“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”
1984 is one of my favorite novels, but I have to admit: in movie form, V for Vendetta does 1984 better than 1984. Directed by James McTeigue (The Raven, assisted on The Matrix) and starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, this is a highly political action-thriller based on a comic book written by the legendary Alan Moore. There are a few well-choreographed fight sequences and some good tension throughout, but what this film does best is talk about political ideas in a very down-to-earth manner. This was topical when it came out in 2005, but it’s become even more relevant in light of recent political events. (Fun fact: Trump supporters are leaving negative reviews on this movie every place they can, calling it liberal propaganda. That’s relevance!) It is a comic book film, so, although it’s more mature than most comic book films, it does have some larger-than-life characters and moments. That doesn’t hurt the point the film is making. In fact, it actually helps make the open discussion of these big ideas seem more real.
The film is set in the near-future in Great Britain, in a dystopian state where the government has complete control over everything and has persecuted Muslims, homosexuals, and anyone else that doesn’t fit their white Christian narrative. Evey, a young woman struggling to keep her independence as the government comes down hard on free-thinkers, bumps into V, an enigmatic freedom fighter who plans to blow up parliament one year from the day the movie begins. Evey becomes tangled up in V’s plan and the government goes after her just as quickly as it does him, and she ends up learning a lot from him. But can one man really stand against a tyrannical government?
People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people!
This is a political film that’s intentionally a bit over-the-top to make its point. Like 1984, this is a cautionary tale, but it goes beyond that and also shows us people armed with ideas can stand against a tyrannical government even in the face of overwhelming odds. Though set in Great Britain, the script was updated a bit from its source material (the comic) to be a little more palatable to American audiences who love freedom. In the comic, V was really more of a terrorist than a freedom fighter, seeking to create chaos rather than liberate people. This may have simplified V’s character, but it certainly makes him easier to admire. The film doesn’t shy away from likening revolutions today (or in the near future) to the revolutions in the past that established the governments we love today, and it shows the power people have over their government. In this, it becomes inspirational to viewers who are unhappy with their governments but feel powerless to stop them. I doubt anyone would watch this and try to blow up a capitol building, but it could very well inspire some more realistic protest.
The film itself is admittedly stuck in a weird spot between action-thriller and political drama. The politics end up taking center stage, which put off some casual comic book movie critics who were just looking for things to blow up and people to get stabbed. But a few story changes for the film introduced some plot holes that political drama enthusiasts may notice, and the few fight sequences definitely seem more comic-book than realistic. The good thing about this, though, is that there aren’t really any other films that successfully blend both of these seamlessly together. Watchmen tried, but went all in on the action sequences and lost some of the finer points of the social commentary. V for Vendetta strikes this balance extremely well and makes its point without losing any of its edginess and novelty.
If you enjoy comic book films, dark stories, and politics, you’ll probably love V for Vendetta. The Venn diagram of all those three things does leave a good number of viewers—and critics—out of the target audience; but for those who themselves in the middle, there’s really nothing else like this film.
Director: James McTeigue
Genres: action, drama, thriller