Socially-conscious aristocrat Don Alejandro de la Vega (Zorro’s alter-ego) is juggling marriage to Elena and the duties of fatherhood with the business of derring-do. With the local village voting to join the state of California and the Confederate half of the newly-minted United States arming itself for civil war, Zorro has promised his wife he will hang up his mask and retire to spend more time with the family. She’s raising their son virtually alone, with Zorro departing the family hacienda every time trouble brews in the surprisingly volatile village. But once the bad guys, led by God-bothering maniac McGivvins (Nick Chinlund), attack the village on election day, brave Zorro cannot ignore the plight of his people and once more rides to the rescue. The argument spills over into divorce, and Zorro, broken-hearted, takes to the bottle. Leaning against a wall in an alleyway, drunk and on horseback, there’s a nod to another jalapeno-flavoured Western comedy adventure, Cat Ballou but Banderas, for all the tongue-in-cheek brio he displays here, is no Lee Marvin; he barely approaches Hank. He’s far from alone with the remainder of the cast delivering woefully uneven performances composed of thick slices of jamon, although none as fragrant or appetising. Zorro’s mentor, played by Anthony Hopkins in the original, doesn’t return but in his place comes the audience-friendly son Joaquin, a precocious 10 year old played to within a decibel of annoyance by Adrian Alonso.
The legend trumpeted in the title isn’t Zorro’s hardly-insurmountable marital problems, rather it’s another complicated conspiracy to cause havoc and rob the poor. Armand (Rufus Sewell), the evil genius behind it is French, because the European accent is shorthand for villainy, and because vineyards are vital to the plot. The rest of the story concerns itself with citizenship, stealing land, building a railroad track and a Da Vinci Code secret society with a new weapon of mass destruction. I didn’t care about any of it. While the first movie was intended for a family audience, it came to us as PG-13 and had perhaps a flailing death or two too many for that catch-almost-all rating, this one is firmly a PG movie, and as a result there’s a lot of frantically choreographed swordplay in which no one gets a scratch and a barrage of high-octane explosions that somehow avoid blowing everyone within the radius of a mile to atoms. I found the many fight scenes tedious and repetitive, with the regular, percussive detonations on the soundtrack making a lot of noise over special effects work that is far from what’s expected in an $80 million dollar action movie. It looks and feels more like a south-of-the-border episode of The A-Team.
Worse than the watery action and hammy acting is the astonishingly generous running time, never a problem when you’re enjoying yourself but very death when you’re not. What might have been a zippy 90 minute reunion with old heroes is padded out to almost two soggy hours of tip-swivelling tomfoolery that still leaves manages to leave massive gaps scattered throughout the story. Returning director Martin Campbell, (now preparing the new Bond, Casino Royale) can deliver the big set-pieces well enough but loses complete control of his overcomplicated narrative with any sympathy for his mugging characters lost in the quieter bits. Que malo.