By Ken Tucker
August 01, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
V for Vendetta: David Appleby
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Is there a pop culture consumer who doesn’t already know that V for Vendetta is a futuristic adaptation of the Alan Moore-David Lloyd graphic novel, starring The Matrix‘s Hugo Weaving as the masked terrorist V, bent on destroying the fascist state England has become? Didn’t think so. But what’s new now is the user-friendly element of V‘s DVD: For a blow-things-up action thriller, V for Vendetta actually plays better in this format than it did on the big screen.

How so? Well, for one obvious thing, lots of people who were so enthralled by the alliterative v speech the protagonist gives early in the film — his virtuoso manifesto, as it were (”Voilá: in view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate…”) — can now use their pause-play buttons to analyze and (I’ll bet) memorize this long tongue twister. For another, this grandiose popcorn movie is slathered with ideas, theories, and intricate proclamations about the nature of freedom, government, and individual will — and if you’re like me, you find it easier to ponder such themes on a smaller screen, where F/X bedazzlement doesn’t override your logic synapses as easily.

Thus, as the character has been adapted by the officially billed Wachowski brothers and directed by James McTeigue, V, the man in the rictus-grinning Guy Fawkes mask, can be viewed variously as liberator, fearmonger, loquacious semi-superhero. Natalie Portman’s Evey also multitasks: damsel-in-periodic-distress and sounding board for V’s rants. That is, whenever V isn’t brandishing a brace of glittering knives to stab at enemies, and plotting (like the real 17th-century Fawkes) to blow up the seat of government. That seat is warmed by John Hurt, who gazes at us through a giant TV screen (that’s now within the TV screen on which we’re watching the DVD). Vendetta still founders on the tortured truisms intended to pass as profundity, such as V’s mantra ”People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people” — um, why’s that, exactly? Yet the overall effect is not distancing or alienating at all; instead, the drama is more intimate and human-scale, the quiet scenes between V and Evey carrying an increased charge.

No commentaries among the extras, but I loved one bonus item, ”Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot,” featuring British scholars who instruct you in the history-behind-the-comic-behind-the-movie. One prof, a toff straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel, talks about the Fawkes legacy as being part of ”that enduring British wish…to cock a snook at the government.” Righto. To him, V is neither terrorist nor freedom fighter: He’s just a blighter with blades and bombs.

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