Monday, March 20, 2006

The Anarchist's Comic Book.

V For Vendetta
2005, USA
James McTeigue
35mm

This movie makes me want to blow up buildings. Well, more accurately, it makes me want to blow up more buildings. Generally, I prefer to stick to abortion clinics and churches in Alabama, using one to mask the motives of the other, but Alan Moore’s comic book and the subsequent film have aroused a more militant streak in me. Now, because I'm an impressionable idiot, I’m going to use my internet-learned bomb-making skills to blow up government buildings that oppress me, like the Post Office and the Sex Offender Registry, then blame it on this movie.

I bet you a ton of fertilizer and a detonator will get me off that list.

V For Vendetta is an adaptation of a comic book, or ‘graphic novel’ if you’re looking to get beat up and stuffed into a locker. As usual with comic adaptations, there’s plenty in this film to make purists retract their testicles deep into the abdominal cavity as they clench and shriek about Wolverine’ height and Peter Parker’s organic web-shooters. But ultimately, V For Vendetta succeeds because it preserves the original spirit of the comic book. In fact, many of the myriad changes and alterations made from the source material serve to enhance the militant, revolutionary social message of the comic, while dumbing everything down to the level that even if you sneak into the theatre after a Deuce Bigalow: European Gigelow screening, you’ll still get fired up enough to knock over a mailbox on your way to the Irish pub.

That's not even disturbingly unfunny. It just lies there, like a dead transient that no one wants to notice.

V For Vendetta is directed by James McTeigue, the second unit director from The Matrix trilogy, so already it’s in for an uphill battle. McTiegue approaches the material in a workman-like fashion, displaying flair only in the action scenes and giving the rest of the movie the same attention one would lavish on an industrial film about meat carving. The screenplay was written by the Wachowski Brothers, who stripped much of the poetry and beauty from Alan Moore’s original story in favor of a lean slice of pulp fiction. This is not necessary a bad thing, since many of Moore’s fascinating ideas were half-baked or, if you’re re-assigning the idiom to a drug reference, quite fully baked. While these changes do little to elevate the movie to the status of high art, it does make it tighter, and the message more direct. Ultimately, the film and the comic examine the relationship between fear and control, and the fine line between terrorist and freedom fighter. But while the comic was written in the 1980s as a critique of the British conservative party, the film has been updated to function essentially as a direct attack on the Bush administration, using the smokescreen of science fiction to advance concerns about the abuse of power, comment on the seductive power of fascism, and dribble saliva over frothy 9/11 conspiracy theories.

V For Vendetta features uncredited script re-writes by Michael Moore.

Starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, the film tells the story of the titular V, a masked terrorist in a futuristic England who attacks the government in an attempt to both gain revenge and awake a sleeping populace grown complacent with the comfort and security of fascism. V struggles with sanity and his conscience, Portman struggles with her accent, and everyone in the film struggles to be as good as Stephen Rea, an Irish actor so used to putting in excellent performances in Neil Jordan movies he forgets how to ham it up in superhero fare, consequently making everyone else look bad. The film, also, is making critics look bad, forcing many of them ask embarrassingly stupid questions about whether the film advocates or condemns terrorism, whether it’s a parable or fantasy, and how many times one can use the word ‘dystopian’ in one review. The answers, if you’ve paid attention to the film, are 1) it’s trying to show both sides of the issue, 2) it’s both, idiot, and 3) I don’t know, but if I read than in one more review that tries to break the record, I’m sending a letter bomb. Once I’m done with the abortion clinic.

17 Comments:

Blogger Sam Kahn said...

I went to see this a couple days ago. I felt ambivalent about the film, although I enjoyed it. It'd been a very long time since I last read the graphic novel, so I couldn't really remember the differences. Thanks for discussing them in the review so clearly.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Actually, one of the ways in which I think the film improved over the comic is that Moore and Lloyd made fascist England too hellish, whereas McTiegue presents as clear, orderly, and fairly safe (unless of course you're speaking out against the government). The latter decision is more believable. If the populace were forced to live in hellish squalor under oppression, they would probably revolt on their own. The allure of the police state is that it makes it safe, secure and comfortable for the majority as loon as they're complacent. They can tolerate awful things happening to other people as long as it's not happening to them.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Excellent point.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

I'm not sure. I came away with the sense that it did, in fact, advocate terrorism. I mean, it quite clearly painted V as heroic, and the final scenes suggested that what he was doing was noble and good. Obviously, it comes down to whether or not you think the "terrorist or freedom fighter" thing has any merit.

I think that as an action flick it did alright (although it was definitely 20-30 minutes too long) but as a political allegory it was shallow and simplistic, and quite obviously so. I don't see how anyone could take this as a serious critique of the Bush administration. The only people who could identify with that idea are a certain breed of leftists who see this themselves as rebels against BushCo and its impending fascism, and so on. This film must be like a wet dream for some. I mean, revolution does have a romantic, sexy quality to it.

1:39 AM  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

I wish they'd do a sequel to The Shadow with better actors.

OH, The Spider....that shit would be cool.

If only I ran a studio..

1:53 PM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Nate - I do agree that, within the film, the terrorist is the hero, and therefore the film is advocating his actions. But I think that if you look at the film in the context it was released, in regards to the political climate and the tone of American cinema at the time period, you'll agree that it was probably the intent of the filmmakers to provoke discussion about the terrorist/freedom fighter dichotomy. Essentially, it's providing the other side to a story that's often told in American media.

In regards to your second point, I disagree more strongly. I don't think there's any doubt this film is meant to refer to the US gov't. Of course, it is a sci-fi action film, so it's not like we're meant to take everything literally. I don't think the movie is seriously suggesting that the Republicans orchestrated 9/11, but it is drawing attention to issues such as the government's use of fear to control it's population, and as an excuse to bring about restrictions to civil rights and personal liberties. Again, it's not literal, but there are enough references to the Patriot Act and certain other parallels that allow the movie to function as an allegory, and a timely one at that. It's not advocating revolution, nor is it a particularly intelligent movie, but I think the questions V For Vendetta asks are worthy ones.

Jerk - Yes. They should also make a Phantom movie. Oh wait, they did. Scratch that. They should never do that again.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Ash - I'm not denying that it is a critique of the Bush administration, (Hugo Weaving as said as much himself), I just don't see how anyone can take it seriously as such. Does it raise some relevant concerns? I think so, specifically civil liberties restrictions and torture, both of which are already in the public debate, so the film doesn't really bring anything new, here. But I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of a government arresting someone for having a Koran, when in fact nothing of the sort is even close to happening, considering the British government trying to pass laws forbidding criticism of Islam, and President Bush constantly referring to Islam as a religion of peace. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think the film misses the forest for the trees. There are exact replicas of the government envisioned in the film already in Iran and North Korea, but Hollywood doesn't really care about that kind of stuff. They'd rather extrapolate a couple of legitimate gripes against our government into a fantastical, hyperbolic vision of the near-future, where the heroes are anti-Christian, Cat Power fans with super sweet knife-fighting skills. Yawn. And oh, it's cool to be a terrorist, as long as you don't kill any innocent people. WTF?

I thought Syriana and Munich were a little overrated, but I'd easily take them over V for Vendetta as far as contemporary political critique. But like you said, this film isn't really that intelligent.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Sure, I agree that the film is an exaggeration, but the mere fact that it has something to say puts it head and shoulders above most sci-fi / action crap or whatever, whether or not you agree with what it's saying. And I think that the point of the film's fanciful exagerration is the same thing that distinguishes it from both Syriana and Munich, which is that it's saying that the path the US is on is a very slippery slope. That's the whole idea behind speculative fiction, is to expand the concerns of today in a hyperbolic progression to make a point. That said, it is just a stupid action movie, but the presentation of the idea doesn't devalue the idea itself.

5:45 PM  
Blogger jim pinto said...

Am I the only person who loved this film? I mean the graphic novel is fantastic (having read it 20+ times), but the movie did a good job of using only the important bits from the comic.

And of course scaring me into thinking I was watching Matrix 2 when V first shows up to soliliqize (is that a word?).

And of course the movie is pro-terrorism. V's a guerrila fighter, killing the oppressive Roman regime that has been duplicated in every nation that's ever had terrorists.

Okay. That stopped being funny.

Well not so much stopped as staled, failed to start, died on the road, and was abandoned for a better car with a sexy driver in jeans or hot pants ... yeah hot pants... before we headed to mexico with all of ash's money and a box of cigars with the soundtrack to v for vendetta jaming in the blueberry-colored ipod.

Yeah.

Still not funny.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

What money? I barely make enough to eat once a day. And I did like the movie! Why does everyone assume I hate everything I see! I just hate most of what I see.

4:47 PM  
Blogger jim pinto said...

Ash: "An examination, exploration, and celebration of what drives society to create things like Rocky and expect us to watch them. God, I hate movies. And now you will too."

I don't know where I get that idea. Nope. Can't piece it together.

7:11 PM  
Blogger batturtle said...

Wolverine IS too tall & Spider-man's organic web-shooter's ARE lame.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Do you want me to start in on Batman? Do you?

7:37 PM  
Blogger batturtle said...

As long as no harsh words are said about Michael Keaton.
Batman Begins on the other hand...

1:10 AM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

...must be destroyed.

5:37 PM  
Blogger batturtle said...

OK...it took me a lil' while, but I think that I've destroyed it. While I was at it I took 'Batman & Robin' & 'Batman Forever' out of the time space continuum as well.
You can thank me with money, comic books & candy.

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got all those things...in my van. Climb aboard. Plus I'll rape you.

8:42 AM  

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