On its own this movie is little more than a sub-standard Hollywood action movie. An action movie which doesn’t deliver any credible action and a super-hero movie that doesn’t deliver a credible (super)-hero (or anti-hero). Why does this super-villain mumble Shakespeare while cutting the throats of policemen (poor sods just doing their job) — we don’t know, and in the end don’t really care.
The V figure could easily be more of a shadowy figure, of whom one could only catch brief glimpses of (as he is to a large extent) in the graphic novel). As a central figure, however, the immobile ‘mask’ simply does not work. Even in the graphic novel the mask is to some degree animated. If V is the central figure (and he is in practically every scene) then the ‘mask’ must obviously be animated — something that has been done before in movies like The Mask(w. Jim Carrey). This is supposed to be the future & V is supposed to be some kind of genetically modified super-human — so an animated mask would not be out of place. Even if there movie was otherwise great (which it isn’t) it would be hobbled by this central immobile mask — which works in the graphic novel, but just falls flat in a live action movie.
The other things that have to work in this movie are: (1) the super-villain’s lair (V is a kind of super-hero after all) and (2) the backstory (the world in which V lives). The shadow gallery (the lair) is a kind of shape-changing netherworld in the graphic novel but here it is like a pokey and dusty museum — neither cool nor interesting. More importantly, the alternate fascist near future presented is simply confusing even for an intelligent educated audience. The ‘leader’ shouts and rants at his top men via giant video-screen, which makes no sense at all (can’t he tell the difference between a televised political speech and management of his staff). We get no idea of the political institutions like the ‘Finger’. Even if you are intimately familiar with the graphic novel you will be confused by brief and unintelligible references to ‘Eyes’, ‘Mouth’ and ‘Ears’. You only need look at Terry Gilliam’s Brazil to see how to expertly stage the backstory. Also, most of the background is completely changed from the graphic novel. Will a kind of ‘bird-flu’ which kills a token 100,000 people really result in a fascist coup? Not likely! In the graphic novel most of the world is destroyed in some kind of great holocaust — and apparently only greater London survives. There is chaos, starvation and disease. The fascists bring back order and pull civilization back from the brink. This makes sense. A bit of bird-flu is just non-sense.
To illustrate (hopefully in an interesting way) the backstory is of course the main function of the plot in a story such as this — that is, the plot is more or less a vehicle for the ideas (presented via the backstory) the author hopes to present and convince the reader (ie. agitprop for the intelligentsia). Writer/director must therefore pay considerable attention to the backstory to make sure they ‘get it right’. Most importantly there must be ideas & a clash of ideas there. Alan Moore presents us with a world devastated by a great holocaust of some kind and where the survivors in response create a state that is so secure and vigilant that it is able to predict (down to the second) when & where drops of rain will fall. Yet in this lazy adaptation we are apparently presented with a Britain much as it is today (that is, not really a model of efficiency), the only difference being a neo-fascist(or rather ultra-nationalist police state) type of government. People are well fed, have plenty of warm beer (which they quaff in pubs) and watch lots & lots of television (which they also seem to mostly do in pubs). Strangely this fascist gov’t, aside from the occasional public service rant on the evils of islam and homosexuality, seems to content itself with providing warm beer and round the clock TV chat shows with funny Benny-Hill type skits making fun of the leader (which is actually the only genuinely good part of the film — quite funny and well done). But no, despite much amusement in locals, the poor chat show host is arrested & dragged off (how he got this past the omni-present televised ‘leader’ if it was not authorized is not explained). Then somehow, unexplicably, these slothful masses revolt en-masse and march on the center of government (braveing the machine guns of the military) after V manages to broadcast some mumbled Shakespeare onto their TV screens. In the graphic novel V more or less singlehandedly causes destruction and anarchy, and thereby ending the last known civilization, which in any event had been securely but desperately holding itself from the abyss by its fingernails. V is able to do this to the super-fascist gov’t because he is a genetically altered super-man. This makes some sense at least. On the other hand, why people with all the food they can eat and plenty of beer to quaff should leave their pub and march to their certain doom after receiveing a ‘package’ from a crazed anarcho-terrorist is not explained and makes little sense.
Overall, however, this is not the worst movie ever made. On its own it would be unremarkable. However, it bastardizes and subverts the original graphic novel. So much so that one has to ask: are the writers & directors banal and evil or are they simply agents of what is banal and evil within our system. Hopefully it will encourage people to buy the original graphic novel series, and lobby for a proper adaptation (a 10 part TV series would be nice, given the complexity and detail of the graphic novel) to be made so this tripe can be quietly forgotten.