R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: DC's Big Comeback Part 2: V for Vendetta

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot. “

I recently purchased Batman – The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 and it was seriously like watching a friend slowly wither away in front of me. Here, we take a Comic Book character with serious depth and make him into a shallow action figure, with an annoying sidekick. It seemed as if Warner Brothers was desperate to kick Batman’s audience in the face as Joel Schumacher wheeled out his rubber clad heroes. I was amongst the victims as my faith in seeing versions of my favorite Comic Book heroes faded away.

I’ve probably gone over this before, but when it comes to the “Big 2”, I’m a DC guy over Marvel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those guys that won’t even look at a Marvel cover, but I just like my Superfriends over the X-Men. So when Batman and Robin hit theaters my favorite heroes were at an all time low as far as their popularity. Making matters worse were parent company Warner Brothers ideas that would get even worse over the years. Whether it was Beyonce Knowles as Lois Lane or Jack Black in a Green Lantern movie, I cringed as memories of Arnold spewing out bad one-liners kept creeping up. I won’t go over the many missteps with Superman again, but Catwoman didn’t do much to assuage my fears that the Man of Steel or Batman would ever have triumphant returns.

Then there was the shock of Constantine. Not expecting much going in, and completely hating the last entry of the Matrix Trilogy, I can’t tell you how pleasantly surprised I was to see a good movie, starring Keanu Reeves in a part he wasn’t exactly tailor made for. Even after playing with Hellblazer’s continuity, I was totally entertained. The film wasn’t a total homerun, but it was a solid step in the right direction.

I really like that DC decided that it wasn’t only its Superheroes that needed to be represented onscreen, but also its edgier titles. This first adaptation of a Vertigo title showed promise, and I was even more excited to see that there was another in the pipeline. It also scared the crap out of me.

V for Vendetta Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt and Stephen Rea. Directed by James McTeigue.

You see, that next project, V for Vendetta, had been a particular favorite of mine for some time. I know, Watchmen is supposed to be Alan Moore’s greatest work, but I’ve always found V more accessible. Basically, it’s a 1984 type story, but it’s written so well and with such humanity that the book is an overwhelming masterpiece. Vendetta tells the story of Evey Hammond, a young girl saved from a fate of rape and murder, at the hands of the secret police, by the mysterious masked vigilante V. He was a prisoner interned at a concentration camp by his own government, who escaped and turned vigilante. The story concerns V’s quest to take down this totalitarian government and get revenge on those that experimented on him.

I was skeptical that ANY film adaptation would do this great work justice. Hearing the Wachowski brothers were in charge of the film filled me with similar feelings. I knew the Wachowskis were big fans, but I knew their work had the tendency to be overindulgent.I also knew that film makers had not exactly given Alan Moore’s work a fair shake on screen. From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were both mere shadows of the work that Moore had done. Only Constantine had come close, but to be honest that wasn’t really an Alan Moore title.

Reports of changing the plot to be an alternate universe where the Nazi’s had won the Second World War made gave me more skepticism, but finally I saw a trailer. Here was not a watered down version, but V in all his glory. Perhaps there was hope after all. In the end, hope is exactly what I got. Hope that DC would continue its rise. Hope that more Alan Moore works would come to screen. Hope that people would take the message of this film to heart.

Written for the screen by the Wachowskis and directed by James McTeigue, the A.D. on The Matrix Trilogy and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, this is a film that is both faithful to its source material as well as a nice update to a work that came out 20 years ago. These points are both evident in the film’s opening minutes. We see the juxtaposition of images as both Natalie Portman’s Evey Hammond and the mysterious V prepare for their evening to come. While the book opens in a similar fashion, there are differences nonetheless.

The most notable difference is the update of “The Voice of Fate.” In both book and film, the universe these characters inhabit is that of an England that has been taken over by fascists. Taking the 1984 archetype, this is a government that controls all of its citizens through fear and war. Back to “The Voice of Fate”, this was a series of radio and public broadcasts used for propaganda purposes. While the government maintained that the broadcast was literally fate, it was actually voiced by a character named Lewis Prothero. This made the kidnapping of Prothero in the novel a calculated move by V to both start to throw the public and government into panic, as well as getting personal vengeance against Prothero for various reasons.

In the film, Prothero is no longer an omniscient mellow voice. He is now a voice of hate, spewing out party politics on his Television show. It’s easy to see the correlation with this new Prothero and the abrasive personalities on cable tv today in this country, and it’s obvious that’s what the film makers were going for. It’s also quite the effective modernization of this same tool used by the government.

Much of the rest of this world looks very much like the world that Moore and Artist David Lloyd had laid out already. Unlike most Sci-Fi films that feature flashy art design, this future London looks not much different than the one today. Sure, the film has little flourishes of gadgets, but many of the sets and costumes look more like throwbacks to the 1940’s as opposed to something from Star Trek.

Character-wise, V is the one transferred most faithfully from the book. Hugo Weaving is absolutely marvelous as V, able to bring out the character’s playful side, with jaunty jokes and a penchant for dueling with a suit of armor in his lair, as well as the part of V that comes off as angel of vengeance. There is a darkness within V that will not let him stop to look at the morality of his quest, as he dispatches those that hurt him and hurt society. Is he a terrorist or a patriot?

There’s a fine line there, and I’m not sure V walks that line very carefully. After blowing up the Bailey Building in the film’s opening act, it’s hard to argue that he is not a terrorist. To tell you the truth V is as much a zealot to his way of thinking as the government he opposes. It takes the humanity of Evey to show him that there is finally more to life than just vengeance.

Weaving is amazing in this role, even though for 99% of the movie he is encased within a porcelain mask. His voice is so warm and understanding, even sometimes to those he has just dispatched. An absolutely amazing scene has a woman indirectly responsible for V’s condition relieved to see him when she wakes to find him in her room. His presence means her death, but instead she warms to him, embracing the release from her guilt. The moment seems very genuine and is one of the film’s many highlights.

I know Natalie Portman has her detractors, several writing for this site in fact, but I think she’s absolutely marvelous here. Evey isn’t quite the scared little girl from the novel who dabbles in prostitution, but a working class twenty-something just trying to survive. This actually gives her more character appeal I believe, because anyone watching the film can identify with this person, simply wanting to go day to day and let the government take care of itself. Even though her parents had died trying to stand up for the freedoms taken away from her; the situation was just too big for Evey to do anything about it. What this character, as well as the film, teaches us is that action is the only thing that can stand up against oppression. We can go about our lives, just sitting back and letting those in charge run all over us or we can get out and do something.

Supporting these two leads is a great cast of supporting players. The best of these, and perhaps the best performance in the movie, belongs to Stephen Rea. His Inspector Eric Finch is very much like his character on the page. He’s a good cop who simply wants to solve the mystery of who this V character is. What he stumbles upon is much worse than what V could ever do though. The moments where Rea puts his entire investigation together is a masterfully done sequence, reminiscent of the finale of The Usual Suspects. Rea is just able to provide another anchor of conscience and perspective within this film that allows us to see how corrupt this government is from all sides.

John Hurt and Tim Pigott-Smith both turn in menacing turns as the film’s main villains, but unfortunately they are but shadows of the characters within Alan Moore’s page. Within the constructs of the film and the limited running time, I can see why more time couldn’t have been assigned to the film’s villains; it’s just a little disappointing. Hurt’s Chancellor Adam Sutler is not nearly as interesting as Mr. Susan, the leader from the novel. Sutler lacks any pitiful qualities that really made Susan an almost sympathetic character. Sutler is just a raving maniac. Tim Pigott-Smith’s Mr. Creedy is a bit closer, but that has more to do with the shallowness of the character in the original work more than his character on screen. Still these are two very unlikable (I mean that in a good way) villains who have some pretty effective scenes.

Bottom line, V for Vendetta is a great movie and another great step in the direction DC is taking in its film projects. The film is actually quite reserved action-wise, which is a good thing. Director McTeigue and the Wachowskis have crafted a movie that doesn’t just throw action at you, but ideas. This actually has me excited about what the Brothers Wachowski have next up their sleeve, instead of just dreading more Matrix rehash.
Ok, so next week, no DC and no Superheroes. I’m probably as burned out on them as you are. Though I’m probably still going to see Superman Returns a couple of more times. Somebody’s got to.

Picture Credits: monstersandcritics.com, amazon.com

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