V for Vendetta

Utopia's quite another land.

"Who was that masked man?"

From The Lone Rsnger to Zorro to Batman, and all other masked marvels in between, our fascination with disguised do-gooders doesn't die. Add a worthy entrant into that pantheon: graphic novelist Alan Moore's futuristic avenger, V, who roams London purging it of criminals common and famous, all of whom suffer his rage at having been abused in a government experiment years ago.

V for Vendetta is a superior adaptation, whose major virtue for me is the lack of quick cuts and computer graphics, the exception to the latter being the spectacular destruction of a few London institutions. V's mask has a smile that sears with irony and humanity, plain and simple, and his brand of mayhem has much more to do with brains that technology.

Natalie Portman's Evey is an uncomplicated vessel of uncertainty with a strong genetic inclination toward idealism, a perfect companion for the masked vigilante, who has saved her from harm and awakened a woman of substance. Portman headlines the film, finally showing she has the class to act like an intelligent heroine and the beauty to satisfy an audience's penchant for extremes in sci-fi.

Much will be made about the allegorical relevance to Bush/Blair conservatism. Andy Wachowski's screenplay and James McTeigue's direction show hooded prisoners who resemble those at Abu Ghraib, and a neo-fascist chancellor intimidating his citizens with fear of fear. Even his second in command has a resemblance to Dick Cheney, and an ultraconservative TV host looks like Silvio Berlusconi.

With the entrance of Stephen Rea's chief inspector Finch, I knew this would be a complete cinematic success, for I am always haunted by his world-weary Fergus from Crying Game, an actor whose very hang-dog visage suggests a growing awareness of the world's danger and his inability to stop its eventual destruction. But not before V and his league of masked gentlemen have given the neocons a run for the souls of a dystopia only George Orwell could love and Edgar Allen Poe could depict.

"Utopia's quite another land;
In her enterprising movements,
She is England--with Improvements." Sir William Schwenck Gilbert