The Legend of Zorro, the legend of Spy Kids, what’s the diff? Both swash franchises buckle their chances for success to the panache of Antonio Banderas, the Spanish star who began his movie career in the queer demimondo of Pedro Almodóvar’s early films and went on to become the dashing Latin Lover of stage, screen, and Melanie Griffith’s household. At this point in his delightful career, Banderas has catalogued every configuration of glower, smolder, wink, twinkle, pout, grin, and pose of olé! of possible use for a gentleman whose constituency ranges from swooning women and their disarmed male companions to giggling children who only know him as supersecret agent/papa Gregorio Cortez. And Banderas uses all his old wiles in this well-oiled, businesslike, quite clangingly violent sequel to The Mask of Zorro. He reunites with Welsh-born senorita Catherine Zeta-Jones as Elena. And he follows Martin Campbell’s direction for yet another go at the old black mask, flashy sombrero, and Zorronic attitude of do-gooding. There’s no distinction to this sequel — except that it’s designed, with more calculation than ever, to be a Saturday-afternoon seat-filler for the whole world’s pants.
Legend’s cleverest notion (the cocky screenplay is by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and the piled-up story credits include original Zorro scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) is to move the action ahead 10 years since last we saw Z and E (The Mask of Zorro came out in 1998); now Alejandro de la Vega (Zorro’s daytime name) and Elena are the parents of 10-year-old Joaquin (Mexican scene-stealer Adrian Alonso). It’s also a time when the oppressed, viva Zorro!-shouting good people of the California territory are on the verge of voting to become the 31st state of the union, and villains appear in two forms: silky, cultured schemers like the aristocratic French vintner Armand (Rufus Sewell), and greasy-haired, scar-faced, stubble-cheeked, wooden-toothed varmints like the ruthless robber baron McGivens (Nick Chinlund).
Happy couples, though, make for dull superheroes (even Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl had to fight before they found strength in unity). And parenthood is now widely promoted in movies as a sainted form of superherodom all its own. So Zorro and Mrs. Zorro fight about child-rearing attitudes: She says he’s not home enough and kicks him out of the hacienda for a spell. And time is unnecessarily wasted misunderstanding each other, when there is never any doubt, not even to the littlest viewer, that the two are meant to be together as superheroes and superparents. A couple of fancy fight sequences allow the stars, and their stunt doubles, to demonstrate how dashing they still look with swords in hand. And every shot of Zeta-Jones, with rosy lips, glistening black hair, and at-home gowns of sumptuous design, is a lit and composed thing of beauty. Still, too many scenes — particularly those with McGivens and his similarly unwashed henchmen — emphasize gross butchery over the elegance of the blade. At least Joaquin has a couple of nice moments with his slingshot, fighting against injustice in a pint-size way. The Son of Zorro? So long as there’s injustice and Banderas in this world, it’s a possibility.