It's been a good long while since I've been the last one to see a film (especially one that's been open for four days), and it's kind of disheartening - what can I possibly add to the fray? Even though the answer is probably "nothing," I'm absolutely not going to pass on the chance to write about V for Vendetta, because it's a pretty amazing film. In fact, it's so amazing I have to write three reviews.

The Movie
I have no love for The Matrix or the seemingly endless number of films that reference or baldly rip-off its style. So from the first trailer, with its shot of a masked vigilante flinging knives in bullet-time (with, God save us, white trails marking the path of the knives), I was pretty convinced that the film would be a tiresome exercise in CGI and pyrotechnics and "holyshitthatwascool" moments. Not to mention the endless "from the creators of The Matrix" blather in the ad campaign. Imagine my considerable delight when it turned out instead to be a moody, even talky piece about politics, social control and anarchic revolution.

As everyone knows by now, it's the story of an anonymous masked man (Hugo Weaving) who terrorizes London for a year (what year? The mid 2020's it would seem, although that's never made explicit), attempting to wrest control from what he regards as an irredeemably corrupt fascist government. Along the way, he rescues/captures a young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman), whose personal history bends her to sympathise with his extreme practices.

The film opens with one of its most egregious missteps, a recreation of the capture and execution of Guy Fawkes, noted British bomb-maker. I can understand why this was deemed necessary - who in America knows about Guy Fawkes? - but it undercuts the rest of the film considerably. Fawkes, we must recall, was a conservative Catholic, who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605 to protest those damn radical Protestants. V, who fancies himself Fawkes' heir, is clearly a liberal/libertarian sort; it would be like the American Left idolizing Timothy McVeigh. It doesn't make sense in the movie, and it didn't in the source comic, but at least there they didn't rub your nose in it.

Fortunately, the movie is mostly clear sailing after that. Portman and Weaving are perfect, the latter moreso, as he rather successfully creates a clear series of emotions and motivations for a character written largely as a symbol, without ever once showing his face. Running a close third is John Hurt as the Hitleresque Chancellor Sutler. Although he wore no makeup, it took me until the end credits to recognize the actor, so fully does he immerse himself in the role.

Hurt is also the center of the most striking imagery of the film: a giant screen with his head, surrounded by the iconography of his reich, snarling orders at the men who actually run his country. It's a poweful image that evokes Orwell's 1984 as successfully as that book has ever been evoked.

The other great image of the film is in the opening, when V destroys the Old Bailey to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. There's a strange and weird disconnect in seeing celebratory music playing underneath the terrorist destruction of a government building, and the payoff is when we, the audience, realize that it's because the terrorist is right.

Unfortunately, director James McTeigue (who assistant-directed The Matrix films) mostly runs out of ideas after that. Nothing about the film is "poorly" directed (in which it is unlike The Matrix series), but very, very little is particularly imaginative. A film about an anarchist should be anarchic; this is a very by-the-numbers sort of comic book adaptation. A shame, because cinematographer Adrian Biddle (his last work; the film is dedicated to his memory) and editor Martin Walsh (whose career also includes the canival of editing mistakes that was Chicago) turn in amazing work that deserves a capable director.

But no matter, the film is still brilliant, and that's largely due to

The Adaptation
This is the fourth Alan Moore-derived film. The other three have been ridiculous, ludicrous, and vengefully bad, but now, one of them is something I'd never hoped for...brilliant. As in, an improvement over the original.

Okay, that's probably pushing it. But the film corrects the graphic novel's greatest mistake (the computer plot of the third act...if you've read it, you know what I mean), and manages to boil down the rest into a very streamlined narrative. Do I regret that characters and subplots were cut? Of course, but it was done in a very unintrusive way.

I can only conclude that Moore's well-publicized repudiation of the film is because he's a cranky old man who hates life. Okay, we all knew that already. But this is really a better film of the book than a perfect adaption would have been; the novel was clearly a product of anti-Thatcherism in the early 80's, and so is the film a product of the anti-Bushism of the mid 00's. Leaving it mired in the original would have dated it and left it unfit for the modern audience.

One other important change: in the original, V's anarchic quest is morally ambivalent, in a way; it's not at all clear that the utopia he envisions will actually come to pass. The filmmakers are much more optimistic, and V's terrorist agenda is viewed with much less ambiguity. That, however, is a matter of

The Politics
Okay, let's be honest: the libertarian anarchist shtick is a little sophomoric. Like smoking clove cigarettes and drinking vermouth, it's the sort of thing we all know we're supposed to leave behind in our teenage years. That doesn't mean it can't be hedonistically satisfying.

I've oversimplified: Moore's not precisely a libertarian, and neither is V. They have something in Europe that we don't, socialist anarchy, which is basically the belief that society is too rigid, and the government is too powerful for leftist social revolution to ever succeed. Instead of replacing the government, one must destroy it utterly, and it will be the nature of society to then build a socialist collective in place of our current hierarchal cultural structure. V for Vendetta is a story of this idea succeeding.

It really can't, of course.

Laying that aside, this is the most firmly anti-Bush film I've ever seen. In whatever year this takes place, America has descended into chaos and civil war, having never gotten out of the Iraq War and having eventually unleashed a plague on itself presumably while developing a bio-weapon. So that's explicit. But implicitly, this is the story of a terrorist who is absolutely in the moral right. So much of the Bush Administration rhetoric has been to conflate the three terms "terrorist," "Islam" and "evil," that it's easy to forget that there's no necessary link. "Terrorism" is nothing more and nothing less than a combat style, favored when a small group of rebels are fighting overwhelmingly superior forces. In this case, it is the only method by which a truly vile government can be taken to task. That V is so unmistakably a hero makes this impossible to ignore.

The film works hard to establish parallels between the official government network and our own FOXNews; it points out how the people are kept in check with empty religious dogma; it shows how the Chancellor became popular only because of a massive crisis in the country; in short, the film make such an forthright case that the Britain it portrays is really contemporary America, it is difficult to avoid the impression that it is a call to arms against our own government, to take it back before we have our very own Orwellian dystopia.

It is altogether irresponsible.

But so, so satisfying. 8/10