Famously disowned by creator Alan Moore (who, it should be noted, behaves towards every film adaptation of his works in the same way) and held back from release following 2005’s London subway bombings (for more “tweaking,” according to producer Joel Silver), this 20-year old story of a masked terrorist who does battle with the government of a fascist future Britain finally comes to theaters. Written by the Wachowski brothers and directed by Wachowski crony James McTeigue, it’s understandable that people might fear more of the same ridiculousness that permeated the “Matrix” sequels.
Happily, that’s not entirely the case. The core of Moore’s original tale – England as a security state, where news is generated by the government and undesirables (be they sexually, racially, or politically so) have long since been “removed,” their disappearance blamed on external forces. The lone challenger to the regime is a strange man in a mask with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare.
In this pleasant setting we’re introduced to young Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) just as she is about to be assaulted by several of the government’s internal security agents (unfortunately referred to as “Fingermen”). However, before anything untoward takes place, a mysterious fellow in a Guy Fawkes mask appears. He explains, in a lengthy and obnoxiously alliterative soliloquy, that his name is “V,” right before he kills the three men and spirits Evey to the rooftops so she can watch while he blows up the Old Bailey.
V, in a happy coincidence, also temporarily takes over the TV station where Evey works, announcing his presence and telling everyone he’ll be blowing up Parliament as well in a year’s time. Evey is implicated in the incident and goes into hiding as well, learning more and more about V’s motivations and goals. Finally – in one of the larger plot developments retained from the comic – she is forced to choose between giving up her life and protecting his. Meanwhile, the police (led by a suitably bedraggled Stephen Rea) attempt to track V down before he can make good on his promise.
Although the marketing for “V for Vendetta” relies heavily on the fact that this is from “the creators of ‘The Matrix’ trilogy,’ there’s surprisingly little of the expected wire fu and CGI shenanigans that helped make the second and third “Matrix” movies nigh unwatchable. Aside from a handful of fight scenes (only one of which evokes any serious eye-rolling), the Wachowskis actually seem to have given serious effort to telling a story, and not taking three movies to do it.
Of course, this is still a 2-hour adaptation of a wordy, 300-page comic book. Much of the subtlety and ambiguity of Moore’s original work had to be abandoned in favor of unlikely coincidences and plot conveniences. And, as with any Hollywood version of revolution, the film makes the assumption that every oppressed citizen is actively skeptical of their own government, can see through its propaganda, and is eager to take up active resistance. Quaint, but depressingly unrealistic.
Despite the fact that “V for Vendetta” has been bouncing around with different studios for some time, there’s no denying that the finished product was created with the war in Iraq and the ongoing domestic debate concerning wiretaps and shrinking civil liberties in mind. In that respect, it’s one of the first major Hollywood films to take such an overt anti-Bush stance. Certainly there have been a number of documentaries and subdued flicks like “Good Night and Good Luck” casting their stones at the Bush Administration, but the parallels between the Orwellian future onscreen and today’s chilly domestic political climate can’t be denied, and the Wachowskis are far from delicate in their rhetoric.
Finally, when I reviewed the movie “Constantine” (about another Alan Moore creation, humorously enough), I did a version for fans of the comic as well as those seeing the movie cold. This was mostly because I’m a huge fan of that character, and the tactic won’t be repeated here. While I can see the places where the Wachowskis kept Moore’s story and the (many) places where they just ignored it, I think they’ve done as decent a job as can be expected in making the story accessible to a wider audience. With its emphasis on dialogue and political machinations over explosions and kung fu fighting, it remains to be see whether or not “V for Vendetta” will actually find one.