V Is For Vendetta hits theaters in March. It stars Natalie Portman (a first ballot inductee into the Chicks That Look Totally Awesome With Shaved Heads Hall of Fame) and
Agent Smith Elrond Hugo Weaving. It’s derived from a groundbreaking comic book series by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. It’s adapted for the screen and produced by Larry and Andy Wachowski, the brothers that delivered The Matrix trilogy.
So why, for the love of Zeus, am I less than excited?
Was it The Pushback? Vendetta was slated to come out last year but got “pushed back.” When a movie does this it always claims a reason other than the desperation of “because the movie’s kinda stinko.” So this doesn’t bode well, especially with a movie destined to release in November in order to keep with the spirit of the comic book series. The early-on, ripped-from-the-headlines teaser tagline: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November?” How does one actually buck destiny and expect to get away with it?
Movie Magic 8-Ball Reviews are aggressively subjective and presumptuous since I am reviewing movies I haven’t yet seen. But this one shimmies further out on the critical limb for three reasons: 1) I’ve not
read finished the graphic novel on which the movie is based; 2) I’ve only seen a fairly blah (but potentially telling) trailer; and 3) this review relies heavily on another person’s intel — someone who saw two screenings of the film recently in Manhattan.
The first night’s screening was below-the-line (reviewers, guests of the below-the-line, secondary or tertiary connections) while the next night’s was the Talent (Natalie Portman, producer Joel Silver, lots of bling, lots of fame, and only a few head-scratching hangers-on). After each screening my friend reported fresh first impressions (or post-mortems, depending on POV), actually able to see the movie twice in two days. Here they are in bulletpoints:
• Natalie’s accent = not good. Tried for UK East End. Failed. Inconsistent and distracting.
• At over two hours, it felt waaaaay too long.
• Too many words: I’m told the comic book is very, very mouthy and very, very wordy in keeping on message. That may work better for a story told in serial form with many installments. But in the claustrophic time and space that is a 2-hour movie? — not as much. A graphic novel adaptation that is too novel and not graphic enough will fade down the stretch. Lots and lots of expository ‘splaining to do = lots of squeaky seats in the theater.
• For a movie that’s depicting a futuristic fascist police state, the look’s not quite Orwellian enough. Lacking in that old-timey Big Brother oppression (or even Triumph of the Will namechecking) that a movie like this should be bleeding from the edges of the frames is problematic.
• It’s definitely NOT Matrix-esque; you don’t get the idea it’s ripping off the style or theme or success of
the trilogy the first Matrix movie. Even though the Wachowski’s producing/writing/visionary mitts are all over it. And in a related note:
• The last ten minutes of the movie plays out, looks, and feels like a totally different movie — a great one, the one that the previous hour and fifty minutes wasn’t. More visceral, emotional, action-packed, thrilling, tasty. It’s like someone completely different is directing the last ten minutes. I wonder who? Let the conspiracy theories begin: The Wachowskis secretly directed it.
• It’s extremely first-time director-y. In a fair-to-middling and not an “I’m Orson Welles, and this is Citizen Kane” sort of way. James McTeigue, the newbie director, was a First Assistant Director on the Matrix movies.
Note: A first AD is NOT a director. They have nothing to do with directing the picture. They are logistical taskmasters. They set and control the shooting schedule, herd cast and crew each day into completing the day’s work, and yell “Action” and “Cut.” Actually, in general, they yell, at everything, all the time. Think of them as stressed-out drill sergeants with anger management issues, megaphones, and MovieMagic Scheduling Software on their laptops.
The movie visually and creatively comes off as a first-time job. Given budget, stars, and SFX, this movie is a huge bite to take and is probably much more than McTeigue can chew. There may be a reliance to fall back on his area of expertise, which is to Get The Bleeping Film Shot And In The Can, and not worry about dutch angles, moving the camera, or the geography of an action sequence. In short, a movie with no soul.
If his trailer is better than his movie, he’s in trouble. He also has to contend with this damning lose/lose scenario (especially with the jarring difference in style and tone and pace in the movie’s final reel):
A) If the movie sucks, it’s all his fault.
B) If the movie’s brilliant it’s because the Wachowskis unofficially directed it, by proxy.
Vendetta may be a tough sell — it’s a comic book adaptation but will its niche be too small for the X-Men/Spidey/Superman fandoms? Will its “wink wink” social commentary on current events be seductive enough for non-comix fans to drag themselves to the theater? Will it be warm and fuzzy enough for Natalie’s suitors?
If the movie is mediocre… if it shrugs with a quiet “meh,” then none of this matters.
Magic Movie 8-Ball says about V Is For Vendetta: My Sources Say “No.”