Alan Moore (whose graphic novel this movie is based on) is striking out for the third time. His other works have been transferred to big screen, but with little success. From Hell, starring Johnny Depp was a classic thriller. It was too scary for audiences, and the critics didn’t like the female lead (Heather Graham). Then there was League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – the second graphic novel I ever got. Man, was I looking forward to this – famous literary heroes banding together for a fantastic adventure. And despite exceptional source material, and some cool casting (Peta Wilson, Stuart Townsent, Richard Roxburgh), the movie fell flat. I adored the over-the-top effects and the Nautilus, but the story, the heart of the adventure was gutted. Now comes along V for Vendetta.
While at first it seems like a one paragraph concept (much was stripped from the comic books, and reduced to a dystopian story with an unlikely hero), it grows beyond that. The film is a strange hybrid between 1984, and Equilibrium, but you expect something completely unique from Wachowski brothers and Alan Moore.
The very first thing I notice is more content. With Matrix trilogy, we kept getting style over substance, and eventually, style over slightly older style. With Vendetta, there are actual conversations, and monologues that one can easily follow, and draw from. There are morals, and references that we’re familiar with. We’re back in our universe again. Unfortunately, this is a dystopian universe that reeks of today’s USA policies (even though everything takes place in Britain) – complete with fright tactics, invisible terrorists, alerts, public manipulation, media control, propaganda, and so on. You can’t create a dystopia and make it seem so painfully familiar. Besides, the conservative backlash for the movie was so powerful, and immediate, that people were basically shamed for going to see it – which played very nicely into the filmmakers, but again brought many issues into the front, much closer than a movie should be. If the Wachowki brothers intended to rattle the political cages in USA and Europe, they accomplished. But the fact that the movie is still an action, full of explosions, tirades, plots and twists – makes it difficult to swallow.
Nevertheless, it’s a good film. It’s not their fault we live in times that seem dystopian, and a film that alludes to it gets a typical dystopian reception. Perhaps the movie is before its time – it will get a cult following with an extended cut. But I would have liked to see more people in the theater. Sure, it’s not matrix, but it’s not even trying to be the next Matrix. It’s a well-filmed, albeit poorly adapted film (I’m almost never happy about adaptations – too much is left on paper). And it’s got the strangest casting choices – Hugo Weaving as V – an actor with a fantastic face who never takes the mask off, and Natalie Portman as Evey – a beautiful woman who’s tortured, shaved bald and bruised throughout the film. I wouldn’t want to see her in pain. She’s too delicate. But perhaps that’s the point – for higher contrast and the damned dramatic effect.
The effects and music soundtrack are nowhere near what you would expect from Matrix creators. But once again, this is not the same type of movie. Here we have time to get used to characters, and relate to them, rather than some pixels moving around the screen in a pretty-looking pattern. V is compelling, despite being overly poetic, and constantly quoting literature. John Hurt (Big Brother) is truly frightening, and all the people Evey meets on her journey fall easily within the parameters of a dystopian universe – rebels, slaves, enforcers. I liked the movie for its taboo themes, and its over-the-top approach to questioning authority. But since we’re currently in a middle of a bloody war, and bogged down by corrupt, manipulative, controlling government (no need to name specific countries, it seems to be happening in many places), I couldn’t watch this movie and be a little bit worried.
Perhaps V for Vendetta is more than a cautionary tale. Perhaps it’s a more than a dystopia – perhaps it’s our own reality in a few short years. And, in some scenes, the allegory was too familiar. It was a fact. And when dystopian films look like fact, you gotta stop watching movies, and start making some changes. Around you, in your mindset, on your street.
V for Vendetta could have easily been a dumb action flick, without ties to reality. It could also have been a cautionary tale, an uncomfortable analysis of a political system gone really bad. Strangely, people who exemplify style over substance decided to go heavy on substance, and just dress it up in pretty colors and original montage. You walk away from the theater burdened. And that’s not a comfortable burden. Who are we fighting anyway, and how do these terrorists appear in our ranks, in our families? Finally, what is it they really want? Just to be heard?