'V for Vendetta' is S for Subversive

"Ideas do not bleed. They do not feel pain," Natalie Portman's character explains in the opening narration.

But do ideas get dizzy?

There are so many disparate ideas competing for screen time in "V for Vendetta" that it's a wonder the film doesn't come apart at its narrative seams.

Imagine George Orwell's "1984" if its central character had been a costumed crime fighter a la Batman. The result is part socio-political think piece, part action blockbuster. Half anti-government call to arms, half unquenched love story.

Add a pinch of British history lesson. Throw in a dash of Shakespearean inner turmoil.

Pay homage to "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Count of Monte Cristo."

"V for Vendetta" is the latest Hollywood interpretation of author Alan Moore - a man whose IQ always seems about 50 points higher than whichever filmmaker is trying to adapt his graphic novels. Moore's relationship with the motion picture industry has sired one passable effort ("From Hell") and one turkey ("The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen").

His latest endeavor is the closest of the movies to hint at the history-steeped genius of his work. Yet it's still too much of a jumble to be deemed a success. (One can only hope Moore's upcoming "Watchmen" fares better.)


V for Vendetta ** 1/2


Imagine George Orwell's "1984" if its central character was a costumed crime fighter. In this subversive effort based on Alan Moore's graphic novel, a woman (Natalie Portman) becomes the unlikely ally of a masked freedom fighter. Part socio-political think piece and part action blockbuster, the former works better than the latter.

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"V for Vendetta" is set in a not-so-distant future in which the threat of global terrorism has turned Britain into a totalitarian police state. Portman stars as Evey, a TV production assistant assaulted after curfew by government goons who is rescued by a verbose anarchist called V (Hugo Weaving).

Evey: "Are you like a crazy person?"

V: "I'm sure they'll say I am."

Disguised in a Guy Fawkes mask with a permanently frozen smile, clad in black swashbuckling garb and wielding knives with the dexterity of a Wu Shu master, V is bent on dethroning the government's key players. These include the Bush-esque chancellor Sutler (John Hurt), the Rumsfeldian head of the secret police Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) and the Limbaugh/O'Reilly-ish "voice of England" Prothero (Roger Allam).

Eventually, Evey becomes an unlikely accomplice of the vigilante/terrorist. But at what cost?

To backtrack a bit, Fawkes was a Catholic dissident who in 1605 was caught beneath Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder in a failed attempt to blow up King James I. His name lingers on in annual "celebrations" throughout England and in a memorably creepy nursery rhyme ("Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.")

Writer Moore certainly hasn't forgotten. He structures the entire story around the allegory of Fawkes' insurgent coup. With screenplay help from the Wachowski brothers (creators of the "Matrix" trilogy) and their protege director, James McTeigue, Moore's latest is often interesting though not always very compelling.


Hugo Weaveing as V and Natalie Portman as Evey in Warner Bros. Pictures and Virtual Studios action thriller V for Vendetta, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

The relationship between the principals feels disconnected and never quite achieves the beauty-and-the-beast resonance it deserves. (To be fair, Portman and Weaving are always separated by his mask.) In fact, the most powerful emotional moments don't even involve the leads, but come via a subplot flashback involving a lesbian's anti-authoritarian stance.

More potent is the movie's political commentary. The filmmakers certainly can't be accused of hiding behind metaphors. They spell out very clearly that it is anti-Muslim hysteria that opens the door for this Big Brother regime. The Christian right - buoyed by its pro-England jingoism and anti-gay rhetoric - assumes command and gradually smothers the country with its ideology.

It's easily the most subversive mainstream picture to be released by a major studio in years. (From Warner Bros., no less!)

Ultimately, "V for Vendetta" is a confounding exercise that has no trouble getting people to think, but it's far less successful at getting them to feel.

- Entertainment editor Jon Niccum can be reached at 832-7178.


campblood 17 years, 2 months ago

QUOTE: "Writer Moore, structures the entire story around the allegory of Fawkes' insurgent coup. With screenplay help from the Wachowski brothers (creators of the "Matrix" trilogy) and their protege director, James McTeigue, Moore's latest is often interesting though not always very compelling."

With all due respect Mr. Niccum, what are you talking about? Alan Moore had absolutely NO involvement in the movie. Sure he wrote the original graphic novel, but to claim the Wachowski brothers helped him is just an untrue statement. Were you trying to convey that the latest adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel, of which he had no involvement in and asked to have his name taken off the movie and the re-issues of the novel, is interesting if not compelling?

Gareth Skarka 17 years, 2 months ago

Another reviewer who completely misses the point that the original graphic novel was written in the early 80s, and was a satirical criticism of Thatcher's Britain, not anything related to our current situation.

mastap88 17 years, 2 months ago

Ah. But even if the novel was about another topic, which would be trivial to compare to now, especially to the Amercian public, the movie is about something related--it does not have to exactly copy the book. Here we have a good film stocked with interesting ideas and contraversial implications, though used before in other works, revamped for the younger generation and todays governements.

fletch 17 years, 2 months ago

Let's not forget the worst Alan Moore adaptation of all time: Swamp Thing.

I thought V did a good job updating the source material (which I know and love) to a mdern context. In the early 1980s, the graphic novel was a view of what a dystopian near-future might look like, but it doesn't quite work under today's lens. We've had a different set of political challenges in the last 20 years. I look at the film as a reimagining of the source material instead of an adaptation.

Overall, I came out of the movie and my only big concerns with it were it's deviation from the source material. But I can't hold that against the movie as a seperate entity. Otherwise, that would just make me too fanboyish. The movie on it's own gets a B from me. It's done well (with a few gaffs and characterizations issues). It's not going on my top 10 films of the year most likely, but it's worth a ticket, and I'll probably pick it up on DVD.

ben_ness 17 years, 2 months ago

I saw V for Vendetta this weekend. While it was originally meant to be an allegory of Thatcher's England it strangely mirrors more current events. I couldn't disagree with Niccum more, it was a very good movie.

zbarf 17 years, 2 months ago

Quit Ramming Homosexuality Down My Throat!

Why can't I turn on the TV or go to a movie without having Hollywood brainwash me with the goodness of being gay.

It is like their mission in life is to convince the American people that it is perfectly normal to have homosexual sex.

I could stomach the rest of the liberal agenda in the movie but this is starting to piss me off and you can bet that I am not alone.

KIDS...Take a magnet and try to put + to + and see what happens. This is nature and we should all learn from nature.

liberalenextrema 17 years, 2 months ago

clearly, mr. niccum, you do not know the story of V for Vendetta. there was never a beauty and the beast aspect to the story. the concept of the mask was that anyone who had the strength of will could carry the idea. though, contrived for the movie, the shipment of Guy Fawkes costumes conveyed this well. this was never meant to be a love story between man and woman; not one akin to superman and lois lane. this is a love story between humanity and the ideas of freedom and justice. whoever is willing to love and nurture these ideas deserves the rewards proffered.

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