In 1851, nine years after the events of the first film, Don Alejandro de la Vega is married to Elena and has a son, Joaquin. California is voting on whether to join the United States of America as a state. Zorro foils a plot to steal ballots. During the fight with a gunman named Jacob McGivens, he briefly loses his mask. A pair of Pinkerton agents sees his face and recognize him. The following day, the Pinkertons confront Elena and force her to divorce Alejandro.
Three months later, Alejandro is living in a hotel. The separation from Elena and the feeling that the people no longer need Zorro are taking its toll on him. His childhood guardian, Father Felipe, convinces him to attend a party at French Count Armand's new vineyard. There, Alejandro discovers that Elena is dating the count. After leaving the party, Alejandro witnesses a huge explosion close to Armand's mansion and becomes suspicious of him.
McGivens leads an attack on the family of Guillermo Cortez, Alejandro's friend, to seize their land deed. Donning his mask again, Zorro rescues Guillermo's wife and son, but fails to save Guillermo and the deed. Zorro follows McGivens to Armand's mansion and discovers that Armand plans to build a railroad on Cortez's land. Zorro encounters Elena, and learns of an upcoming shipment. He tracks McGivens to a cove where the cargo is delivered. Unbeknownst to him, Joaquin also hitched a ride on McGiven's cart, having sneaked out of a class trip. Zorro saves his son from the bandits. Examing the shipment, he sees a piece of the cargo, a bar of soap, and the name Orbis Unum from a crate lid.
Felipe and Alejandro then learn that Armand is the head of a secret society, the Knights of Aragon, which has been secretly ruling Europe. The United States is deemed a threat to the Knights. Thus, they plans to throw the country into chaos before it can gain too much power. Alejandro is then captured by the Pinkertons. They reveal to him that they forced Elena to divorce Alejandro and get close to Armand and learn of his plans.
Joaquin frees Alejandro from captivity. Zorro goes to Armand's mansion, meets Elena, and eavesdrops on Armand's meeting. He learns that the soap bars contain glycerin - a precursor to nitroglycerin. Armand plans to distribute the substance throughout the Confederate Army, with the help of Confederate Colonel Beauregard, to destroy the Union. Zorro and Elena reconcile, and Zorro prepares to destroy the train carrying the explosives. McGivens arrives at Felipe's church to look for Zorro. Unable to find him, McGivens shoots the priest and kidnaps Joaquin.
At the mansion, Armand is informed by his butler, Ferroq, about Elena's deception. He confronts her and shows her the bodies of the Pinkerton agents. He takes her and Joaquin hostage on the train carrying the explosives, making Zorro unable to destroy it. Zorro is captured and unmasked in front of his son, to Joaquin's shock. Armand takes Joaquin and Elena away and orders McGivens to kill Alejandro. Felipe, having been saved from McGivens's bullet by a cross he wears, arrives. He and Alejandro overpower and kill McGivens.
Zorro catches up with Armand and they engage in a sword fight. Meanwhile, Elena has Joaquin escape into the back cars of the train, which she disconnects. Elena then fights Ferroq in the nitro storage car. He and Colonel Beauregard are then killed in an explosion.
Further along the tracks, witnessed by a huge crowd, the governor prepares to sign the bill to make California a state. Joaquin collects Tornado, Zorro's horse, jumps off the train, and follows it. He hits a track switch, causing the train to harmlessly pass around the ceremony. Zorro and Armand's duel takes them to the very front of the locomotive. Seeing the track is a dead end, Zorro hooks Armand to the train and escapes with Elena. The train crashes into the pile of rails at the end of the track, setting off the nitroglycerin, killing Armand.
With Zorro as an official witness, the governor signs the bill, and California becomes the 31st state of the United States of America. Felipe remarries Alejandro and Elena with Joaquin as the only witness. Alejandro apologizes to his son for hiding his identity, and admits that Zorro's identity is a family secret rather than just his own. With Elena's support, Zorro rides off on Tornado to his next mission.
An alternate ending, included on the DVD, shows a grown-up Joaquin putting on the costume and riding off into the sunset, following his father's and maternal grandfather Diego de la Vega's (portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in The Mask of Zorro) footsteps as Zorro, while the elderly Alejandro and Elena watch proudly. This was changed to the theatrical ending in order to allow for future sequels with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.Track listing
Critical reaction to The Legend of Zorro was mostly negative. The film currently holds a rating of 47 out of 100 on Metacritic, and a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a below-average review, awarding it one and a half out of four stars, commenting that "of all of the possible ideas about how to handle the Elena character, this movie has assembled the worst ones." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave The Legend of Zorro two out of four stars, saying that "the action is routine", "the chemistry between the two leads, which was one of the highlights of The Mask of Zorro, has evaporated during the intervening years", and that the movie "fails to recapture the pleasure offered by The Mask of Zorro."
Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com praised the film, calling it "entertaining, bold, and self-effacing at once", noting the civic and parental questions it raises. Slate Magazine critic David Edelstein also praised the film, in particular the action scenes, villains, and chemistry between Banderas and Zeta-Jones. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film was "watchable – not remotely enjoyable, but watchable." Nathan Rabin of The Onion's A.V. Club gave the film a lukewarm review, saying that "director Martin Campbell doles out action sequences stingily", and added that "The Legend of Zorro still feels like a half-hearted shrug of a sequel." Brian Lowry of Variety said that The Legend of Zorro is "considerably less charming than The Mask of Zorro", but added that the film "gets by mostly on dazzling stunt work and the pleasure of seeing its dashing and glamorous leads back in cape and gown." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly awarded the film a "B-" score. Schwarzbaum said that "too many scenes emphasize gross butchery over the elegance of the blade", but added that the film is "well-oiled" and praised the "fancy fight sequences".
Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post reacted negatively, calling The Legend of Zorro "a waste of talent, time, and money" and "stupid and boring". Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle was also not impressed, remarking that "there are precious few things for a Zorro fan – or a film fan, for that matter – not to loathe about The Legend of Zorro." The film did reasonably well at the box office, grossing $142,400,065 internationally, but did not match the success of its predecessor.
The film was released on DVD & VHS on January 31, 2006, It was later released on Blu-ray on December 11, 2007.