V For Vendetta James McTeigue

The V For Vendetta that's hitting theatres is not the comic book originally published in England's Thatcher-ruled 1980s. One look at the credits will tell you that — it acknowledges only the book's illustrator, David Lloyd; and there's no on-screen mention of the comic genius who conceived of the political revenge thriller, Alan Moore. That's because Moore (whose comics work has been previously butchered in films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or mildly mishandled in From Hell) knows that films aren't comic books and is no longer willing to put his name on the former.

The fact that there is a gulf between page and projection will frustrate some; it will almost certainly dominate early discussions of this adaptation. Which is too bad, because V For Vendetta, while not a perfect film, deserves more and different attention than simply examining its process of adaptation.

That adaptation has been embarked upon by the Wachowski brothers, Larry and Andy, who produced and tapped Matrix trilogy first assistant director James McTeigue to direct (under their strict supervision, presumably). But as serious comic geeks themselves, the Wachowskis are careful to maintain the spirit of Vendetta: a vision of England's fascist-ruled future under Big Brother-esque state control disrupted by the ever-resourceful V, who hides his identity behind a Guy Fawkes mask.

To start: Guy Fawkes is an English folk hero who tried to blow up the British parliament in the 16th century; his legend is similar to that of Louis Riel's in Canada — a known name but for most, likely sketchy on the details. That V For Vendetta as a film adaptation retains the Fawkes mask and resonance speaks to its fundamentally British DNA, something that serves the film well as it contrasts itself with current world politics dominated by the U.S.

In a near future, England has once again prevailed; as the U.S. collapses into civil war, England is the rising superpower, getting a leg up on the backs of its repressed citizenry. V puts himself in the role of terrorist, vigilante, judge and executioner, manipulating modern media to rally the common people around his cause. The primary waif he takes in, Evey (Natalie Portman), is at first sceptical of his violent ways before finally succumbing to his agenda. The film adaptation fleshes out the sparse imagery of the text, creating a gumshoe detective (Stephen Rea) whose own political viewpoint is transformed in the process of tracking V, whose identity remains hidden behind his plastic mask. (The Matrix's Agent Smith, Hugo Weaving, performs that thankless work.)

The Wachowskis aren't known for their politically-minded derring-do, but they do manage to evoke current American imperialist trends (as well as the Holocaust, 9/11 and last summer's London tube bombings), all under the guise of a distinctly British sensibility. What they refrain from doing is turning V into a weapon-wielding action hero. That means the film gets bogged down in its talky exposition once in a while, but if given the choice, I'll take a little more talk if it means the action has a little more meaning, which in V, surprisingly, it usually does. Just don't bother whining about how it's not the comic book. (Warner)