Written on the back of my Polaroid, do not write "Do Not Believe His Lies". Yes, I did see V for Vendetta and I thought it would be worth while for me to give my opinions. One thing to consider is what I think of the source. I'm a fan of the work. I'm familiar with Alan Moore. I'm a fan of his. But to kind of balance back more on the pendullum, accept that I do realize the balance of making a movie from a different medium. And I like a good deal of movies like that. I take distinct pleasure in the more recent adaptations of Bret Easton Ellis' work. The Godfather movies are better than their source. Goodfellas outperforms Wiseguys. Nick Hornby (discounting that Jimmy Fallon mistake... the one other than his mom not stabbing him with a coathanger before the third trimester). The list goes on. I like a shitload of film adaptations. I like them hand-in-hand with their sources-
but when I said that "all the movie adaptations of [Alan Moore] work range from 'mediocre' to 'unbelievably incompetent'", it still stands up after seeing V4V. Though it reached heights beyond the faithful but plodding From Hell, V4V still couldn't achieve more than disposable entertainment. I've read them all: Ebert, the Onion AV Club, The Guardian UK. I talked to my boy Andy in Alabama. But I still couldn't shake the feelings I had after seeing it. So, bulleted list style:
- The directing was shockingly average. Nonexistent. Now this doesn't need to be an issue. In a usual movie it would have just brought nothing to the table without taking anything away. Sure, that it kind of kills the drama when Natalie Portman is shot at midrange with a flat camera straight on. But considering the fact that V is always seen in a mask, it isn't useful to spend a 40 second shot in close-up. That is a landscape shot without the benefits of panorama or space to make it interesting. It is just awkward and dull. In a comic this matters less (as it is static by nature) but even the graphic novel had an interesting flair. It was dramatic with angles and shadows everywhere. If V4V had been shot that way (like the Ws' Bound was) it might have helped. When V first appeared it felt like they were on a film set. It didn't evoke the terror of his presence. Instead it looked like a townie lost on his way to a frat Halloween party. If they would have shot Batman this way people would've gone ballistic.
- Shouldn't a dystopian future feel more... dystopian? Shouldn't the people be... disillusioned? Afraid? Why did it feel instead like Britain hadn't been taken over by a fascist regime but more that Britons now just sat around bored and content in their pubs and homes? There was no dread here. McTeigue *tried* during the first attack on Evey but soon gave up. London just looked constantly cloudy with empty streets. A "case of the Mondays" The attempt to recreate the clear room feel of The Matrix left just a sense the post-Bomb (sorry, post-"Virus") London was really tidy. No one felt particularly afraid. They just seemed more interested in watching 24.
- Evey is no longer a match stick factory worker who tries to prostitute herself out of desperation but is now a fancy-pants Peter Parker-esque reporter with a cute little studio. Why change this? This might have given a sense of dog-eat-dog the material really needed and it wouldn't have cost anything. The change just made me think that someone was afraid that no one would like a wannabe whore for a protagonist... or they didn't like the character that way. I think I'm starting to smell something...
- Two big things are changed from the graphic novel and neither for a good reason. The original V4V was placed in a non-Thatcher 80's UK that dismantled US nuclear bases and thus survived WWIII. The movie then, in an attempt at "plausibility", sets the Doomsday 40 years after that (2020) and has it revolve around a very plot-complicated World Destroying Virus. I can accept updating material (and atomic annihilation isn't worrying most people) and I was actually OK with this until the movie decided to spend 10 minutes trying to explain their overengineered St Mary's and Three Lakes conspiracy. To add insult to the injury they did it in a very heavyhanded exposition by V (pretending to be someone else meeting with the police for background information at a memorial... huh?). There is no fucking reason for that scene. The nuclear war in the graphic novel was a second thought. It was only a means for the fascist party to take over.
But by making the fascists not only benefit from the catastrophy (now a virus) but be the cause of the end of the world order we can now successfully blame them for EVERYTHING.
And that is kindergarten bullshit. It is moral absolutism at its worse. Cheap and gimmicky. One of the reasons why the Real World is so *hard* is that evil isn't so plainly defined. Good intentions and judgement are often wrong while selfishness is rarely without good reason. By having the fascists in the original abuse or fall prey to the good intention of the public to feel safe and protected in a world gone mad, you have a fresh perspective to look at the world. The devil doesn't come in red with a pitchfork or with a big Hannibal Lector grin and a nice suit. Thinking so is sad and pathetic and the the way to tragedy.
- So now it makes sense that Rose isn't in this. Rose, who V sets out specifically on a suicide mission to kill the Leader would color our protagonist as something other than a Hero... and we couldn't do that! Since V was complicated and not some caped crusader in the novel, this actually provided insight into who he was (and is the axis of the theme). In the movie V is just a generic do-good superhero. The worst thing he does is kick Evey around for a bit.
- Of course this meant they had to come up with the stupid and convenient Big Fight at the end where Cready brings in the John Hurt and kills him. *duuuhhh* Maybe next time they can just have the bad guy stand up, say "It's time for me to write myself out of the movie so the hero can kiss the heroine" and throw himself out of the 40th story window of his lair onto a giant spike which is then eaten by a shark which is then blown up in a triumph of modern CG.
This scene was classic Hollywood Fix-Up. In the original Finch shoots V maybe five times and V just dies. Now V is lit up by 12 dudes and full clips and then slow-fu's his way through them (with some unintentionally hilarious slow-mo groans. Some mad Rygar shit right there). The Bro/Sis W probably thought that it was Better! More! It "Pops!" It was also like every other fight in every other action movie Joel Silver has made and didn't fit with the tone of the rest of the material. Let's see: incredibly intricate plot... and glamtastic battle of wills of Gun versus Knife. Who will win???? Like all thing Hollywood, it sucked the life right off the thing.
- Now was there something the movie did pretty well? Yes. The incarceration of Evey was well done. But then that was almost verbatim from the graphic novel... Valerie, Salt Flats, the one last inch, the rat, the chemical sheds, the head in the water... all straight from there.
- Natalie Portman... esh. Could we get her a voice coach? I'd even be happy if she sounded like Michael Caine or a chinless wonder. But her whispery non-accent didn't help. Evey should also have been dumb and happy then scared and then furious. Natalie was instead every other role she's played. And don't throw the looks card. If we wanted that we could've gotten Rachel Weisz in there who's four times the actress and has a much more banging bod. Curves and hips and WOW!
- From the point Evey gets let out of the prison the movie deviates. Completely. Off the reservation. And it comes to a halt like that pastiche of automobile and corpse thrown in front of locomotives. The "Army of V" thing was obvious and stupid. Very conveniently the cops stop looking for Evey as the plot has to frantically explain what the hell is going on.
- However, the ending was even able to make that flubbing look like groundbreaking cinema. That ending was sappier than a Barbara Hershey Just Ate It From Cancer Beaches Montage. What the fuck did the ending even mean? If it's all the dead people, that kind of implies that the still-living people didn't get off their asses for a fucking revolution. Instead Parliment blowing up was a Deus ex Machina that conveniently wrapped everything up in just over two hours.
Now compare that to the graphic novel which ends with Britain intentionally forced into rape and murderous chaos. True and absolute destruction. Not that fake brave Xbox Internet bluster bullshit. When white boy gangstas wheren't making wimp.com videos of their "gang fights" they'd pen a story like this. We win. They lose. Other than characters with names like "Young Girl With Glasses" there is no cost. Nothing is difficult. Just plain and simple. Fuck YEAAAHH!! Let's all congratulate each other as we wrap Dad's Beemer around a telephone pole!
- I do have to give some of the actors credit though. Elrond blew doors (again). Tim Pigott-Smith is so perfect at what he does (which is play nasally blue bloods and narrate Battlefields, the best WW2 battle documentary series. Check out that Bloody Sunday too). Stephen Rea also hit the perfect note for Finch. Too bad the material went Titanic around them.
- Nitpick #1: V isn't burnt up. He is called "disgusting" by Dr Surridge but that might also be due to the experiment: when the men in rooms 1 through 3 die in the comic each is described as having fingers growing out of their faces or some other abnormalities. That V is disgusting or ugly came before his escape (which, since he was only shown in silhouette and upright, you couldn't come to the conclusion he was all 3rd degree). Yeah, it's a nitpick. But then it also might be indicitive of the shallow reading the W Bros had of the source in the first place (and might explain their shitty rendering of the material).
- And I went back afterwards to doublecheck and there where none of the pointers to Valerie being dead when V blew up Larkhill. No X on her door. No "when she died, I made my escape". Again this probably had to be fixed up to not bloody V's hands (when they should have been).
- The addition of Dominic didn't help things either. For one they equated his homosexuality with W Brothers-style S&M club fetishism. For another his museum was so obvious it wasn't even funny. They already did this movie. It was called Aimee and Jaguar and Logan's Run. He was a simple foil to make the bad guys SO much more villainous. By giving Dominic a Koran they made him tolerant of fundies and darkies. By giving him "God Save the Queen" they made him tolerant of retards and millionaires who buy bad art (of course if he had Damien Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility Of Death In the Mind Of Someone Living" hanging up in there, that would've been totally rad). He statistically outbatted Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner for tolerance in a single movie.
- Really, Dominic should've been on some Anne Frank Hiding in the Attic shit. Instead he was just sitting around his house, reading his Koran and talking openly about how much he hated the fucking bastards. Shit, everyone seemed to be pretty open with their contempt of the regime. That isn't tolitarianism, that's Detroit. The Brits seemed about miffed at the government as if the garbage disposal didn't come last week. I think more people got pissed in Ballmer last week when gas prices went up 72%.
You can only give the "People shouldn't be afraid of their governments-" line if people are actually afraid. See, fascism works by putting you in fear of your own words. That puts you in doubt of your own actions. And finally that puts you in doubt of your own thoughts. It is thought-correction through fear of getting judged. Fascism is "I wouldn't love you any less if you married a black man. But I worry what everyone else would think. So I gotta stop you." It is discord in the Vox Populi. The world of V4V The Movie was lazy and stupid.
- And, jesus, I feel bad for the Brits if we think throwing in Benny Hill references is somehow funny. It was embarassing. Yeah, a gay guy with a fucking trove of Thought Crime in his basement is going to make a ridiculous spoof on public TV... like that wouldn't have gotten killed by a 7 second delay.
Wasn't there a time where we respected English Humor? Like from the Pythons to Izzard to Red Dwarf to Extras? Oh yeah... that time is right fucking now. If anything that should get the UK up in arms.
As I sat in the theater I thought back to what other movies I'd seen recently. Two weeks ago I saw Nightwatch, the Russian supernatural action drama. Then on Saturday I saw Thank You For Smoking. The latter was really enjoyable. It took an idea and just ran with it. It knew that it couldn't just recount the rise and fall of the Tabacco lobby so it did something ingenious: it made the tabacco lobbyists the good guys and turned the whole thing into a savage comedy. Shit, I might go see that motherfucker again. Nightwatch was just bad. The plot rambled, got all mixed up. It stole whole scenes from Jonathan Glaser videos (UNKLE "Rabbit in the Headlights") and had huge gaps in logic. But then I will probably see the next two in the trilogy.
Why? Because it had an exuberance of imagination. It reveled in what it was. It was Russian and so it thouroughly mined the collective unconscious of Slavic folklore and supersition. It wasn't great but it knew who it was.
V for Vendetta was the apex of adolescent roleplay. Like Larry Wachowski thinking that some amount of plastic surgery will turn him into a woman, they demand you play along with it's childish fantasy. But it is only pose, posture, and wet vapor. What is most surprising is that McTeigue or the others didn't see fit to just demolish the rest of the source... which in the end rescues the movie. The scenes that work are pristine from the clearcutting and strip mines that are now the hallmark of the Wachowskis careers. For those who haven't seen it, consider this: if you must go and spend 18 bucks on two tickets, you could just buy the trade paperback instead. It's once again in print (foiling Alan Moore for another year). Else you could see another movie with the movie career of Kwame Brown and God Shamgod. There's a song lyric that should go: "I fucked a thousand women/all torso, no head/lookin' just like you"