V For Vendetta, the magnificent graphic novel written by famously anti-social hair sculpture Alan Moore, was always going to be a tough nut to crack for the silver screen, after all, the story is set in a dystopian England of the future, features a lead who never shows his face and promotes the tearing down of a hopelessly corrupt fascist government.
Hardly prime Hollywood content.
Enter the Wachowski Siblings (then brothers) who, with the significant clout of the box office of The Matrix trilogy behind them (plus super producer Joel Silver) wrote a screen adaptation that got this strange, off beat comic book movie funded and made.
England: 2035, and things are, quite frankly, a thick slice of utter wank. While the rest of the world has collapsed in apparent civil war, England has shut itself off from the rest of the world and appointed John Hurt’s shouty Adam Susan as High Chancellor despite (or maybe because of) his Hitler-esque choice of side parting. Having abolished everything from the Muslim faith to homosexuality from these shores, this totalitarian government rules this police state the same way a Transformer makes love – with an iron fist.
In this claustrophobic hell on earth we find Evie, a young woman who works at the state run TV centre and who gets caught out after curfew by the alarmingly named “Fingermen”, the corrupt secret police force. She is saved by a masked and very charismatic anarchist who calls himself V and is invited to watch his bombing of the Old Baily from a safe distance. V uses Evie’s position at the TV station to put out a statement saying that in exactly one year, on the 5th of November, he will be outside the Houses Of Parliment and that the people should rise up and against their oppressive leaders.
Thus sets a chain reaction in motion that sweeps Evie along into V’s romantic world where forbidden movies and music play freely, yet the playful and theatrical facade of this larger than life revolutionary has a tragic and traumatic past which links him directly with the major players of the brutal regime. But is Evie ready for such a life and if she was to be arrested, how can such a normal woman hope to stand up to the inhuman tortures of police questioning?
Starring Natalie Portman with an inconsistent British accent that could cut glass like diamond and a perpetually masked Hugo Weaving as the dashing revolutionary V, the “best” thing about V For Vendetta (and I say best in the possible way) is how scarily prophetic it’s turning out to be. Written by Moore in 1988 and filmed in 2005, no one could have foreseen how dangerously close we actually are to a future remarkably quite like this one. Issues like domestic terrorism, Brexit, misplaced patriotism and world leaders who seem to be making up their own misguided and fabricated versions of world events to further their agendas is as prevalent in the news as the weather reports and even the use of the perpetually cheerful looking Guy Faulks mask sported by antihero V can be commonly seen thanks to protesters like Anonymous and Occupy Wallstreet. In fact, for a movie that has seeped into the public’s subconscious so much without ever really being that truly lauded it’s somewhat of a shame that it’s not better that it actually is.
That’s not to say V For Vendetta is bad; in fact when trying to harness the vision of it’s notoriously prickly creator, the filmmakers arguably have provided an experience as good as, if not better than Zack Snyder’s crack at Watchmen, it’s just (much like Watchmen) that Moore’s concepts and execution are just too hard to bend and mold into the framework that blockbuster cinema has to offer.
Therefore, due to the somewhat rushed pace of the first third of the film, even though the results of a police state are horribly familiar, actual the bosses of the ruling Norsefire Party are somewhat too “science-fictiony” to really register as a realistic threat on film, and the villains feel too much like broad, cookie cutter comic book variations of Nazis to really register as three dimensional threats.
Similarly, both Natalie Portman (initially) and her surrounding cast also seem annoyingly one dimensional, as if the Wachowski’s script is deliberately dumbing down Moore’s prose to a simplistic “fascism bad” to snag box office that betrays the complicated intricacies of the source comic. Too often, when the film should be demanding that you engage your brains with important social questions or dilemmas it instead spoon feeds you with Matrix style fight scenes or mostly predictable plot turns.
However, despite issues with it’s inconsistent pace and tone, when V For Vendetta HAS to get things right it manages it with aplomb. The epic mid-story twist (which I obviously won’t spoil here despite the movie being around 13 years old) is nailed perfectly with the feelings of despair, betrayal and triumph being fully realised and finally gives some much needed meat to Portman’s role who rises to the role in more ways than just having her head shaved. But it’s Weaving, encased in plastic mask and black cape, who stands out with his performance enimating through the unmoving features of his facial coverings and skillfully carries the character through some iffy lines with aplomb.
Extra points, by the way, for amusingly making a shadowy whistleblower look suspiciously like a particular author of a certain graphic novel… a rare time when a movie that should be pushing boundaries actually thinks outside the box.
V For Vendetta? More like V for very decent…