V for Vendetta is a political thriller dressed up in a cape, top hat and Guy Fawkes mask that is calling itself an action film. All of the tropes involved in a political thriller are here: Government coverup and conspiracies are both on display here. But since the film opens with a bang — a quick fight scene leading to an explosion — and because there are a couple of neat fight scenes that involve guns and swords, it’s allowed to call itself an action film.
The film opens when we meet our two lead characters. The first is Evey (Natalie Portman), who decides to go out for the night. This isn’t allowed in this dystopian city, as a curfew is in effect. She gets surrounded by members of the secret police, who try to rape her. They don’t get that chance. They’re interrupted by our other lead character, a masked man going solely by the letter “V” (Hugo Weaving). He saves her, and then delivers the most impressive dialogue in the entire film. Proving that he knows how to use a thesaurus, giving us a monologue that contains 40+ words that begin with the letter “V”. Unfortunately, this talent is never touched upon again, but it still serves as an incredibly effective introduction to this person.
Like I described the film, V is armed with a mask, cape and top hat, as well as knives, which he uses effectively. There’s a reason for this explained to us in slightly muddled flashbacks, but thank goodness that we’re given a reason for his actions. If we didn’t get this back-story, and learn about what happened to V, he’d come off as just another serial killer who is unhappy with his current situation. but we’re given justification, and while going around killing people isn’t usually the best course of action, we still want to see V succeed because of the depth given to his character.
But this doesn’t make his actions right, and I can see why some people would be put off by the politics involved in this film. Essentially, we’re told for 2 hours that the government is terrible, and that anarchy is the best form of government (or lack thereof). Totalitarian governments have had questionable success in the past, but here they’re set-up as completely evil, even if they don’t really do all that much wrong. Okay, there’s a curfew and the media is censored, but compared to reports of lives under dictatorship rule in our history, they aren’t that bad. It’s not even completely clear if V is telling the truth in one of the conspiracies that he accuses them of.
However, this is part of the fun in a film like this. It gives you a lot to think about and it isn’t an easy watch. It’s not that you have to pay that much attention, because the basic story — one of a plot to kill select individuals and then blow up parliament buildings — is fairly simple. But you need to pay attention because then the themes and ideas, whether you agree with them or not, will stick with you and leave you thinking about the film later.
Another thing to keep you thinking is V himself. Thanks to his back-story, we can sympathize with him. But the way that Hugo Weaving plays him is an amazing feat. In a lot of superhero films, (or anti-hero, but that’s not that point), people wear masks to hide their true identities from other characters. That’s true here as well, but in other films, the audience sees the protagonist’s face as often as the plot allows, so that the actor can do what they do best. This doesn’t happen even once here. Weaving doesn’t get the luxury of showing us his facial expressions, so he has to use the tone of his voice and his body language to convey all of his emotions. He does this, and it’s incredible.
Even though most of the film is dialogue-oriented, there are a few action scenes scattered throughout. They’re fun to watch, but far too short and they fail to leave the same impact that the dialogue does. There are also two large-scale explosions throughout. The first fails to leave any impact whatsoever, at least, on the first viewing, because it occurs before we’re given any context. The second, however, serves as a symbolic explosion, one that, given proper context, would certainly provide the characters in the film a good feeling. And it gives us one too, because after sitting through two hours, we almost feel like part of the crowd. Well, you do if you don’t completely disagree with what the film preaches.
What’s most surprising about V for Vendetta is the fact that the most emotional scene didn’t actually come from our lead characters, or from any of their actions. It came in the form of an “autobiography”, which detailed a small portion of someone’s life. I can’t believe how the scene when it is read hit me, especially because we had never heard of this character before, and she’s only mentioned once afterward. But that’s what good writing can do for you.
The dystopian setting is also a joy to look at. It’s derivative of earlier dystopian films, but that’s generally okay. Since it looks so good, and none of the special effects get in the way of plot, there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to visuals.
V for Vendetta is a complete package without any glaring flaws. The back-story given to V was kind of silly, but I’m still glad it was included. The film is still visually impressive, and always engaging even when there are extended scenes where all the character do is talk. Don’t be fooled though, this isn’t a fast-paced action film — it’s more of a political thriller than anything else. And if you dislike a message preaching anarchy, you might end up hating this film. It’s possible to still enjoy it regardless, but it’s still a film that will stick with you.