During the Mexican War of Independence, masked vigilante and sword graffiti pioneer Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) is a symbol of hope for an oppressed people. But when he’s imprisoned for 20 years he decides the time has come for a new hero to take up his mask and rapier, and finds one in the form of thief Alejandro Murietta (Antonio Banderas).
In some ways a spiritual successor to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Mask of Zorro surpasses it with a second helping of 90s swashbuckling action. While the decade may not be remembered for its film quality, it represents the pinnacle of practical special effects before the CGI era, of which Zorro is another great example.
The film is at its best when Banderas is on the screen. He’s a likable lead who is able to bring humour to his heroic antics, and Zorro II is a well-written character. He’s good with a sword, but he’s not perfect – he makes mistakes and doesn’t always do the right thing. The stunt work is also excellent, with sword-master Bob Anderson (who also trained the cast of Lord of the Rings) rating Banderas as the best natural talent he’d ever worked with.
The action is exciting and fast-paced, with a decent-enough story which is explained to the right degree. The problem is an excess of both, and the swash starts to buckle when it runs on half an hour longer than it needs to. But it remains a well-crafted, entertaining action adventure, and this is enough to mask its flaws.