Which is why I approached the much anticipated filmic adaptation of one of his best (and best known) works, V For Vendetta, with a bit of trepidation. Certainly a movie version of his work could be (and has been) successful. From Hell, for example, wasn't quite up to the Indie Graphic Novel's par, but it succeeded relatively well, and I'll admit, I'm one of the only critics to give The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a positive review (almost in spite of myself). However, V, like Watchmen or The Killing Joke is practically sacred in the history of the paneled page. Could a movie version do it justice? Alan Moore... simply doesn't care. He's done with it, he's moved on, and in fact, he's had his name expunged from the credits (artist David Lloyd is listed as the sole creator of the basis).
Should we worry? After all, the screenplay was written by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, who ought to know how to make a comic book come to life as a movie! The answer: It isn't a movie, and while as a movie, it's not so bad, the deeper textual meanings, the wide scope (fitting this into two and a quarter hours was nearly impossible), the mysterious sub plots and the wild development of character doesn't quite make it to the screen. In truth, Andy and Larry (as well as producer Joel Silver) do work hard to keep the plot of V For Vendetta intact.
However, like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen before it, V is almost impossible to watch without thinking about what it could have been, and in fact, what it was. If nothing else, though, the film makes one want to read, or re-read the source material all over again! That, or put on a garish mask and take back the night. I chose both. I'll be right back!
Set in the London of the future, a young beauty named Evey (Natalie Portman) has grown up in a totalitarian and neo-fascist society, spurred on by terror and isolation. The ruling party has used this to their unquestionable advantage, and has proliferated every level of existence, trampling over every liberty. Enter a black-clad vigilante of the night, identifying himself only as "V" (Hugo Weaving, whose face we never see). Wearing a mask modeled after the visage of a seventeenth century would-be bomber and reciting his rhymes and mantras as proficiently as he beats upon the new Gestapo, V is set to burn his name into London and take the government down with the buildings he demolishes. Part Joker, part Guy Fawkes and part Phantom of the Opera, V turns terror against terror, and pulls off a one man righteous crusade against the government. Along the way, blood is spilled, icons are given the iconoclastic treatment and voices are heard.
Some too loudly. V most certainly captures the attention of the people, and thus, the government as well. As Evey becomes a reluctant, yet strong, accomplice for V, just who her friends and enemies are becomes clouded, and she begins to question the roles of the Hitler-like Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt), Secretary of Jackasses Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), her grabby boss (night-time talk show host Deitrich played by Stephen Fry), and even cops like Detective Finch (Stephen Rea).
But just who is this V, and what is his real agenda? Is he Patriot or Terrorist? Is he Psychopath or Voice of the People? Is he the Harbinger of Change, or a mere Government Pawn? The Wachowski Brothers (with their directorial protégé James McTeigue) throw so many possibilities at the audience it's hard to keep track unless you're intimately familiar with the graphic novel. In fact, this is the very core issue with V For Vendetta, the overloading of possibilities. The effort the Wachowskis made in attempting to cover all the bases of the basis is admirable, however, it's hard to not find the filmic version of V a little overly condensed and somewhat of a by-the-numbers effort. While the accuracy and completion shown here is an Alan Moore fan's dream come true, the pieces don't always connect, and the dutiful attention to the so very many of the varied elements of V For Vendetta leads to an overall feeling of underdevelopment. It's also a bit obvious, which was necessary to sell tickets to the masses. Where Moore was subtle and expected his audience to be educated and well versed in history and politics, the Wachowskis deliver a much more spelled-out and detracting screenplay, which feels preachy and far too clearly paralleling current events.
The questions in adaptations of important works like this (when taken as a movie) pretty well boil down to the directing, the casting and the writing (and to a certain extent, the budget). The writing, while overall good, occasionally gets in its own way. McTeigue's directing is steady and smart. It will come as no surprise that his style is more than a little Matrix-esque. Occasionally certain scenes McTeigue directs are perfectly translated from the page, looking like a Lloyd panel brought to life. There's no question that this is a visually enchanting movie, with some serious attention to detail, and the look of the film adheres to the graphic novel in visual theme almost to a T.
The casting itself is just about perfecto! To put Weaving behind the mask of V is a brilliant idea. Who else could pull off the British class and rebellious angst of V, all the while executing Martial Arts moves that could kick Agent Smith's own ass? Portman runs the full gamut of emotions and evokes sensible memories of her Graphic counterpart. Stephens Rea and Fry both develop differing, yet equally well rounded characters, bringing strength and depth to their characters that transcends the script. In a bit of casting genius, our Orwellian society is led by John Hurt from 1984's 1984, which is (to say the least) an inspired bit of twisting characterization.
V For Vendetta attempts to offer up many more answers than questions, as opposed to its very inquisitive source material. Moore wrote this around the time of England's controversial Section 28 (an anti-gay bill). His reaction (though much stronger than just this) was "I don't like it here anymore". While Moore's great and sensitive story-within-a-story about a persecuted lesbian survives almost intact, quite a lot of the reaction to said persecutions don't arrive as neutral points, but as statements of right versus wrong. In our post 9/11 society there are a whole lot of questions surrounding the balance between security and civil rights, fear and totalitarianism. As Left Wing as I am (and as many times as I've set a fine feast on the Fifth of November as that strange and beautiful combination of "Liberal" and "Catholic"), it is a little hard to watch centuries old buildings of London blowing up like 112 Ocean Avenue.
I can't believe I just editorialized like that... it's so unlike me to be so political and opinionated. By the way, I have a bridge to sell you in El Paso.
All told, this is a pretty good film, but it falls far short of greatness in its very nature of being an "Alan Moore Movie" (he would be the first to state that there is no such thing). Taken as a movie alone, it's convoluted and condensed, which can be maddening for the fans, and confusing for the newbies. It's also very well acted (especially by the excellent Hugo Weaving), and the special effects are top notch. In a lot of ways, it's wonderful to see one of the best comics of the 1980's coming to life on the screen, even if piecemeal. If I sound ambivalent, I am. I like the movie... but I love the graphic novel. Out of Five Stars, Three and One Half go to V For Vendetta. Questionable morality doesn't enter into this (unless you count that of a conglomerate like Time Warner releasing an anti-establishment statement like this), but the need for development over completion most certainly does. Maybe an Mature-rated TV Mini-Series (a la, the original Traffik) or a Saturday Matinee (which wouldn't happen) would have served this story better, but then how much money might it have made? Perhaps it was destined to be a film, seeing as how Time Warner also owns DC Comics' Vertigo as well, and did when this was first printed. Then again, the story isn't in need of rethinking. It was done right the first time by Alan Moore and David Lloyd in Comic Book form. And Alan Moore doesn't write movies.
V For Vendetta (2006) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who is solely responsible for the opinions expressed here and for the fact that he does have a "Scar Tattoo" of an Anarchy Symbol on his upper arm. But no Vaccination scars!
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