“Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
Alan Moore, by many fans considered to be the best comic book writer ever, has had four of his works turned into Hollywood movies: From Hell (2001), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), V For Vendetta (2006) and Watchmen (2009). Moore himself hates the whole process, knowing how much his work will be changed and corrupted, and he has denounced it, and decided to give his share of the royalties to the artists on those comic books. Looking at the first two movies to be made form his works, one can understand his attitude. They are both quite awful in comparison with the comic books, and completely misrepresent them. However, both V For Vendetta and Watchmen were stunningly well-made, thanks to the fact that some people who actually revered and “got” the original material got to make them.
While a project like Speed Racer (2008) was a disappointment, the Wachowski brothers’ screenplay for V For Vendetta fulfilled every iota of the promise that fans expected from the makers of The Matrix (1999), and this movie has rightfully assumed its place as one of the world’s 250 best (as of this writing, #181, to be exact), according to the Internet Movie Database.
The movie is set in England in a fascist future where the United States has collapsed completely. We follow the journalist Evie and her encounter with the anti-establishment terrorist hero who calls himself “V”. As the authorities pursue V, Evie is caught up in the events and embarks on a voyage of discovery, uncovering the truth about the oppressive system and finding herself agreeing more and more with V, who drafts her into the fight. At the same time, a police officer is piecing together V’s background story and also starts doubting which side he is on.
Everything about the movie is slick and stylish and the action is crafted with magnificent virtuosity. The mood and look of the story and the universe are unique and distinct, and Natalie Portman absolutely shines as Evie. The most memorable scene is when she has been imprisoned by V and finds a note that seems to be left by a woman previously held captive in the cell. The emotion achieved in this scene is devastating, and makes it completely convincing that Evie starts being won over by V.
V, the anarchist rebel with radical methods, is clearly supposed to be the good guy, while the government is the bad guys. Some see the movie as controversial, because it seems to justify terrorism. But that entirely depends on how you define “terrorism”. What is terrorism from one point of view may be freedom fighting from another. The violence here is symbolic of a desire to transform society into a state that is free from oppression, and although the totalitarian future society depicted in this movie is a complete fiction, the inescapable political implication still is that our actual real-world capitalist society has the seeds of fascism in it and should, in the name of human decency, be rebelled against. A very similar message to the one found in Fight Club (1999).
The only problem with this anti-establishment message, as is so often the case, is that the movie fails to suggest what kind of good society the current bad one should be replaced with. I hope that future movies of this sort will find a way to make up for this shortcoming. Personally I don’t think it’s that hard to imagine something a lot better than what we’ve got now.
At any rate, V For Vendetta is a grand achievement which delights both the eyes and the mind to no end. I will go so far as to declare that it is in fact nothing less than the best science fiction movie of the entire previous decade.
The DVD version reviewed here is the Danish 2-disc Deluxe Edition which also contains a booklet with the first two chapters of the graphic novel. Extras on the discs include five very nice featurettes, although a feature on the original comic book is blatantly lacking.
Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry and others
Runtime: 132 min.
Country: USA, UK, Germany