V for Vendetta (2005)

Review by Throwback

If you’ve read enough of my reviews, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a comic book fan. Most people know that V for Vendetta (2005, R) is a “comic book movie.” Naturally, I’m going to like it, right? Especially when it’s based on one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, right? We’ll see.

The basis for the movie sticks pretty close to the book. The setting is a dystopian future in a United Kingdom run by an organization of fascist bad people. A girl named Evey (Natalie Portman) is assaulted by government agents but saved by a mysterious vigilante in a Guy Fawkes mask who calls himself V (Hugo Weaving). V takes Evey in as his disciple and enlists her aid in his plans to bring down the government and free the masses.

V for Vendetta
was written by the Wachoski Brothers back when they were still brothers. It was 2005, so people were still clamoring that the Brothers were geniuses, despite the fact that they had only made one good movie (The Matrix) and two sequels that went from mediocre to horrendous. The return of such geniuses to the big screen was therefore a much-heralded event. The job of director was handed to James McTeigue, who had played second fiddle on a number of big productions (The Matrix, Attack of the Clones) but had never really been handed the keys to the kingdom before. I admit that I was worried about his selection and thought it would be a weak point for the show overall.

I was wrong. McTeigue pulled off some stunning visuals and paced the film well between action scenes and building up the V/Evey relationship. There is an especially critical timeframe where Evey is held in captivity and interrogated that I thought would never translate to a film but was very well done, much to my surprise. This is all very impressive since the script was lukewarm at best. The only good writing was stuff pulled directly from the comic book, and no, this isn’t Throwback the Fanboy typing this. Many moments seemed to be changed (V’s introduction, for example) for no other reason than the Brothers wanted to show themselves as superior to what Alan Moore (the comic book author) had put together. Not only was the script changed, but the whole meaning of the work was altered. What had been a sort of Nietzschean figure demonstrating the conflict between anarchy and fascism was degraded to a modern liberal/collectivist response to George W. Bush. I’m not exaggerating with that. I’m pretty sure Moore himself said something similar but I can’t find the quote right now. It doesn’t matter. It’s about as blatant as possible and succeeds in making the movie much less than its source material.

The performances are well done to the extent possible. Weaving stays behind the mask, so most of his work is with his voice, which is fine because he excels at that. It was very interesting to see him go from creepy to charming with just a tweak in his speech and mannerisms. Natalie Portman came off as a bit of a mixed bag. I thought she did fine when left to her own devices, but she seemed awkward in some of her dealings with V. I’m inclined to think that the mask might have given her some difficulties. John Hurt was awesome in his view moments as Sutler (the dictator) and really should have been included more, I thought.

Really, though, enjoying V for Vendetta is going to come down to how well you can tune out the ham-fistedness of the writing. I don’t think it’s absurd to say that the original story was a reaction to Margaret Thatcher. That’s fine, but it wasn’t done by beating you over the head so much either. The film version has the subtlety of a sledgehammer, even going to lengths to praise the language of the Koran. It was awkward, but I don’t think nuance was what they were aiming for here.

Catholics may find some problems with the repeated inclusion and references to homosexuality. The context here is the government rounding up gays and executing them or putting them in prison camps, but it does offer a message of acceptance of same-sex relationships as well. There aren’t going to be any pro-Catholic themes to find for sure. I should probably mention that there’s a sexually corrupt bishop as well. This struck me as, not so much a shot at Catholicism, as it is religion in general, since the setting makes it pretty clear that the religious institution is still some variety of Anglicanism.

As far as other content goes, there are the aforementioned depictions of homosexuality, as well as some scantily clad women. There are a couple of sexual assaults, but they are interrupted before anything graphic occurs. There is a fairly large amount of violence, with multiple stabbings, shootings, and explosions. Lots of blood, but little gore involved. The language was very harsh, with several blasphemies, multiple f-bombs, at least one use of the c-word, and then other milder obscenities thrown in for good measure. A bit more than I was expecting, to say the least.

It’s very possible to watch V for Vendetta and be caught up in Weaving’s performance and McTeigue’s artistry. Upon closer inspection, though, things sort of collapse. There are some major plot and dialogue issues, and you spend a lot of time waiting for Dick Cheney to be revealed as the TRUE villain. If this had been a movie about the glories of nationalism or traditional morality, it would have been mocked as “preachy.” Maybe worth a watch but there are better films out there.

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