Mask of Zorro [1998]

In this day of movies in which one can't tell whether the action was manufactured by computer generation or by a cookie cutter, The Mask of Zorro is a grand throwback. It recalls and celebrates the fantasy workshop that Hollywood was and can be at its best. It's an audience pleaser in the best sense of the word, combining great-looking performers with gorgeous vistas and production design, a story that is familiar yet never insults the viewer's intelligence, and plenty of eye-popping action. Anthony Hopkins stars as the original Zorro, a masked vigilante protecting his people from official corruption in Mexico and what will become California (from Hannibal Lecter to Merchant-Ivory to action hero--is there nothing this man cannot do?). He's imprisoned for his troubles, and upon his release, mentors an impetuous pupil (Antonio Banderas, more suave than ever) in the fine arts of swordplay and triumphing over evil. Catherine Zeta-Jones capably portrays the beauty linked to both men--Zorro I's daughter, Zorro II's object of desire. The plotting contains few surprises, but the interplay between the three leads is always winning, and the winks to the swashbuckling genre are playful without ever being heavy-handed or campy. --David Kronke

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