V for Vendetta (15)

2.00

F for funny Guy

You can tell how serious V for Vendetta is trying to be by a brutal crew-cut inflicted halfway through the story on its heroine, Natalie Portman, a forcible scalping that echoes the Nazi-ish degradations glimpsed elsewhere: human experiments in secret prison camps, corpses thrown into a lime-pit, midnight raids on the homes of supposed "degenerate" types. The script derives from a graphic novel of the 1980s, but that hasn't stopped the Wachowski brothers (in their first venture since The Matrix) beefing up a bloodthirsty revenge-fantasy into a dystopian fable of political oppression and planetary meltdown. It's a film constantly in two minds, which, given that most blockbusters can barely muster evidence of one mind, must be considered a small achievement.

We are in a police-state London of the future, where a curfew has been instituted and nobody dares moan about the congestion charge. (I did mention that it was fantasy). A young woman named Evey (Portman, sounding more Australian than English) is caught out on the streets by police thugs known as Fingermen, who are just about to do their worst when a masked man springs out of the shadows and puts them to flight. He then takes the astonished Evey on a moonlight flit over the city's rooftops, the better to appreciate his handiwork - the Old Bailey being blasted to smithereens and a volley of fireworks to finish off.

The fireworks are important, for the masked man, known only as V (Hugo Weaving), has appointed himself as heir to Guy Fawkes - the key conspirator of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and thereafter the whipping boy of Protestant England. V intends to carry through Fawkes's uncompleted mission and blow up the Houses of Parliament on the 5 November.

It is bold of the film-makers never to reveal the face behind V's mask, and bolder still to give him a long black wig like Cher's. Weaving has a distinctive voice (he was Agent Smith in The Matrix films) but, denied any facial expression, he struggles to impose himself as the romantic anti-hero he's meant to be. He seems rather a composite of previous masked avengers, notably the Count of Monte Cristo, the rapier-swishing Zorro and, given his love of quoting Shakespeare, Vincent Price's ham actor Lionheart in Theatre of Blood. Like Lionheart, V has grievances against specific people who wronged him in the past, including Roger Allam as a right-wing television demagogue and John Standing as a paedophile cleric, but unlike Lionheart he has somehow finessed this personal vendetta into a revolutionary fightback against political corruption.

The director James McTeigue hasn't much of a feel for the texture of London, and sticks to disappointingly vague interior shots of offices, prison cells and domestic spaces. There's a sequence featuring someone watching himself on a television that's inside his shower, but for all I know this appliance might even now be available at Argos. The shot of people watching television inside a "London pub" is unintentionally hilarious, an update of Hogarth presumably intended to clue-in American audiences ignorant of our boozy culture. Such details are nugatory.

Unfortunately the film isn't any better informed when it comes to socio-political forecasting. The problem is partly that the Wachowskis are updating a graphic novel from 1989 (by Alan Moore and David Lloyd) that was responding to the seemingly interminable rule of Thatcherism. Paranoia felt different back then. Nowadays, if Britain is ever to be subjugated, it won't be by fascist dictatorship but by bureaucracy; its people will be bored, not browbeaten, into submission. Similarly, the ranting chancellor played by John Hurt just wouldn't cut it in our native political climate, and nor would his Big Brother-style telecasts to the masses - they would simply switch over to EastEnders. The future tyrants of Britain won't rule by fear; they'll be Blair/Cameron types who want to be everybody's friend.

The film might have worked if it had made the schizoid promise of its central character a sticking point. V is initially portrayed as a psychotic dandy driven by revenge. Later, he is seen to be a rebel-visionary who wants to destroy the system by any means necessary. When those means involve a Tube train packed with high explosives you ask yourself how incendiary the film-makers might dare to be. Will V launch a bomb attack and risk killing innocents in pursuit of the greater good? Will Evey try to stay his hand and persuade him that terrorism is not the way? The answer turns out to be the most abject compromise imaginable. I felt a little sorry for Stephen Rea and Rupert Graves, who play cops who have spent most of the movie diligently uncovering V's identity only to be upstaged by a denouement that makes no sense whatsoever.

V for Vendetta tries hard to be contemporary in its doom-mongering, and references to The Koran, bird flu and suicide bombers will not go unnoticed. But in its ambition to weld a political message onto a comic-book movie it falls rather pitifully between two stools: anyone who bothers to read newspapers will scorn its allegorical intentions, while popcorn-munchers in search of a thrill will wonder why the dude in the mask does so much talking. "There is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?" a character says at one point. He's right, but it would take a smarter movie than this to get close to explaining why.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor