V for Vendetta
Directed by: James McTeigue
Written by: Andy & Larry Wachowski (screenplay), Alan Moore (graphic novel)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, and Stephen Rea
You can’t blame Alan Moore for not wanting his name put on adaptations of his graphic novels. It all began with the atrocious adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the tradition carried on with the below-average take on his most renowned work, Watchmen. In between those two garbage heaps though, one of his graphic novels was given justice. That movie was V for Vendetta (300 was just pretty.)
Though the Wachowski Brothers switch the focus of the novel to represent restrained rebellion against government rather than all-out anarchy, the movie still moves along with a purposeful pace and terrific action sequences. Moore was still outraged at their nerve, and again, you can’t really blame him. Unlike the other adaptations though, this one was made with more than a cash-in in mind.
V begins like many super hero movies, with a damsel (Natalie Portman) in distress and a masked crusader (Hugo Weaving) coming to her aid. Unlike the typical super hero mythology of a Spiderman or Superman, though, this woman is a distraction from the hero’s true journey rather than the love of his life right from the beginning. Also unlike many other hero movies, this so-called damsel in distress actually shares the spotlight with the hero and goes on just as compelling of a journey.
At the core of this movie is the idea that a repressed soul will seek out others and rebel, either through simple human connection or through violence. V and Evey do both. The two actors at the core, Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, create believable human characters with a believable relationship. Weaving’s performance behind a mask the entire time is pretty impressive and Portman does some of her best acting here.
When she is saved by V in the beginning, Evey is drawn into his scheme to overthrow the Orwellian dictator (John Hurt) by promising an uprising a year after he hijacks a television station and sends out a message to the public. This message is shot in a simplistic fashion, with V sitting at a table with a black background, his grinning Guy Fawkes mask staring into the souls of the British public. His message is anything but simple though, and as we go to various homes watching the message, we see his ideas sink in, and traces of rebellion begin to form. Whether he’s a terrorist or a hero is largely up to their (and our) interpretation.
Director John McTeigue takes the Wachowski’s adaptation and gives it a sleek but very dark visual design. The fight scenes at both the beginning and the end and sprinkled throughout have V pulling out his daggers and slicing away at government agents is a brutal, beautiful dance of death. The stylized blood seems to move with him. Save for that grand explosion at the end, the special effects are mostly understated in that fashion. They are still impressive, though, and really help keep the movie going.
It isn’t the explosions or knife-fights that keep you wrapped up in this movie’s madness though, it’s the world itself. Though at times it has an over-emphasis on the brutal dictatorship and the black leather fascist garb, seeing a talk-show host dragged out and beaten to death for joking about the dictator is scary in how real it seems. Seeing that leader as a larger-than-life talking head most of the movie is also terrifying, mostly because John Hurt’s enraged, psychotic delivery is so convincing.
If rebellion is one main theme of this movie, rebirth has to be the other. In fact, the two do a thematic dance of their own. V is a self-proclaimed agent of change, and you see why after witnessing the brutal transformations he went through in a secretive government science lab. The material again takes the typical super hero plot point of a science experiment gone awry, and twists it for its own purposes. This experiment is a driving force of V’s plan instead of just the spider that gave him powers.
What sets V for Vendetta apart from many super hero movies is its willingness to participate in many of the common plot devices that drive those movies, and then subverting them for its own purposes. There are two heroes in this movie, and only one of them wears a mask and goes out in the night looking to deal out justice. The other hero is a common citizen, whose awakening, contempt for control and desire for change help spark a revolution. It’s a pretty thought thinking people will rise up like that under tyranny, but it also means they’re willing to let it in first.