“Blowing up a building can change the world,” states V (Hugo Weaving), the articulate, knife-wielding masked crusader who bookends the film named for him with symbolic detonations of the Old Bailey and Parliament. The follow-up question, however, is never adequately addressed: mainly, how? According to V for Vendetta, all it takes to successfully fight dystopic, fascist Britain is a neo-Guy Fawkes, strategically placed propaganda, and those big-screen explosions. Voila, la revolution!
Of course, our world is a dramatically changed one in light of a couple of downed buildings, and compared to the underwhelming comic book-adapted script penned by the Wachowski Brothers, it’s infinitely more complex and disturbing. V for Vendetta bears the classic hypocrisies of mainstream product attempting subversion — weakening already fuzzy parallels to the Bush administration (John Hurt’s totalitarian regime engages in media manipulation, terrorist scapegoating, and responsibility for the death of its own citizens) with good vs. evil simplification (freedom fighter V typically seeks revenge on the fascists who “created” him), the Wachowskis, as in The Matrix, sweep social and political context under the rug for revolutionary pastiche and palatable genre staples such as the damsel in distress (Natalie Portman), the police investigator (Stephen Rea), and the hyperbolic machinations of a very, very mean empire. A shame Wachowski protégé McTeigue lacks even the visual savvy of his mentors: V’s dramatic pacing is awkward and choppy; the “bullet time”-lite action sequences are uninspired; and certain structural decisions remain baffling, as when a lesbian political prisoner’s subplot embarrassingly grinds the film to a dead halt. Apparently audiences are expected to cheer this mediocrity as unthinkingly as the film’s sheep-like masses substitute one “great leader” for another. If they do, the Hollywood matrix still has us.