STARRING: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, James Purefoy, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry

2006, 132 Minutes, Directed by:
James McTeigue

Description: Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain, V For Vendetta tells the story of a mild-mannered young woman named Evey (NATALIE PORTMAN) who is rescued from a life-and-death situation by a masked man (HUGO WEAVING) known only as “V.” Incomparably charismatic and ferociously skilled in the art of combat and deception, V ignites a revolution when he urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and oppression. As Evey uncovers the truth about V’s mysterious background, she also discovers the truth about herself – and emerges as his unlikely ally in the culmination of his plan to bring freedom and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty and corruption.

In the late 1980s a Leftie writer named Alan Moore, depressed at the state of Thatcherite Britain, wrote a comic book about a superhero of sorts named “V” who almost single-handedly brings down a future fascist British government. The comic’s name was V for Vendetta and, sure, it was a wish-fulfillment of sorts. But it was also a dark and gloomy tale that, like Orwell’s 1984, explored the methods by which governments keep their populace in fear and manipulate them into doing their will.

Flash forward to the early 2000s, and V for Vendetta is the latest in a series of DC and Vertigo comic titles to be made into a movie (the previous were Batman Begins and Constantine), this time by the famed Wachowski brothers of the Matrix movies fame and Joel Silver. How the Wachowski brothers, who also wrote the screenplay, ever managed to talk co-producer Joel Silver into signing the checks for this project is a bit of a mystery because — depending on your point of view — V for Vendetta is either the bravest or the stupidest movie made in the past decade.

"A movie in which the good guy blows up the government!"

The bravest because in what the movie says needs to be said and it is brave to say them in the current political atmosphere. Slower audience members may only see a comic book movie in which a guy in a mask takes on some bad guys. Sharp-witted audience members will however having no problem in spotting the film’s political parables. You see, while sci-fi movies always have “rebels” battling it out against oppressive regimes (see: Star Wars), V for Vendetta is the most avowedly political of them all. Like all good sci-fi, it is more about the present than it is about the future. After all, V for Vendetta is a movie in which the good guy blows up the government . . .

Stupid, because I don’t think the movie will make a single cent of profit. Much has changed in the past decade or so since V for Vendetta first saw light as a comic book. Capitalism is in, and revolution is out. Also much of the meaning attached to the comic’s visual iconography has changed in the interim. Suicide bombers strapped with sticks of dynamite and huge bombs produced using fertilizer to blow up government buildings now have other uncomfortable histories attached to them. How audiences will respond is unclear, but even with George W. Bush’s approval ratings at an all-time low it is unlikely that mainstream American audiences will respond warmly to any film that pronounces that “people shouldn’t be afraid of their government, governments should be afraid of their people.”

Initial reports on the Internet spoke of the movie changing the comic’s original hard-hitting premise of a home-grown British fascist regime to that old “World War II having been won by the Nazis” alternate universe plot device. This led to speculation amongst fans of the comic that Hollywood was going to tone down its uncompromising political aspects to make the movie more palatable to cinema audiences. Fortunately none of this is true. Instead the comic’s original premise is updated to make the source material even more relevant to the current global post-9/11 environment.

For those who want a guy in a mask movie, there are some superhero/Matrix-style action sequences. Also, stuff (we won’t say what) gets blown up real good at the end. But for audiences who want more there is more: the script is surprisingly literate and intelligent, and makes no concessions to the lowest common denominator. By necessity the movie condenses a lot of the original material, but it doesn’t tone things down: it remains defiantly antiauthoritarian.

The cast which includes some noted British thespians such as Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry does sterling work, even though surprisingly enough John Hurt overacts badly in his role as the arch dictator. Despite all the evidence in Attack of the Clones and the other Star Wars prequels, Natalie Portman shows that she can indeed act. Even Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings) does okay despite the constraint of being behind an inexpressive mask for the length of the entire movie (no, just like in the comics we never get to see the face behind the mask).

As a fan of the comic I feel that they could have given the movie a darker and grubbier look, but that is a minor niggle. When you think about it, it is a miracle that the movie even got made in the first place.

So go see V for Vendetta in the cinemas even if you’re not of a countercultural bend (the movie says things you need to hear) before it disappears. While it is probably destined for a short theatrical run, the odds are good that like Serenity it is likely to be a cult hit on DVD one day as good word of mouth spreads.



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).