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Friday, February 8, 2013

London Calling: V For Vendetta

FORGOTTEN

With the Oscar season here and the summer movie season fast approaching, I wanted to talk about a film I think fits into both.  Now comic book films are usually shrugged off as just popcorn fluff.  Most times, they are.  To this day, however, there hasn’t been a comic book film that has challenged me intellectually more than V For Vendetta.  It is one of the most intelligently made, beautifully shot, well performed films of the genre.  But sadly for some reason, it is FORGOTTEN.

V For Vendetta plot revolves around a knife wielding masked terrorist/freedom fighter trying to take down an oppressive British government in the not too distant future.  I put terrorist/freedom fighter because the film blurs the line between the two.  It makes you question the difference and presents the perspective of people on either side of the chaos.  Some would argue that the character of V is clearly the hero and the government is bad.  However, when you really get into the specifics of V’s acts, it is hard to paint him as a true blue hero.  Even an antihero for that matter.  Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.  V is out for vengeance, admittedly so.  He kills in cold blood.  He kills innocents.  He kidnaps.  He tortures.  He does whatever it takes to accomplish his goals.  You might say the ends justify his means, but his acts seen through a different spectrum can easily be construed as terror.  That is why I love this film.  It can be dissected and analyzed even to this day.  The Avengers is my favorite comic book movie of all time, however, V For Vendetta is much meatier when it comes to substance.

Comic book legend Alan Moore is famous for angrily dismissing and disavowing any adaptations of his work.  This is thanks primarily to the abysmal League Of Extraordinary Gentleman.  I wish he’d take a slightly lighter stance on this though.  It might be easy for me to say but, films aren’t bad solely because the filmmakers take liberties with the source material.  I detest Michael Bay’s Transformer films and Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man not just because they changed things.  I detest them because they are poorly written, horribly performed, lowest common denominator catering tripe.  Their changes weren’t done to add anything new or stimulating to the material.  They were made for convenience sake.  The same cannot be said for V For Vendetta.  Yes, V is a warmer character in the film than he was in the comic book.  However, I think that makes him even more complicated when compared to the coldness of his methods.  Yes, the fascist vs. anarchist theme was more liberal vs. neo-conservatism.  However, that is a lot timelier for today’s political atmosphere and still has the nod to the fascist's ideas of purity from the comic book.  My point being that the alterations made in V For Vendetta do not weaken it as a story.  It merely updates it. 

The Wachowskis, the source material meddlers in this case, exist in a weird place for me as a film fan.  I was highly disappointed with their conclusion of The Matrix trilogy, but still respect the fact they always take crazy chances.  They entrusted the directing duties to long time collaborator James McTeigue, while staying on to write and produce.  However, their fingerprints are still all over this picture.  Finding and concentrating on the heart of their cinematic worlds is a common Wachowski m.o..  Where a film like V For Vendetta could have just fallen into the basic action vehicle cliché, the Wachowskis don’t let it.  There are genuinely moving moments in the film that still stun me.  The action scenes are terrific, but always serve as a tool to tell the story.  Not the other way around.

Before The Dark Knight came along, V For Vendetta was my choice for best ensemble cast performance in a comic book film.  Strange category, I know.  However, it is always a relief and a thrill for me when I see great talent trying to do great work in a genre film such as a comic book movie.  It thrilled me in History Of Violence, it thrilled me in The Dark Knight, and it thrilled me in V For Vendetta.  It is still a common misconception that the genre should be treated the way Schumacher treated Batman.  But there can be some amazing work turned in with the cape and cowl subset.  For example, this is by far my favorite performance by Hugo Weaving.  Yes, even more than his iconic Agent Smith.  Odd, seeing as we never see his face and that he was a last second replacement for James Purefoy.  Despite his Oscar, I’d put Weaving’s V right up there with Ledger’s Joker.  To accomplish the subtleties of V’s rage, anguish, humor and theatricality through an emotionless mask with only a voice is no small feat.  Portman, who I’ve loved since Leon: The Professional, seems to be playing a stereotypical damsel at first.  Much like she did in Thor.  However, Evey has the strongest arc in the film.  Her performance highpoint happens during the film's big twist.  Her emotional journey during the four minute long scene hints at the Oscar caliber performance she had in her in the years to come.  Other than the leads, you have stellar supporting performances from John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Roger Allam, and the unsung anchor of the film, Stephen Rea.  There is absolutely no phoning it in here.

V For Vendetta doesn't get nearly as much love as it should.  Even from it's creator.  It seems to get misplaced amongst it's lesser comic book movie brethren   For me, however, it is a film that shall never be FORGOT.  Remember, remember...to watch it....then tell me I'm wrong.  

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