Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Legend of Zorro

I saw The Legend of Zorro last night.
I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it like I did the first one.

It struck me as a movie I might sit and watch if I was cleaning the house on a Saturday, which is a compliment. I discovered the original Zorro television show much in the same way. When I was a kid it would play on I believe what is now the WB and soon to be the CW. I would watch the series and revel at the daring swordplay and the manipulations De la Vega had to go through to maintain his secret identity.

I will not say that I am as well versed in the Zorro Mythos, but I appreciated the show, and some of the movies. I know that it has its place in the public consciousness. I am a sucker for a movie where people settle differences with swords.

Watching the Legend of Zorro was a bit of a let down. To sum up the plot, Antonio Banderas as Zorro is still defending the west while a French bad guy steals his wife, the spirited Catherine Zeta Jones. There are several narrative missteps that are necessary for this threadbare plot. Zorro is madly in love with his wife but he does not talk to her for three months after being suddenly served with divorce papers. Zorro being the man of action that he is I would have expected him to knock down the doors of his home to have it out with his wife and refuse to let her leave him.

There are action sequences that go a little too long, and try a little too hard to be daring. What I used to love about the old shows was their cheapness. I long for the movie in the swashbuckler genre that understands what is really at stake. Make Zorro a living breathing man who falls when he gets punched.

Take this one scene in the movie, Mrs. Zeta Jones is being followed by two men and engages them in a quick tussle. After hitting the two repeatedly with a shovel, in a series of moves that was excellently choreographed I will add, they point a derringer at her and the fight is over.

Now, I will say, I am not a secret Pinkerton Agent with an agenda to save the world from destruction by outside forces. I can say that I have been punched in the face with a pillow, and that will stun a man if it comes unexpectedly. The ease with which these men recover from several blows with a shovel amazes me and takes me totally out of the moment.

I am reminded of the horrible movie, The Musketeer. This movie is filled to the jowls with amazing action sequences that just look as though they were filmed on a studio lot covered with little Asian men pulling wires. (It was choreographed by the Wire Work Pioneer that choreographed The Matrix movies and crouching Tiger. In the story Dartagnan balances on rolling beams and flips through the air with death defying precision. The movie completely threw out the plot of the novel and instead filled it with useless explosions and 5 times more action sequences than even the daring Dumas could have envisioned. Later remind me to rend the movie to shreds as I am an avid fan of the Musketeer novels and movies when done correctly.

I am a fan of a well placed flip maneuver, crap Zorro did them every five minutes and there was a part of me that smiled with glee when I saw it. But man, at a point I just remember that a man can not go flipping through the air while fighting on a moving train. It would just not make any tactical sense.

I guess I should say what I am looking for,

Some where along the way Hollywood got lost in all the fight choreography and started thinking it was okay to have two people punch each other for hours on end while neither shows a bruise until the final crushing blow.

I am reminded of the second Matrix movie where, despite the fact that Neo is kicking Agent Smiths about the yard they all keep their stupid glasses on. This is markedly different than the first Matrix movie where, when Keanu lands a blow on Smith, his glasses crack in half.

My thing is getting punched hurts, I know, because I hate to get punched.
I guess I am thinking of old Bruce Lee flicks when he would kick a man and the guy fell and you thought, “Man, I know that had to hurt.” Everyone always forgot that Bruce wasn’t “really” fighting these people. I am reminded of the movie Ong Bak, where the guy steps into the ring for the first time and drops his opponent with one well placed blow. And I thought, yeah, that is how it would go. In a real fight a man hits you in the throat and you don’t want to fight anymore. Very few people are trained pugilists that are aware of their threshold enough to keep lunging at someone who is obviously raining them with hooks.

With a movie like Zorro, I wanted to see that. I didn’t need explosions, I wanted sword fights where one man gets cut and falls down bleeding. Why can’t people get cut in sword fights anymore? That is what happens, you fight a man with a sword and he runs you through like a pig on a spit. And occasionally Zorro will punch a man and the man falls down and reconsiders that whole fighting Zorro thing.

So, the movie is a B- at best. Banderas makes a good scorned lover, and Zeta Jones plays a good fighting mother. One thing I do not think the movie needed was precocious kid who adores Zorro without knowing that the man is secretly the father he loathes. It has been done, and it is not mishandled in the movie. I was more upset at all the obviously stunt manned action sequences the kid got. This kid, raised as an aristocrat was ready to throw down with anyone performing acrobatics and master sword parries. They could easily have filled this hole in the characterization by having Zorro teach his son now to fight, or giving him a good trainer, like he got in the last movie. Sadly you assume that the young boy just happened to pick up his father’s natural talent. It was a made for kids maneuver that bothers me because there is a way to make kids that don’t patronize the kids. I get the feeling that this movie was cribbed from studio notes that insisted there be more of everything but ultimately begins to lack in anything of substance.
The move takes clichéd plot points, like the dirty cowboy who tries to steal a land dead, and does nothing to raise it above anything we have seen before. Zorro arrives, saves wife and child from a burning building only to have the upstanding husband die. Zorro watches the killer ride off but never goes after him. I am left to wonder why he wouldn’t.
The Zorro I know has the fastest horse in the west and would chase the man to the end of the frontier. Instead Zorro stands emasculated while the now widowed woman cries over the corpse of her hubby.
A good point was the next scene where a tortured Zorro finds himself in the chapel yelling at the virgin mother trying to figure out what why he is being punished so. The next moment where Zorro is on his knees praying for strength to fight harder is one I appreciated. That is the Zorro I can love, not angst ridden likeBatman but devoted and passionate adventurer who knows when to pray for the strength to protect his family and his country.

What follows is a lovely scene where Zorro and his wife meet up and fight their way through the bad guy’s hideout and discover his nefarious scheme.

There are times where I like the movie, and times were I am annoyed that it is trying to rush me past the plot holes. The movie is having fun, and it is often genuine. Zorro is a hero who is not afraid to laugh, cry or love with passion and zeal. Tapping more into this humanity would have really elevated the flick.

All in all I would mildly recommend it for a Saturday afternoon viewing if you like popcorn action flicks.


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