I had no idea the Wachowski Brothers were still students. No really, I honestly didn’t. I thought they were accomplished film-makers, but judging by the pretentious bombast that is here presented as something profound, I’ll approach any further work of theirs with the same wariness I would work by any other bunch of opinionated undergrads.
We’re in Britain, 20 or 30 years in the future, and the Conservative Party has returned to power, now with sufficient mandate to do what it has clearly always wanted to do, transform the country into a brutal Nazi state ? even though it was a Conservative government who stood up so bravely to the real Nazis (I’m not a Conservative by any means, but you immediately understand the sort of targets this movie is taking pot-shots at, and if you prefer your cinematic entertainment not to be filled with unsubtle student politics, then you’re already irritated). Anyway, a superhero thankfully arises, one of those guys of many inexplicable talents: he can breeze his way through the most advanced security systems (without ever feeling the need to show us how); he can perform all kinds of acrobatic hi-jinks and is also a master of weapons and technology (again, without telling or showing us how or why); he is hugely well financed and is always three or four steps ahead of his blundering foe. He even manages to break into the government’s own television channel and broadcast a message of hope (as they so often seem able to do in these dystopian sci-fi thrillers).
Anyway, all this is a good thing because Britain is now an Orwellian police state full of dark alleys, creeping spotlights and crashing jackboots, where anyone and everyone is likely to get it in the neck, but the staunchly right-wing, Christian authorities mainly pick on intellectuals, homosexuals, Moslems and all the other minorities that student activists like to imagine are persecuted in the present-day West. As a result, our hero ? ‘V’ ? is a guy proud to wear the moniker of ‘terrorist’. He openly admits that his war against the state is born of a personal vendetta, and he’ll go to any lengths to force his views on people ? even imprisoning and torturing innocents in order to show them how terrible the enemy are (yet another half-baked student philosophy, where any means are justified by a righteous end). Of course V has a softer side too. Naturally he’s a lover of the arts (students can never conceive of a hero who isn’t at least as well-educated as they are). He fills his house with paintings and sculptures, and (completely irrelevantly to the plot) quotes the great works of literature at tedious length. He also appears to idolise 17th century ‘freedom fighter’ Guy Fawkes, a mask of whose face he wears 24-7.
And yes, you’ve got it. This is basically a hollow, ostentatious, politically outdated lump of pseudo-anarchist propaganda.
We could blame Alan Moore’s original graphic novel, but hardly anyone read the graphic novel, whereas lots of people have seen and commented on the film, so it’s the film we need to concentrate on. In any case, Alan Moore had the good grace to disinherit the film, so he’s divested of all blame.
Even at a purely technical level, it’s flawed. The narrative is weak and full of holes: why is a simple chief-inspector of police investigating a case that has the potential to bring down the whole of society?; why does the state bother with a police force at all when it has it’s ‘finger men’ ? all-licensed thugs whose job is simply to terrorise people and who are above the law themselves; despite there being spies and surveillance cameras everywhere, how is that free-thinkers are still allowed to provide rays of hope? ? in this case it’s Stephen Fry’s character, a closet gay and Koran reader (!), who regularly mocks the government in his television show, yet only now seems to attract their attention. Why do the British public, who are constantly shown scoffing at government broadcasts and disbelieving everything the politicians say (got to remind the working-class that we’re not having a go at them, I guess) do nothing about the terrible conditions in which they live, when the authorities’ hold on power is patently so tenuous?
And if that isn’t enough, the whole thing is massively overwritten, and overly talkie, and it uses lots of big words and Shakespearean quotes to show how clever the movie’s authors are, and as you’d expect from a bunch of students, it preaches, boy how it preaches. But just in case the preaching isn’t enough, there are lots of other bits and pieces thrown in to ram the message home: every symbol of evil seems to have a crucifix attached to it; Britain’s clergy are shown to be child-molesting phoneys; her war-heroes are cruel sadists who would rather be concentration camp commandants.
The acting is risible. John Hurt does his usual shouting madman thing; Tim Piggot-Smith is his usual sneering bureaucrat; Natalie Portman ? presumably because she thinks she’s at last made it into a ‘real’ movie ? screams and cries a lot; while Stephen Rea plays a cop so stricken with conscience that it’s a miracle he even lasted one day in his job let alone rose to the rank of chief-inspector.
It certainly looks good, as befits the budget. But at the end of the day, it’s all pretty empty and silly. The stuff and nonsense about November 5th, and the lauding of Guy Fawkes ? who in reality was a religious zealot of the sort this film seems determined to loathe ? shows how shallow and poorly researched it really is.
In short, and in keeping with the World War Two feel, this is a pile of corny old tripe