It could be persuasively argued that sequels should be released precisely two or three years after the original. Follow-ups that arrive any earlier risk looking like quickie cash-ins, while sequels hitting multiplexes much later risk coming off as lame afterthoughts recycling half-forgotten characters—like The Legend Of Zorro, the tardy sequel to 1998's The Mask Of Zorro. It may not receive the critical flogging meted out to the similarly after-the-fact sequel Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, but Legend Of Zorro still feels like a half-hearted shrug of a sequel, an attempt to put a lucrative franchise on life support.
It shouldn't have bothered. After all, the first Zorro was a rousing, swashbuckling adventure in the winningly old-fashioned tradition of Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones series, and the Zorro character has proven enduring and venerable in multiple media. But the strangely mirthless sequel seems alternately desperate and arbitrary. Antonio Banderas returns as the masked man, a sword-wielding folk hero whose marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones falls apart under the stresses of leading a double life. While a brooding Banderas responds to his divorce about as well as Milhouse's dad on The Simpsons, his ex-wife's new suitor (Rufus Sewell) schemes to wreak havoc with the help of a malevolent secret society of evildoers.
Returning director Martin Campbell doles out action sequences stingily, and even then, Banderas' stunt doubles seem to log more screen time than he does. In spite of the title, Banderas' protagonist has seldom seemed less legendary than he does here. The first film's lusty, larger-than-life matinee idol has given way to a pasty, glum, mirthless man of inaction, which wouldn't be a problem if the film were committed to a darker, revisionist take on the character. But this isn't Batman Begins, especially with desperate-seeming supporting characters like Banderas' wide-eyed moppet of a son (a Bart Simpson clone right down to his slingshot and PG-rated potty mouth), a comic-relief padre, and Banderas' pipe-smoking, belching horse. Banderas' masked swashbuckler spends the sum of Legend trying to get his groove back when he never should have lost it in the first place.