Friday, July 06, 2018

The Legend of Zorro

Once again Antonio Banderas puts on the mask and takes the sword and whip to play the role of Zorro in this new film directed by Martin Campbell. "The Legend of Zorro" (2005) is a sequel of Campbell's 1998 "The Mask of Zorro" starring Banderas as Alejandro de la Vega and Zorro, and Zeta-Jones as Elena, Alejandro's wife and Zorro's fighting partner. They both fight together for the freedom and peace of California, but also for their ten-year-old kid who knows nothing about their secret identities.

Visually, the movie has a lot to give. Though it takes place in the 1850's pre-statehood California, the airs of modernity are easily perceived. Modernity promises to come from the Northen Union. There are big explosions, and the threat of a conspiracy to destroy the country that has taken Europe's post in leading the world, the United States. With these modifications, Campbell tries to transform Zorro in a real Hollywood-like superhero, a legend. In contrary to previous movies where Zorro protects the Spanish rule (the problem is not colonialism, but corruption within it), here he is a populist leader accepted by the people and the government who carries out the wishes of Californians of becoming finally free from exploitation by joining the US. Though the movie points out that the exploitation is coming from the aristocratic elites in California, it is not clear whether these aristocrats are from Mexico, Europe, or America.

At the end of the movie, Zorro and Elena disclose their secret identities to their son whose latino blood has taken him to act as a little Zorro, even before it was revealed to him that his father was the masked swordsman. He jumps around, fights with rulers (instead of swords), and speaks a bit of Spanish like Zorro would do. Latin America is in his blood. The three of them fight together until California finally joins the Union.

Zorro movies portray California's colonial and post-colonial history, directly or indirectly. Campbell shows the process of California's Americanization, however, in this movie he rewrites history to make it more American friendly. It presents a unanimous agreement from all Californians, rich and poor, indigenous or aristocrat criollos, to become American, which in reality required a civil war.

Even though all Zorro incarnations are influenced by McCulley's stories, each director portrays the justice Zorro fights for in their own way. Campbell's interpretation of Zorro and his sense of justice (in the previous movie but even more in this one) are completely different from the established film tradition surrounding Zorro. What Campbell has maintained from McCulley's original stories is only the character of Zorro, his bravery, his Spanish aristocratic ancestry, and his solidarity with the Catholic church and indigenous people. But Zorro has abandoned his devotion to the Spanish Crown as an aristocrat, and his interest for Latin American identity of Mexican California of the old Latino Zorro. America symbolizes true justice and freedom. Freedom from what? Not even once Mexico is mentioned in the movie's portrayal of civil war. It is like California passed directly from being a colony of Spain to democratically decide to join the United States. And whoever opposes to that decision is an enemy of democracy and modernity.

Nevertheless, this fictional depiction of California's history does tell us something about Hollywood's opinion of the complex demographics of the state. It is difficult to generalize Californians' ancestry. Are they Mexicans, Europeans, or Americans? Like Zorro, Californians are all and none at the same time. It is precisely that complexity and openness which makes California a fascinating place, but also a weak point for the otherwise collective identity of the United States.