V for Vendetta is an efficient, exciting, and often spectacular slice of doom laden dystopia. It is only nominally science-fiction, offering as it does an alternative but instantly recognisable parallel society to our own. It works chiefly within the conventions and rules of the comic book/graphic novel form, which itself is now a sub-generic category of its own. The majority of these adaptations however rely primarily on the tropes of science-fiction. The chief trope in this example being its allegorical underpinnings. The graphic novel holds far greater potential for creativity than its comic book brethren. There is far greater scope for characterisation and the sort of attention to detail that is often skated over in the ongoing adventures of a comic book character. They do not rely on prior knowledge of plot and character, and are far more accessible to those beyond the fan community. The result is a form which has a greater opportunity to address cultural anxieties in a more thoughtful and intelligent manner.
The subversive nature of the film is further expanded by a highly theatrical, cultured and intellectual mask wearing protagonist, who just also happens to be a terrorist. What separates V from political terrorists is his need for personal vengeance. In some ways this makes his goals more palatable and acceptable. The character is brought to life by the silken tones of Hugo Weaving, and he is rather wasted amongst the dreary performances that populate the rest of the film (Stephen Fry and John Hurt excluded). Natalie Portman is the token American lead and romantic interest, she has a very dodgy accent and spends half the film looking like a concentration camp victim. The chain of narrative events and motivations that lead her to this state is one of the few flaws in the film. The film is stylistically cohesive with a more subtle approach to CGI than most summer blockbusters. The fate of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament become iconic cinematic sequences which shows that in the right hands CGI can be particularly effective. The film also works well as a straightforward action vehicle, given it a durability that should aid its lasting appeal. This is a paradoxical film that is both highly conventional and subversive, and whilst it does feel like 1984 with lots of special effects, it avoids mere pastiche through an intriguing and enigmatic central character whom a franchise could easily have been built around, if he’d been able to escape his tragic fate.
© Shaun Anderson 2010