May 25, 2015
V for Vendetta (2005)
Grade: 54/100

Director: James McTeigue
Stars: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea

What it's about. Set in England circa 2030. The nation is ruled with an iron fist by ill-humored dictator Sutler (John Hurt). His enforcer is Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith). Finch (Stephen Rea) is his top detective.

Their nemesis is V (Hugo Weaving), an eloquent terrorist who never takes off his Guy Fawkes mask. He rescues hottie Natalie Portman, who has broken curfew, from several government thugs, then makes a date with her to watch some old building blow up.

V continues to make a nuisance of himself against the government, taking over the government television station to ask the citizens to rise up next year on Guy Fawkes Day. Sutler demands the capture of V, but of course this does not happen.

Instead, V systematically murders those responsible for human experimentation at a prison where V was formerly held and tortured. These include propagandist Prothero (Lewis Prothero), priest Lilliman (John Standing), and scientist Delia (Sinéad Cusack). He also forms a beauty-and-the-beast relationship with Portman, who nonetheless leaves him for Deitrich (Stephen Fry), a closeted homosexual with a top-rating television comedy show.

Deitrich makes the mistake of offending Sutler and is murdered. But V again rescues Portman, who, after all, is much more attractive than Deitrich. She leaves him again once V stops torturing her, but returns for more on the eve of Guy Fawkes day, when V plans his coup d'etat.

How others will see it. Besides making Guy Fawkes masks a top-selling party favor, V for Vendetta is best known as the movie where Natalie Portman shaves her head. The movie cost a fortune to make (54M) but delivered good box office and ultimately made a killing in its video release.

The critical reception was mixed, and the movie was ignored by the Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA. However, it did garner four Saturn Awards, including Best Actress for Portman.

Today at, the film has a spectacular 675K user votes and an extremely high user rating of 8.2 out of 10. There is a marked decline with advancing age, though, from 8.6 under 18, to 7.3 from women over 45, who just might recognize how far-fetched it all is.

How I felt about it. Everyone who sees this movie has their own list of films that it most closely resembles. Mine begins with Equilibrium (2002), in which our hero single-handedly defeats a totalitarian government by killing its leader plus a zillion guards through preposterous martial arts skills. That movie was also set in the future, where it is illegal to own artifacts of the past, such as turntables.

Another obvious influence is The Phantom of the Opera, in which the inhumanly ugly and deranged lead attempts to possess the beautiful woman.

V for Vendetta is based on a graphic novel, which explains why V is in effect a superhero. He's the greatest fighter in the world, he can absorb bullets like RoboCop, and his command of the English language is like Cyrano de Bergerac. He's courageous and righteous. He's also smarter than everyone else. He even knows how many bullets it takes to kill him, and how long it will then take him to die. He also knows that none of the people wearing Fawkes at the illegal rally will be shot by police bearing assault weapons, even out of self defense. V has to be a fictional character, because nobody else like him could ever possibly exist.

Still, one has to wonder why a man of his talents would squander his time watching a creaky old movie like The Count of Monte Crisco a hundred times, or setting up tens of thousands of dominos to fall into a pattern unseen by anyone else, or giving Natalie Portman a crewcut and swirlies so that she would "overcome her fear." Talk about tough love.

On the whole, the characters are exaggerated stereotypes. Sutler is nothing but bile, Evey is a pretty but somnolent slate, V is a hammy version of Batman, and the bishop Lilliman is (what else) a serial child molester.

It bothers me that historic buildings are destroyed (if only in CGI fashion) simply to make a political statement. It seems downright silly for the megalomanical ruler to have a Wizard of Oz projection of his eternally irate head to further intimidate his sad sack cabinet.

The question isn't, is V for Vendetta a great movie? Of course it is not. There's only one good scene, the comedy show spoof of V and Sutler.

The question is, why is it regarded as a great movie? It's because it delivers what the audience expects from it. Larger than life, fantasy entertainment in a formulaic, crowd-pleasing manner. The bad guys are snuffed, the hero dies valiantly, the hot girl survives. It's by the book, and, more accurately, by the menu. I'd like #3, superhero crushes evil emperor. With a side dish of brunette babe in peril.