Happy Guy Fawkes Day with a Vendetta

v8Guy Fawkes is the last honest man to enter parliament.  He intended to blow it up, so was arrested and put to death.  He is a symbol for violent protest and anarchy in the movie V for Vendetta (2006), perhaps the most formulaic mystery thriller of all time.  

Most of Alan Moore’s work is unfilmable or close to it.  It is only through a miracle that we even get a glimpse into the great themes and story of Watchmen (1986).  Much of the V for Vendetta novel has that same manic tone, with pages and pages filled with metaphoric images and chaotic storytelling.  After Watchmen, sullen postmodern superhero storytelling became a genre.  V for Vendetta has those same motifs, but not as many.

v4Alan Moore criticized the film, as he has every film about his work, including Watchmen.  Alan Moore has gone on record and said that the story is about fascism and anarchy, not freedom fighters and superheroes.  However, the movie’s fascist themes clearly come straight from Alan Moore and there’s no denying that.  We can see that V’s England is a totalitarian state-run by a dictator, but V thinks that instead of the people being afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people.  This is right from the novel.  However, the novel is deeper, and more immersive.

Hugo Weaving plays V with the same bravado and swagger as Agent Smith in the Matrix.  His voice has the same tempo and the same biting inflection, which is not his fault, but he plays both parts similarly.

v6The other characters are a mixed bag, except Natalie Portman, who tries her best to give some meaning to her role.  She tries to take her character on a quest in which she is changed, and she does a good job in this transformation.  The other characters are crap and stupid.  The police are not the same evil fascist bastards from the novel.  Here, they’re the guys from CSI.  They’re the good guys.  That implies that the state is not all bad, but of course, that’s not the case in the novel.  The crimes of the police and most of the corruption is gone, replaced with shades of grey or good guys insulted by an over-the-top talking head who is the head of state.

v3The talking head is played by Adam Sutler, barking orders.  Yap yap yap.  You’re a jerk.  You idiot, you better get to work.  All he does is yell and carry on like a supervillain.  There’s no time to really get to know him and that’s a shame.  He’s just a talking head, a stand in for fascism.  When V is rebelling against fascism and creating anarchy, we don’t need a stand in, we need the real thing.  We needed to see some real fascism.  None is shown.  The CSI take up most of the running time instead, which is the movie playing it safe.

v2The humanization of the characters in the novel made the themes and the resulting violence more two-dimensional and more meaning-driven.  Alan Moore constructed each of his works with a purpose and each time they’ve been put to film, nobody has been able to deliver on any of the true themes behind the words.  I mean, there’s something of it in there, but I guess I’d rather read the real thing than get just something of the story.  Before V for Vendetta, Alan Moore had a failed relationship with Hollywood and ended up wanting nothing to do with this film either.

v7Since nobody wants to read my ramblings, I will say that the film is well-made.  The structure is pretty tight and the pace is good, despite being generic.  It is rated R for some reason, while we get even more violence and language in other films.  I’m not sure I get this sliding ratings scale, except that it seems to be changing with society.

The special effects are shoddy and bring down a lot of scenes.  Early on, Evie and V on the roof is a horrible shot against a green screen. The fake appearance of the film detracts from the themes even more, which are grounded in reality.  

One of the better scenes is right after Evie leaves the fake-prison and confronts V, where they discuss truth and lies.  It is arguably makes up for the earlier crap on a stick.

Because the script doesn’t include any fascism, the movie has to slip in a little bit about a virus and some evil politics.  It is a little bit ham-fisted and silly.  Still, it works as a plot device I guess, since they didn’t show any crime or fascism.  Hugo Weaving gets to monologue on these evils, but I still saw Agent Smith the whole time.

Ironically, V for Vendetta is an average superhero film.  The destruction of parliament is a great effect.  Most of the themes from the novel try to pull this movie to respectability, but it trudges across the finish line, resisting with generics and stupid plot devices. If anything, the movie reminds us who Guy Fawkes was, and I have read that it is not uncommon for British protestors to now use the Fawkes mask to flavor their protest.  V for Vendetta tries to bring a story about anarchy to the screen, a story about a fascist government and a horrible people, but I think it does succeed in reminding us that V is one of the greatest characters ever created, regardless of the success of the film.