V for Vendetta

| March 20, 2006

V for Vendetta oozes preposterousness, more so than the original comic, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. V is so entertaining, in fact, that one quickly forgets he’s a terrorist . . . or perhaps the film reminds us that terrorism is not quite as black and white as we believe. Then again, there’s never been such a charming terrorist: this Don Juan with a vengeance, this symbolic Guy Fawkes revolutionary (he’s got the mask to prove it!), this alliterative-speaking, Shakespeare-quoting, domino-playing, and classical-music loving character is an adorable anti-hero. And as Hugo Weaving plays him, with a sly and graceful wit, he’s all the more charming: a prince among terrorists, the gentleman bomber.
For the first hour of the film, the movie is fixated on V, which aptly propels the film along. We are caught up, along with Evey (Natalie Portman), in his game of revenge, and distracted by the pretty visual amusements of his secret lair, the Shadow Gallery (a repository for all the banned things of this oppressive future). But as the attention shifts to Evey, the film begins to drag, and the climax is overwrought, methodical, and predictable Hollywood fare. In other words, once we accept terrorism as normal, it ceases to be terrorism–it just becomes life, and a blockbuster must be larger than life. And it’s not that Portman can’t act, or that John Hurt (the dictator) and Stephen Rea (the honest cop) don’t play the hell out of their roles: it’s just that V is the life of the party, the only character who seems to have a point. Everyone else is just along for the ride, and individually, they’ve got nothing to do. It’s hard to hold your own against a clownish, violent man as he dismantles a totalitarian government, member by member: compared to those stakes, everyone else’s sob story tastes bland, no matter how many tears flavor it.
James McTeigue, a first-time director (though a first assistant many times before, for the Matrix trilogy, and Episode II, among others) keeps the actors in line, but he lets the material get out of hand. Whereas the comic book kept things restrained and tense, the Wachowski brothers have elevated the stakes, and every action is now exaggerated and more comic than the comic book itself. These are some stark and beautiful images, but it’s all so heavy handed that it becomes pretentious, not to mention full of exposition. The puzzle of how this future 1984-ish London became ruled by a dictator isn’t that hard to piece together, and the “revelatory” montages grow from being boring yet informative, to simply being boring. And at 132 minutes, V for Vendetta is already long enough.
Even after all the liberties the Wachowskis take, and all of McTeigue’s unimaginative direction, V for Vendetta still comes across as a dashing tale of rebellion and freedom, thanks entirely to Weaving’s charm. Unfortunately, McTeigue comes far from realizing a nightmarish future (where is Terry Gilliam?), and while V for Vendetta is light on its feet, it also fails to be anything more. So forget politics: this is just another popcorn action film with a little bit of vaudeville mixed in.

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