A paraphrase of a famous Bono quote might best summarize my thoughts on V for Vendetta: “There’s been a lot of talk about this movie, maybe too much talk. This movie is not a rebel movie, this movie is V for Vendetta.” The talk surrounding V? The London bombings, producer/writer Larry Wachowski’s personal life, the disavowal of the movie by the author of the original comics and the politics of the film. Thus this movie experience is imbued with expectation. More so than any other film in recent memory, what you take away from V will be shaded by what you bring in.
In simplest terms, V is a merging Robin Hood and the Count of Monte Cristo. The masked protagonist of V does not seek to steal wealth from the rich to return it to the poor but to return the freedom that the people have voluntarily abandoned to their government.
His motivation? Revenge for the wrongs inflicted by the government upon him. The setting is England of the not-so-distant future. Through all of the destructive combination of all the divisive buzzwords of today (terrorism, war, pharmaceutical companies, the military, the Coalition of the Willing, homosexuality, Islam, etc.), England has traded away freedom for a fascist dictatorship. One man stands against them with knives, bombs and a Guy Fawkes mask in his attempt to restore freedom, simply named “V.”
V (played by Hugo Weaving), in simplest terms, represents the opposite of the fascist government: anarchy. As he says himself, he is more idea than man. The movie begins with the first notes of V’s symphony of revenge and regime change and follows him as his life begins to intertwine with Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman who is V saves from government agents.
The script is adapted from a series of comics created by Alan Moore (who is uncredited in the movie per his request) and David Loyd. The adaptation was made by the Wachowski brothers, famed for the Matrix trilogy. From panel to screen, the core elements of the comic remain in tact but with inevitable changes. According to his foreword in a reprinting of the comics, Moore found inspiration from the political climate in England at the time and, in turn, the Wachowskis, adapt the story to fit current politics. Devotees of the comics, including Moore, claim their version to be dumbed down for the Hollywood-going masses. While in some aspects of characterization and plot this holds water, there is yet to be an adaptation of a book to a movie that hasn’t lost some of the written word’s complexity.
Additionally, with the Wachowski name attached to the film, there are certain expectations for visual flair. Unfortunately, nothing on the level of The Matrix is delivered. While first time director James McTeigue demonstrates quality camera work and framing, the film still feels like it’s retreading familiar territory. The truly dynamic choreography showcased in the trailer doesn’t appear until near the end, giving the final third of the movie an edge that the first two-thirds lacks.
Performances, however, are excellent across the board. Lucinda Syson knew what she was doing when she cast this movie. Natalie Portman shines as Evey, in a role that runs the gamut of emotions. The government and police heads are all played by capable actors who find the balance between evil and stereotypes. Hugo Weaving hides behind V’s mask throughout the film in a performance that captures V’s look and personality perfectly. My only wish is that he would have remained uncredited and anonymous (like Kevin Spacey as John Doe in Se7en) to lend to the mystery of the character.
Where V suffered for me the most is in terms of emotional attachment. V is at best an anti-hero. Evey is clearly a stand-in for the audience, but I still did not feel very connected to her because of her association with V.
Perhaps where the film really begins to lose me is when it creates dialectic that I don’t agree in terms of either argument. Obviously fascism is a destructive and horrific ideology, but the film fails to convince me that violent anarchy is the best viable option. In fact, seeing the destruction of the symbols of English democracy and death of innocents reinforces my admiration for non-violent activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. In that way I see V as maybe not the rebel movie that it was intended to be, but rather as but instead a call to a renewed participation in the democratic process in order to avoid fascism and anarchy.
In the end, V for Vendetta is an ambitious movie that does many things very well but falls flat in the emotional aspect. It is a movie that will divide audiences but, more importantly, it will force them to ask questions. It is one of those movies that calls us to greater awareness of and participation in the forces that drive our lives. If nothing else, this makes it a movie worth watching.