Zorro who spends half of the movie sulking and drunk why?

I wouldn't mind if if the movie actually had something to say about age, human frailty, or the futility of the heroic ideal. Heck that seemed to be Don de La Vega's entire arc in the first one, the original Zorro trying to regain his honor vicariously through his pupil after being found out, imprisoned and made impotent.

But here. Eh I'm sorry but Zorro as a depressed, jealous cuckold just doesn't work.

All of the energy of Zorro has been transferred to his son Joaquin. But even that's sort of frustrating. Even though Zorro was a light hearted hero his antics had dramatic context. The movie starting with a vow of vengeance for his murdered brother, and an expansion of those motives when he realizes the villains aren't just pulling that sort of crap with his family and that the stakes are much bigger.

Without that context  Joaquin just seems like a spoiled brat too stupid to realize what heroism actually looks like, picking fights and making an ass out of himself just because he think's it's cool. He's introduced by caning his teacher and jumping down a flagpole.

 I'd be lying if I didn't say the choreography and cinematography just don't compare. In the first movie almost every other scene left you wondering how the hell they pulled that off. Flips, horse tricks, sword fights, dance, the whole shebang .

Legend is nowhere near ambitious, and it shows.  The movie wants to get by on drama but it's script is no where up to it. The only thing it has going for it is the dramatic irony of Joaquin's father's identity, and that get's old quick. We get it  Zorro is ticked of that his kid is acting like an idiot in an attempt to emulate him, and he can't really tell him to cut that shit out.

A problem I have with the movie is it relies on narrative pet peeve of mine.  Guilt by association. In the first one the villain's wily scheme to use SPANISH  MEXICAN gold to buy California from SPAIN MEXICO and become the overlord of the west was despicable all on it's own. I didn't need an excuse to hate that guy. Heck him kidnapping Zorro #1's daughter and raising her as his own was just icing on the evil cake by the end of it.  Not that this new guy is sympathetic but he's playing for the American confederacy. Associating your bad guy with the Nazi's or the 19th century equivalent for no other reason than to prove how evil they are always seems lazy to me.

Heck that could be considered a problem with the film's entire aesthetic. Yes while Mask is set in pre post-independence Mexico. That setting was used to provide context to a plot and characters. Here though the movie uses every icon of antebellum America to place you in a time, but it causes distractions as you realize how historically impossible this timeline must be (Mexican Independence from Spain: 1821, California Statehood: 1850,  Attack on Fort Sumter: 1861, Nitroglycerin Invented: 1863), and draws into focus how little is transpiring as well how uninteresting these characters actually are.

That other movie I keep bringing it up. It had arcs. Characters partook in journeys that changed their identities. I don't just mean that for Alejandro, the protagonist who went from a simple bandit, to well ...a less simple bandit, to Don de La Vega. His mentor, his love interest, heck even the villains went through some sort of transformation after the movie's crucible revealed information about each character's essence that went unknown even to them before it's events. Or to put another way eh em. STUFF HAPPENED. And more importantly, STUFF MATTERED.  All this movie has is a late game twist that at the end of the day doesn't mean much and makes what little drama there actually was earlier in the movie absolutely meaningless.

That said the last 15 minutes are actually alright. They don't mean anything but the fights are better, and there is a giant explosion. But you know what? The final explosion in the last one was literally and metaphorically bigger, ending on a crescendo, a grand conflict of all the characters motivations and ideals revealed over the course of the entire movie, where we see after all that character development what they are really made of.  And it's on Hulu.

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