V for Vendetta (2006)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt
Directed by: James McTeigue
First off, I should state that I haven't read the comic this movie is based on (the one illustrated by David Lloyd, and written by... someone who doesn't want to be named). Actually, I have read the first two issues, as I downloaded the series and started to read it. But then I decided that I liked it enough to actually buy it and read the actual paper copy, which is a much nicer experience than reading from the computer screen. Unfortunately, the copy I ordered online didn't arrive before the movie came out. As a result, this is a review on the movie as a movie, and not as an adaptation, which in some ways, is the more fair way to review. Not that a fan's perspective isn't useful, especially if the reader of the review is also a fan, but sometimes people get too carried away in their loyalty to the original format (be it book, graphic novel, musical, etc), forgetting that changes need to be made to adapt stories to new media formats, especially when the original source was a product of its time and place.
As a movie, V for Vendetta is an entertaining, thought-provoking piece of pop art. It is a rare type of big action blockbuster, in that it is one that makes the audience think when it is done, and stays with you longer than the time it takes to exit the theatre. Which isn't to say that it's a think-piece, or even a complicated film, because it's not. But the ideas the movie hits upon are presented solidly enough to raise questions and stimulate discussion in a way big action movies usually avoid. Primarily, the movie is designed to maximise excitement, dumbing itself down a degree to keep the action moving. But there's enough there that you can respond to it on an intellectual level, as well as on an instinctual level.
The Wachowski Brothers, who adapted the screenplay before they worked on The Matrix, do a good job making the film relevant to today's world, with the fascism of totalitarian Britain on display echoing the move toward fascism we are seeing in a world of wire-tapping, politicised religion, and "fair and balanced" news reports. The film drops the nuclear fallout aspect of the original book, which I think is a valid choice. Alan Moore (who had nothing to do with this movie, he will be very mad if I don't make this clear) himself admitted in the preface to the trade paperback edition of V that current science doesn't back up his original ideas about surviving nuclear winter. The central ideas are there: the high costs associated with relinquishing our freedoms, how far the power hungry will go to obtain and maintain power, and how far the disenfranchised will go to take back their freedoms.
The film is visually interesting and unique enough to hold the attentions of the audience, with cinematographer Adrian Biddle doing a great job with the battle between light and dark, enhancing ambiguities in areas where the script is sometimes weak. Natalie Portman does a good job as Evey, serving as the audience's surrogate, and doing a much better job playing off the masked Hugo Weaving than she did playing off of disembodied green screens in the Star Wars prequels. Weaving is the star of the piece, showing a flair for body language and dialogue, making V a compelling, dynamic character without the benefit of showing any emotion on his face. The dialogue for V is particularly snappy in the movie's introduction to the character, drawing the audience in with a series of playful alliteration and snappy quips that, dare I say, may play better than his introduction in the comic.
All in all, it's an exciting movie with something to say, presented in a visually dynamic way, featuring a charismatic lead, that will stay with you for a while after you've seen it. At points, it sacrifices nuance for excitement, and oversimplifies some of its core ideas and more ambiguous themes. It is a big action popcorn movie and doesn't deny it, but it is a satisfying one. For those who simply like fight scenes and explosions, this movie should do the trick. For those who like subtext and allegory with your movies, this movie will still do the trick.
From Hell (2001)