The truth is I haven’t seen V for Vendetta for quite a few years now but felt this 4K UHD release was the perfect opportunity to revisit a cult favourite. Worryingly, or maybe just in that future dystopia sense, this one has become unerring uncomfortable in some places, and especially when considering the Western world playing out before us, especially with authoritarian ideas that aren’t too far from a certain Trump, despite the film being set in London.
Directed by James McTeigue, and written by The Wachowski’s (at that point of The Matrix fame), V for Vendetta is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, originally released between 1982 to 1989, initially under the different name Warrior. The film version of V for Vendetta tells the tale of Evey (Natalie Portman), who is saved by ‘V’ (Hugo Weaving) after she’s attacked down some dark, curfewed streets of London by men in power, who are also without morals. ‘V’ is more than apt with a dagger and takes down the baddies in an early scene that shows us his love for words beginning with V, but also revealing a side that indicates he’s here to fight for ‘every day’ people, like Batman on the dark streets of Gotham, but without the access to fast cars, fancy equipment or gadgets and less oppressive governments.
Our setting is London, which is at the centre of an oppressed United Kingdom, where John Hurt’s Adam Sutler is High Chancellor and controls the country with propaganda, fear and military control. But (for the moment) let’s go back to ‘V’, because after he rescues Evey from the dirty clutches of the night, he takes her on a roof-top-tour to show her the skyline of London for some fireworks on Bonfire Fire. However, this 5th November isn’t going to be like all the ones she has seen before because she’s here to witness him blow up the Old Bailey, then eventually take over government-controlled media and start a revolution, with the hope of rebuilding of the country and giving it back to the people. Quick side-note, before it’s pondered, here in 2020 we do actually have our ‘own country’, it’s just some people believe that having free-speech isn’t free speech (despite literally having it), but with that in mind, it’s not so hard to imagine a world where people think we’re already in a place like this. Mercifully, we’re not.
Back to V for Vendetta, and it’d be impossible to review this film without those sparks of reality, because after V blows up important landmarks and urges citizens to rise up against the tyranny, the story really kicks off and doesn’t stop until a truly satisfying and explosive conclusion. Released in 2006, V for Vendetta is actually set in 2027 and while that’s literally not that far in the future, we’d have to fall very far and very quickly to get to this stage. However, saying that, when you’re throwing in the lockdown and certain controls, it’s fair to say that many elements of the story are ridiculously concerning. Whilst written by the Wachowskis, it was re-worked by McTeigue before filming and we cannot forget Alan Moore’s vision that sits within everything we see and despite his dislike of the adaptation – and his other titles that were developed into bastardized US versions – it’s clear that he continues to have one eye in the future and it does play into logic and reflections of now.
Let’s also not forget Moore’s place in modern pop culture history with Watchmen, also a disturbing and enthralling takedown of much on the fringes of today’s society. Much like George Orwell’s 1984, these themes are concerning, and it makes you wonder if they’re only depictions of extreme realities, or whether fiction creates reality itself. Sure, we’re not truly in the realm of neo-fascist totalitarian ruling that the graphic novel/film displays but the essences of such things are always present in the dark underbelly of society, and have been particularly noticeable in recent years, and especially since the likes of Brexit and Trump have championed the removal of immigrants, have tried to shut down the free press and similar shiver-inducing scenarios.
The real question is, after watching films like V for Vendetta, is have these threads of real-life narrative always been with us, and are we always living between the lines of unsettled societies and fearmongering? It’s probably a rhetorical question, yet the problems that are expanded upon in this film are extreme narratives and usually from an aggressive far-right perspective, forever echoing Nazi ideologies and surely that world can’t be something people really want, right? I’d hope not.
So, I know you’re not just here for the political angle, but I’d figure you’re also smart enough to realise you can’t get away from that connection when it comes to a film such as this. But how does the 2006 V for Vendetta stand up in 2020? Surprisingly well. Whilst the opening sequences feel a little dated, and not far from the cheaper superhero-crass that engulfed the early 2000s, the setup of seeing V with his daggers and taking down the baddies is a mere moment in a huge story. What actually makes McTeigue’s film particularly special is a strong cast and a fast, progressive pace of narrative, which holds your attention right up to the finale.
Granted, Portman’s English accent is close to the realms of whatever happened in recent Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor (why America continues to think we all speak like the Royal family is beyond dated now), and what the hell is an egg in the middle of toast (other than egg on toast), but I didn’t really find those elements too distressing. What I did enjoy was seeing a cast of very noticeable English actors, and particularly Stephen Rea, Rupert Graves and Stephen Fry, giving strong performances in a crazy world of the future. John Hurt goes all-out as the baddie, who’s always on a huge screen telling his minions what to do, and constantly full of rage and lacking in the wider picture of sensible decision making, which is exactly what you want from a dictator who’s on his final legs. His performance in 1984 – alongside this – is also never far from the mind, and it feels like a strange (but understandable) cycle of character in his film career. Despite the wavering accent, Portman also grows strong and believable plus you can’t take a moment away from the theatrical and strength of Hugo Weaving’s performance as V, despite the fact he’s literally behind the now notorious Guy Fawkes mask, and let’s not forget James Purefoy who lasted 6 weeks in the role, before being replaced.
There’s the 4K UHD transfer which looks bright, vibrant and especially intriguing as we delve between reds and black as the central arc for everyone. There’s no understating that in the world of V, splashing these two epic colour palettes across the screen, and especially highlighting the blood splatters in a penultimate scene later on, is a huge part of the narrative and that element of sharpness is very welcome.
V for Vendetta remains a compelling watch, full of exhilarating action, thought-provoking discussion and maybe even a little bit of hope in these dark times, albeit in a very twisted way.
V for Vendetta, the Ultimate Collector’s edition is available exclusively from the WB Shop here.
You can also order the 4K, Blu-ray or DVD version here https://amzn.to/3oLKNDo
Special Features on the Ultimate Edition:
- V for Vendetta in 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Two New Pieces of extra content on the 4K Disc (not in 4K resolution)
- 32-page book, highlighting some of the best content from the original book “V for Vendetta: From Script to Film”
- A letter written by Director James McTeigue, highlighting the creation of the film and its influence in the world today
- House all your collectables in this unique giftbox package, made to look like the front of V’s jail cell from the film.
• NEW: Natalie Portman’s Screen Test
• NEW: V for Vendetta Unmasked: Making-of with filmmakers and cast James McTeigue & Lana Wachowski in Conversation : Looking back on V for Vendetta
• Director’s Notebook: Reimagining a Cult Classic for the 21st Century: Director James McTeigue (Joined by Stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving and Other Creative Team Members)
• Traces in Detail the V Saga from Graphic Novel Origin Through the Movie’s Execution.
• Designing the Near Future
• Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
• England Prevails: V For Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics
• Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta
• Saturday Night Live Digital Short
• Cat Power Montage
• Theatrical Trailer