Release: March 17, 2006
Distributed by: Warner Bros
Directed by: James McTeigue
Written by:Andy and Larry Wachowski

"Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. There is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof."

Famed graphic novel author Alan Moore takes a dim view of film adaptations of his works. There have been several attempts to film his epic Watchmen, all of which failed in the early planning stages. The two projects seen through to completion have resulted in a good but not remarkable horror/mystery flick that's more impressive for being a product of the same minds that were behind Menace II Society than for anything it actually contains, and a spectacular train wreck that did a fine job of squandering the tremendous talent poured into it. For the third try, Hollywood (here personified by Andy and Larry Wachowski of Matrix fame) chose one of Moore's earlier works, a story of terrorism and revolution in a fascist near-future England that bears an increasingly accurate and increasingly depressing resemblance to the modern-day United States. Moore had his name removed from the result, perhaps still smarting from the travesty that LXG turned into, but apparently the third time truly is the charm because not only is V for Vendetta a great comic book movie, it's a great movie, period.

As readers of the comic and the other writeups in this node know, V for Vendetta takes place in the near future- when the comic was written this was the late 90s; the movie gives itself some breathing room by pushing the setting back to 2025 or so. The United Kingdom, recovering from a national disaster (nuclear fallout in the comic, a plague in the movie) has fallen under the influence of a fascist regime, led by a man named Adam Suttler (renamed from Adam Susan, a name which is far more workable printed than spoken), who is portrayed with intensity and maybe a little flying spittle by John Hurt. Phone and video-camera surveillance is omnipresent, undesirable populations of homosexuals, Muslims, and so on have long since been herded into concentration camps or forced underground, and what remains of the BBC broadcasts only whitewashed and harmless news, white supremacy propaganda, and announcements that rations must be regrettably curtailed. We are rapidly introduced to the two protagonists- Evey Hammond, a young woman caught outside after curfew by a vice squad (the book's assertion that she was starting her career as a prostitute has been deleted, and her age has been somewhat increased), and the masked man known only as V, who dispatches the police with ease, dazzles Evey with an alliterative monologue, and treats her to a rooftop view of his destruction of the Old Bailey, the subsequent fireworks show, and the beginning of his one-man crusade against the powers that be.

James McTeigue was an assistant director on the Matrix trilogy, and it shows, particularly in the climactic "knife time" fight of which glimpses can be caught in the film's trailer. He's given a good script to flex the rest of his directorial muscle on, written by the Wachowskis and generally doing a decent job of preserving the feel of the original. With so much material to cover in its two hours and twelve minutes, the plot moves at a good clip relative to the comic. Evey's time apart from V midway through the story is shortened, the power struggles of Suttler's underlings are largely missing, and a major subplot has been added as the impetus behind some important decisions for Finch, the primary investigator following V's case. Some may feel this subplot is misguided but it serves its purpose. That isn't the only change that may offend purists and dedicated fans, either, but on its own merits the movie holds itself together well.

Geek favorite Natalie Portman is believable as a cowed and slightly naive Good Citizen whose self-applied blinders are forced off, sometimes brutally, by government agents and V's scheming, but Hugo Weaving's performance as a man who shows virtually no bare skin, and never his face, throughout the entire movie, is quite a sight to behold. He expresses through hand gestures, the tilt of his head, and his unique voice a complete character with emotions and humanity. That humanity- moments of weakness and indecision, displays of emotion, or moments of being less than absolutely driven- is a significant departure from the comic's V, who was practically a force of nature. This is an unavoidable change, as that sort of character can be pulled off far better in a printed medium than a moving, living one. The more important aspects of V's character, especially those that support the quote beginning this writeup, are all intact- the source material is not simply warped into an excuse for kung fu and Batmanesque skullduggery, but spends the time and effort needed to stay true to its original intent. At times this makes it rather wordy for an action movie; many of the speeches V delivers are greatly cut down from their printed versions, which couldn't possibly have been recited verbatim while keeping the movie a reasonable length or the audience's interest, but there are still uncomfortably long stretches consisting only of reaction shots of characters watching V deliver his message over the airwaves.

That message will be perceived rather differently today than when Moore first wrote it, as it essentially argues that terrorism can succeed and lead to social change for the better. On top of that subversion, the film features a great deal of direct anti-government violence, including the explosive destruction of several London landmarks. The film was supposed to be released on November 5th, a date it frequently references, but was pushed back several months after a series of subway bombings struck real-world London. It may be going too far to say that V for Vendetta is a deliberately political film, but perhaps with American politics being the morass of enforced polarization they are today, the film can't help taking a stronger stand than it intended- it comes off at times as Good Night and Good Luck's toned-down, mainstreamized brother (although one must admit the McCarthy era would have been a lot more interesting if Murrow and Friendly had abandoned televised character assassination and taken to stalking the concrete jungle with Guy Fawkes masks and throwing knives).

V for Vendetta succeeds at what it sets out to do, and then some- while too slow and dramatic to be properly called an action movie, it's good thinking entertainment, true to its source in all the right ways, and just might leave an impression in its audience's minds that lasts beyond the walk out of the theater, which is more than can be said for a lot of films these days. It easily stands with the best comic adaptations, and might just be the first great movie of 2006.

"What was done to me was monstrous. "
"Then they created a monster. "