One of the most unexpectedly pleasant movie surprises I've had this year was the Wachowski Brothers’ brilliant screen adaptation of the DC Comics graphic novel, V For Vendetta.
It's not often you find yourself somewhat moved by something advertised as a Hollywood popcorn action movie, but V For Vendetta had that exact effect on me. After seeing the movie (twice), I bought the graphic novel and devoured it in about a day.
You see, even if it has been somewhat cleverly dressed up as a Hollywood popcorn movie, V For Vendetta is clearly a movie with a point to make. It's a story that has been told numerous times before (though not nearly enough lately given the times we live in) of the people rising up against an oppressive government. The closest comparison you would find in literature would be something like George Orwell's 1984.
The paradox of V For Vendetta lies in it's hero and central character, the mysterious (and sympathetic) masked terrorist known only as "V," expertly played beneath the mask by Hugo Weaving.
V is something of a cross between the masked serial killers of slasher fare, like Friday the 13th and Halloween, and the avenging angels of Reagan-era action movies like RoboCop and The Terminator. But in between blowing up government buildings to symphonic soundtracks and slicing and dicing his enemies with his ever so trusty knives, V is also something of a renaissance man.
He quotes Shakespeare, lives in a crypt like underground "Shadow Gallery" filled with priceless artifacts banned by the government, and dances alone to the torchy slow jazz songs on his own personal jukebox.
But "V" is no angel.
Make no mistake about it. "V" is a terrorist who has a vendetta with an agenda, which is what makes this such a fascinating film. You see, "V" is a sympathetic terrorist. Remember that scene in the movie "Independence Day" when the aliens blew up the White House? That scene actually had movie audiences cheering in the theatres. When V blows up the British Parliament, you likewise actually find yourself cheering him on, which is no small accomplishment given the post 9/11 era in which we live.
In a not too distant future, America has been destroyed by civil war and England is ruled by the iron fist of High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt, who ironically played Winston Smith in the film adaptation of Orwell's 1984), with the aid of jackbooted goons called "The Fingermen," headed up by a very nasty guy named Creedy.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that the rise to power of Sutler, Creedy, and company comes through the exploitation of fear created by a national crisis that, as it turns out, they manufactured themselves. This may all sound quite familiar if you follow the various conspiracy theories floating about on the Internet about 9/11.
Anyway, it turns out that "V" was rounded up with the rest of the minorities, homosexuals, and other undesirables and placed in an internment camp once the goons took over. In the internment camp, some very nasty medical experiments took place which V survived. And now, V is pissed.
After he rescues damsel in distress Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), an employee of the state run propaganda television network, from an attempted rape by a couple of the Fingermen goons, "V" takes her to the rooftops to watch him blow up a government building.
"Do you like music?" V asks Evey in one of this film's several great lines of dialogue as the 1812 Overture blares the soundtrack to the fireworks over loud speakers in the streets.
But V is just getting warmed up.
Turns out "V" has taken a cue from his spiritual mentor, 16th Century Catholic Guy Fawkes (whose mask he wears), and has decided to send a message to his oppressors by blowing up the British Parliament building on November 5th (the anniversary of Fawkes' original attempt to do the same). Leading up to that event, he slices and dices his way through an array of villains ranging from the fascist government's television propaganda mouthpiece to everyone's favorite pedophile Catholic priest.
Meanwhile, with the none too subtle assistance of "V" himself, Evey has her own spiritual and political epiphany and becomes his accomplice.
As I noted above, there are so many great lines of dialogue in this movie. I couldn't begin to note them all, but here are a few of my favorites:
"A revolution without dancing isn't one worth having."
"Beneath this mask lies an idea, and ideas are bulletproof."
And my personal favorite:
"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."
Though cleverly disguised as a popcorn action picture, V For Vendetta is a movie that makes you think. Even as it entertains you by blowing things up and slicing and dicing it's way through all the bad guys (loved the knife trails in the fight scenes), there is a definite statement being made:
The double disc DVD comes with some great extras, too. In addition to a short documentary on the making of the film, there are features on the new wave of comics focusing on the eighties and nineties rise of the graphic novels which spawned V For Vendetta, as well as a history piece on the Guy Fawkes backstory which inspired it.
V For Vendetta is a thinking man's action picture. I loved this movie in the theatres and I loved watching it at home. It comes to your nearest video store August 1.