A to Z Challenge – V is for V for Vendetta

V for VendettaAfter the twin “mehs” of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the idea of watching something else Wachowski-related was the only big thing going against V for Vendetta. Fortunately, good early word allayed those fears and after watching the movie myself, I have to say it’s just about everything I could’ve hoped for.

There’s no doubt that some people will find the movie controversial, ignoring that it a) takes place in England and b) was based on a comic written back in the 1980s. But the fact remains that it’s a great action thriller that’s intelligent without soaring over the heads of its audience.

In a futuristic England where a conservative totalitarian government has taken control, a meek young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) has spent her entire life being afraid. One fateful night, though, she’s rescued by a mysterious masked man who calls himself V (Hugo Weaving). V is one who has the courage to stand up to the government, and his goal is to motivate Evey and others to do the same.

Call V a terrorist if you want–those in the movie certainly do–but remember that the root word of “terrorist” is “terror.” V doesn’t inspire terror here. The government, on the other hand, does, and there are plenty of examples of that.

They’ve made a theme out of the idea of V versus the actual man. V is not perfect. Though he seems not to have a past he is a man and flesh and blood, and as such occasionally makes mistakes. He didn’t start out wanting to change the country. He wanted revenge, and changing the country became a byproduct of that.

He is single-minded in his mission, but he’s not cold. Somebody like that we only expect to get to know as an idea. Getting to know him as a man, that makes you sit up and think. It’s clear that he cares for Evey from the first time he meets her, and later it develops into something more.

And they never, not once, remove his mask and show his face. (Other comic book movies should take note.) Hugo Weaving delivers a fantastic, sympathetic performance despite it being only voice and body language.

V for Vendetta is also a reminder of how well Natalie Portman can act. As Evey, she’s sort of an embodiment of the current generation of citizens. She’s been scared of the government her entire life, living with the constant knowledge that if she does or says the wrong thing she could disappear forever.

That fear changes through her interaction with V. At first she’s terrified of him, understandably so. But she gradually confronts her real fears, and she stops being so scared. Her shaved head is like an external symbol of that inner change. (Ooh, symbolism and a character arc!)

On the government’s side, there’s Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea), the policeman in charge of tracking down V. However, he has the nasty little habit of thinking for himself, and in trying to find V, he starts unlocking secrets that the government has gone to great lengths to keep.

A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin kept springing to mind the entire time I was watching V for Vendetta: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It wasn’t really applicable to the movie so much, but more to the events that led up to it.

Unlike most movies involving a totalitarian government that rules by fear, it doesn’t treat the general populace like “oh, poor civilians, you had no choice in what happened with your government.” It holds the people accountable for their choices in the elections, for trading liberty for safety.

However, it also gives them the chance to redeem themselves, and the chance to stand up to the real terrorists. The people have the opportunity to make the choice if they’d like to continue living safely in fear, or take back their future.

It says something about V for Vendetta that the characters and the themes stuck more with me than the explosions or the action sequences. Those are good, don’t get me wrong. But they’re supported here by a solid script and good characters, and together it makes a movie that will hopefully make people stop and think.

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America posterEver since I first saw the trailer earlier this year, I have been stoked for Captain America, which is saying something, considering he’s never been one of my favorite comic characters and the only time I paid any attention to the Avengers was in the ’90s Sega video game. (Vision was my favorite to play, followed by Hawkeye.)

Regardless, the trailer intrigued me, and I liked that they were keeping it in the World War II era for the Captain’s origin story.

Here’s the quick synopsis:

Steve Rogers desperately wants to join up with the Army during World War II, but he’s too short, too thin, and has far too many ailments for him to be considered “able-bodied.” However, he ends up being selected for an experimental project, where he is injected with the Super Soldier serum and becomes the superhero Captain America. Now, he and his unit are going after the mysterious HYDRA, an organization run by the evil Red Skull.

Quick review:

Aside from some minor nitpicks, the movie was awesome, totally worth the weekend night ticket price. Just skip the review and go see it immediately.

What Works

Overall, the cast for this movie was spot-on. I was a little peeved about Chris Evans as Captain America initially, because he was originally Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in Fantastic Four. That being said, I think I actually like him better as Captain America than as Johnny Storm (which is surprising, because he was the only part of Fantastic Four that I liked).

His Steve is a guy who doesn’t back down and doesn’t give up, no matter how many times he gets his ass handed to him (and until he gets the Super Soldier serum, that’s a lot). This is Captain America as he’s just discovering who he is and what he can do, and Evans does a really, really great job with it.

Captain America  - Red Skull

Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). I'd hate to be him come cold season.

Of course, every hero is only as good as his villain, and Hugo Weaving makes a wonderful nemesis in Red Skull. I still see that man and think “Agent Smith” (which makes watching the Council of Elrond during Fellowship of the Ring an entertaining experience), but he plays phenomenal villains. He is absolutely great here — creepy and crazy without being totally over-the-top and hammy about it (difficult to do when your face is, well, a red skull).

The rest of the cast does an excellent job as well, including Hayley Atwell as the Captain’s love interest, Peggy Carter, and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, the gadget man of the group. Tommy Lee Jones plays Tommy Lee Jones as a grumpy old commanding officer, but he’s perfect for that role and has a great deadpan delivery that earned him the most laughs in the film. He is absolutely unflappable throughout the entire thing.

Plus, they nail the World War II setting. The movie has almost a nostalgic look at times. Even if there are aspects that are futuristic, they’re futuristic in a 1940s way, and it really succeeds. They even found a way to work in the Captain’s old uniform, and the USO song is just brilliant.

What Doesn’t Work

Some of the computer effects were a little off, most notably in scenes where Steve is running or jumping from car to car, like in the first big chase scene of the film. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s just enough that you can tell it’s a computer, which does break the spell that the movie holds.

Plus, they may have spent just a hair too long on pre-Captain Steve, which isn’t terrible, but let’s face it, we’re here to watch Captain America, and it takes a little long to get to Captain America being Captain America.

Captain America - The First Avenger

Steve Rogers post-serum. This one's for you, ladies.

Verdict?

SO worth the ticket price. I didn’t watch it in 3D, just regular 2D, and frankly I didn’t see any reason during the movie to pony up the extra dough for the glasses.

Go forth, enjoy, and don’t miss catching this one in theaters.

Also: Stay after the ending credits. You should always stay after the ending credits for Marvel movies because there’s ALWAYS some kind of coda, but this one is better than most (and totally un-spoilerish for me to tell you). However, if you don’t want to know, I won’t spoil it for you. Go forth and enjoy Captain America.

If you do want to know, highlight the paragraphs below.

Rather than a tease about the next movie (for example: finding Mjolnir at the end of Iron Man 2 or the Cosmic Cube showing up at the end of Thor), it is, to my knowledge, the first official footage of The Avengers, coming out next May.

There’s about a minute’s worth of footage, mostly quick cuts featuring Thor, Tony Stark in and out of the Iron Man armor, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Bruce Banner. Plus, the tagline: “Some Assembly Required.”

And yes, it rocks.