It is 1850 and California is poised to become the 31st state, should a referendum on statehood pass. When a ballot box is swiped by the villainous McGivens (Nick Chinlund), Zorro retrieves it, in what turns out to be, unfortunately, the best action sequence in the film. Returning home, domestic issues take over, as Zorro's wife Elena (Zeta-Jones), tired of her husband fighting bad guys instead of raising Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), files for divorce. Months later, Elena ends up in the arms of French vintner Armand (an okay Rufus Sewell), who has come to California for secret, nefarious reasons.
These reasons contain a not-very-subtle dig at our current war on terrorism, with the U.S. government willing to do anything to stop dangerous foreigners from smuggling weapons of mass destruction into the country. It's not great, but it serves its purpose: to separate Zorro and Elena until they can reunite for the big finale, with Joaquin contributing kicks to the shins and other kiddie-empowering moves.
Action films always deflate between action set pieces and "Zorro" is no different. With its eye squarely on a PG rating, the first film's flirtatiousness is replaced with less inspired cutesy squabbling. But the banter is delivered with relish by two stars who make a fun team.
One hires Martin Campbell ("Goldeneye") for the action scenes and he mostly delivers, making Zorro such the swinging, punching hero, he should be called Spider-Spaniard. After the rousing first stunt sequence, we have to wait a rear-numbing eternity until the next show stopping stunt sequence, a climax that contains unfortunate CGI enhancements. Not surprisingly, this expensive studio production ain't foolin' around: no dollar went unspent to insure precise period costumes, sets, vehicles and props. And they do look great, helped by the previous film's cinematographer Phil Meheux.