V For Vendetta
Films based on a comic book will always attract two forms of criticism. Firstly there’ll be those who judge the inherent quality of the film. Then there’ll be those who’ll judge the film and its fidelity to the original source material. For a perfect of example of this then you need look no further than V For Vendetta. Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s original graphic novel has been beloved of comic fans since its publication in the mid 80s. A tale of a vigilante who wreaks havoc on a totalitarian Britain, the novel was a densely plotted and intense vision of the future that was a thinly veiled attack on the horrors of Thatcherism. Intelligent and adult, it was a favorite of those who were used to being told that ‘comics were just for kids’. Almost two decades on, there was slight consternation when it was announced that V For Vendetta was being brought to the big screen. After the debacles that were From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would this be the Alan Moore adaptation that got it right? And, for those who didn’t give a damn about the original, would the film be any good?
Londoner Evey (Natalie Portman) finds herself in the thrall of the mysterious and masked V (Hugo Weaving) who saves her from a vicious attack by secret policemen working for the fascistic British government. Soon she finds herself implicated in V’s various schemes, including the destruction of the Old Bailey and an ingenious raid on a television station. She soon finds her life inexorably tied into that of the enigmatic vigilante and his complex vendetta. Just who exactly is he and what are his origins? And what will it take to make Evey face the truth about her past and join V in his fight to shake the masses from their apathy.
Adapted by the Wachowski Brothers and directed by James McTeigue, V For Vendetta is a curious mix blend of sensibilities. On one hand it’s a simple action thriller full of well crafted set pieces. From V’s balletic and violent fight sequences to bombastic destruction set to the 1812 Overture, there’s certainly enough here to get the blood pumping whilst the accompanying police investigation keeps the plot rolling along nicely. On the other hand it’s a political polemic that questions the nature of government, justifications of the use of violence and the notion of free will. It’s to McTeigue’s credit that both sides gel together with admirable cohesiveness. Never afraid to slow the action down – especially the lengthy sequence in the middle of the film which sees Evey incarcerated by the authorities – the film has the strength to be both thoughtful and is definitely timely (the release was delayed after the London Bombings). Other plot points, including new character Deitrich (Fry), add depth to the proceedings and the film picks up as we enter the second hour as all the plot threads build to an enormously satisfying climax.
The cast carry out their roles with aplomb. Portman radiates both the innocence and the toughness needed to make Evey’s personality change believable (and also has a decent English accent that thankfully never slips) whilst Weaving does the best he can to imbue V with a personality despite being constantly encased in a mask. Kudos also go to Rea as a dogged police officer trying to unravel the mystery and Fry gives an enormously sympathetic performance as a closet anarchist. it’s also a nice touch to cast John Hurt as the omnipotent, Nazi-like leader of Britain in a perfect contrast to those who remember his turn as Winston Smith.
But the big question for those who have read the graphic novel, is ‘Is the film on a par with Lloyd and Moore’s original?’ (and those who haven’t read the original may be advised to skip to the next paragraph). In a word: no. However, it’s not as bad as previous Moore adaptations Obviously, the dense plot has had to be enormously pared down and – whilst it does so quite successfully – there’s still much missing and the order of many scenes have been changed. Finch in particular is shunted to the sidelines and becomes more an spectator than instigator. That said, the Wachowskis have tried to keep the original themes of anarchy and connection alive whilst updating them for the 21st Century. The end is particularly changed but done so in a way that actually makes sense. The character of V will also slightly disappoint: an enigmatic cipher in the novel, his onscreen counterpart lacks the bloody single mindedness that made him so interesting on the page.
Ultimately V For Vendetta is thoughtful and clever: though not half as clever as it would like to be. For all it’s allegory and political leanings the film is first and foremost a comic book movie. To be really challenged by political thought you’re still best steered towards the likes of Syriana. But for an enjoyable thrill that will occasionally make you think, then you can’t go far wrong.
For Stephen Applebaum’s interview with V For Vendetta director James McTeigue go here.
Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry, Stephen Rea
V For Vendetta is on general release now.