“V For Vendetta”
Directed By James McTeigue
As a revolutionary work of political art, V for Vendetta is a great comic book movie. Adapted from an acclaimed early eighties DC comic by Alan Moore (who’s distanced himself from this and other films of his work, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell), the film desperately wants to be embraced both as a genuinely subversive, topical call-to-arms and a blockbuster action movie experience. This contradiction proves fatal, but it’s also what makes this admirable failure more engaging than the average comic book adaptation.
Don’t let all the talk of controversy mislead you: This is less the story of a terrorist-hero blowing up buildings
(though that’s here too) than of his mentoring a hot girl in need of political reawakening.
They meet cute: the Guy Fawkes – masked V (Hugo Weaving) rescues young Evey (Natalie Portman) as she’s
about to be gang-raped by fascist cops on curfew duty. He quickly swoops her up to a rooftop to watch his detonation of the Old Bailey, a seemingly inexplicable move until we learn via flashback that Evey is the child of activist parents abducted by the government right before her eyes.
When V hijacks the state-controlled TV station to broadcast his revolutionary message, Evey helps him escape
and they retire to his underground lair filled with banned cultural artifacts to, regretfully, fall in love.
Despite strong work by both leads, the love story is ridiculous, mostly because V has no actual face while
Evey’s is too perfect. But in its overly theatrical vision of a dystopian future, complete with gullible media, bioweapons, big pharma conspiracies and massive government cover-ups, the film is playfully relevant.
Just don’t listen to any Matrix dorks: as before, the Wachowski brothers (who wrote and produced this while their second-unit director, James McTeigue, took the reigns) have reduced big ideas to easily inhaled bong hits for poli-sci undergrads. And like The Matrix, the film works better as a pop culture blender than a philosophical treatise – serious thought will kill the buzz.
That the film succeeds halfway is a credit to the Wachowskis’ affectionate translation of the comic’s own mainstream subversion (as with his beloved Watchmen and the Batman graphic novel The Killing Joke, Moore’s best work is provocative only within a commercial context). With its deep rich colors and noir shadows, the film captures a slick, graphic novel sheen while the all-British supporting cast, including Stephen Rea as a bedraggled inspector and John Hurt as the Big Brother-ish chancellor, double as intertextual references.
Somewhat unexpectedly, this is also the most LGBT-friendly comic book movie yet: Stephen Fry plays a helpful, closeted talk show host, Evey’s reawakening-via-torture sequence is cross-cut with the heartrending tale of a doomed lesbian, and V and Evey share a last dance to an Antony song.
As for the terrorist-as-hero, the film sidesteps a key issue by conveniently removing innocent people from the
buildings (as V claims, the structures here are just symbolic). It’s the expected cop-out from a film that, in
the end, prizes schlock entertainment over genuine political debate.