V For Vendetta (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

All of these groups are rating the same movie:
  • British critics 33/100
  • Metacritic 62/100
  • IMDb top 1000 voters: 7.2/10
  • IMDb overall: 8.3/10 (top 150 of all time)

So it's either a laughably bad movie, or a mediocre movie, or a fairly solid performer, or one of the greatest movies ever made. Take your pick.

The story was created between 1981 and 1988 by anarchist Alan Moore, and was meant to be a criticism of Mrs. Thatcher's efforts to push the U.K. rightward. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic England where a new government has turned the scepter'd isle into a police state. The fascists round up the undesirables and place them in concentration camps where the administrators perform medical and scientific experiments upon the prisoners. V is a camp survivor, a nihilist who fights alone against the state, mostly by getting revenge and blowing things up.

It has been my observation that there are certain types of movies which are invariably overrated:

  • Mediocre movies which passionately present a point of view that the reviewer passionately agrees with. (The Life of David Gale Syndrome). Scoop's First Law states that there is no harder film to evaluate than a heavy-handed one which has a viewpoint you wholeheartedly support. Every fiber of your being wants to praise it. If you have the ability to criticize such movies objectively, you should seriously consider a career in film critique, because you would start off at or near the top of your profession.
  • Mediocre movies which are created by people customarily acknowledged to be geniuses. (The Eyes Wide Shut Syndrome.)
  • Mediocre movies which are remembered fondly from childhood. (The Return of the Jedi Syndrome)

V for Vendetta fits, to some extent or another, in more than one of the above categories, thus causing it to be wildly overrated by certain audiences. Let us take, for example, the ratings given to this film by voters who are either of high school age (9.0) or college age (8.4). The film is a thinly-disguised attack on the various follies of the Bush administration, and it was produced by the Wachowski brothers, creators of the Matrix films, and directed by their hand-picked assistant. In addition, it has the trappings of an intelligent movie, or at least one that the unsophisticated would perceive to be intelligent: faux-poetic dialogue, romanticized ideology, settings created by a skillful art designer, a larger-than-life anti-establishment hero, literary allusions, vague historical references, quotes from Shakespeare, and so forth. Mining the rich vein of Bush hatred with flowery speeches and half-baked idealism, it demonizes the specific villains of today's youth, and offers a masturbatory revenge fantasy against cartoon evil. Cloaked in a highbrow veneer, it allows people not only to empathize with its point of view, but to feel that they are being smart to do so. In short, it is just about the perfect movie to be overrated by the young.

Does that mean that the British critics were right and it's a bad movie? Not at all. The British critics were carried away by their own emotional issues. V has some irritating elements which really got under their skin. For one thing, its viewpoint reflects the typical American stereotyping of U.K. denizens who, truth be told, probably do other things besides watching Benny Hill and quoting Shakespeare. For another, it celebrates the bombing of Parliament. For yet another, it features Americans and Australians portraying England and Englishmen, often with inauthentic perceptions and bad accents. It is not difficult to read between the lines of the following reviews:

The Observer:

There is a sub-genre of kitschy, dystopian science fiction that's been with us at least since Logan's Run 30 years ago and might well be called dystope-opera (or just dystopera). The latest example is V for Vendetta, adapted by the Wachowski Brothers from David Lloyd and Alan Moore's British cartoon strip and directed by an Australian, James McTeigue, who cut (or blunted) his teeth as an assistant on the Matrix series and on Star Wars II. An eclectic affair, it brings together Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Phantom of the Opera and garnishes them with references to 9/11, avian flu, 'collateral' and 'rendition' in a totalitarian future Britain.

The Guardian:

The British people are living in a state of resentful oppression and dental disrepair: and they are represented in various scenes by about a dozen or so Equity members, quaintly shown at the pub or in their prole front rooms, glumly watching the state television network on which propaganda is pumped out. V has a friend, ally and, who knows, perhaps even a beauty-and-the-beast-style love interest in a young woman called Evey - geddit? - a television researcher played by the reliably terrible Natalie Portman. Portman for some reason has a thin, wittering South African accent as Evey, which may have been superior to other thin, wittering accents she tried out in rehearsal.

V For Vendetta is such an odd mixture: partly naive post-punk posturing, betraying the original's 1981 origins, and partly well-meant (but very American) condescension towards London and Britain. Like tourists with a phrasebook, the Wachowskis get people to say "bollocks" a fair bit, and there is a pastiche of The Benny Hill Show. On the higher end of the cultural scale, V declaims Shakespeare, and in honour of Guy Fawkes's subversion in the age of James I, reels off lots of Macbeth. But he fails to quote the only appropriate lines: the ones about it being a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Of course, not all the criticism was unjustified. The film does indulge in the very demagoguery it condemns, painting the representatives of authority as either corrupt cynics or drooling idiots, casting everything in the world into black and white corners, oversimplifying every issue, and blatantly ripping off Orwell's 1984. Moreover, it makes no effort to mold its symbolic world into one which also makes sense in the real world. How can one man be everywhere and know everything in a city the size of London? Don't bother to try to figure out the practical details.

Here's a fact that tells you a lot about the avowed anarchist who wrote the story: "Alan Moore is a practicing magician and worships a Roman snake deity named Glycon."  That guy didn't cooperate with the film because, in his words:

One of the things I objected to in the recent film ... sort of recasting it as current American neo-conservatism vs. current American liberalism. I didn't want to stick to just moral blacks and whites. I wanted a number of the fascists I portrayed to be real rounded characters. They've got reasons for what they do. They're not necessarily cartoon Nazis. Some of them believe in what they do, some don't believe in it but are doing it any way for practical reasons. As for the central character of the anarchist, V himself, he is for the first two or three episodes cheerfully going around murdering people, and the audience is loving it. They are really keyed into this traditional drama of a romantic anarchist who is going around murdering all the Nazi bad guys. At which point I decided that that wasn't what I wanted to say. I actually don't think it's right to kill people. So I made it very, very morally ambiguous. And the central question is, is this guy right? Or is he mad?

In other words, an anarchist who worships a snake deity thought the script based upon his story was lacking in nuance. Are you surprised that teenagers think it's a great movie?

To be honest, the film is neither a great film nor a bad one. Its very existence proves it is not an accurate metaphor for today's society, in the sense that it could not be made or shown in the society it pictures, yet it came and went without so much as a trace of controversy. My thoughts upon leaving the theater were these: "Well, that wasn't subtle or sophisticated, but it was completely different from any other movie I've seen in the past five years. Just the fact that it is not run-of-the-mill made it kind of a special experience." On the other hand, if you really want to see this sort of one-man-against-the-dystopia situation portrayed both brilliantly and realistically, you might prefer to see Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Be forewarned, however, that the difference between the films is that in one of them a single individual is unable to triumph over the massive ingrained infrastructure of an entire society. Guess which one.


Reader response:


I want to say, first of all, that, in spite of my moral objections to the primary purpose of your site (I'm a conservative Christian), I highly enjoy reading your reviews. (Betcha weren't expecting that...)  They're intelligent, extremely well written, and even when I disagree, most of the time, what you say is more or less right when you talk about identifying the audience.  I think your rating system is a very cool way of rating films.
I think you mis-rated V For Vendetta, however.  A film with the kind of broad success that it has found - top 200 in IMDb, 75% Rotten Tomatoes, 62/100 at Metacritic, $131 million worldwide - deserves higher than a "C."  I believe that you were blinded by the fact that you are apparently in the audience that least appreciates it.
You see, high schoolers and college kids love it.  Even Conservative ones who generally like Bush and are offended to some extent by the film's attack on, well, Christian Conservatives, see past the attack on him onto the broader points about avoiding totalitarianism and the evils it presents (albeit told in a fictitious comic-book story).  They are also drawn into the strong comic-book storytelling, romanticism, and excitement.  You believed it was overrated, fine, but those in that category (which includes me, incidentally), believe it to be absolutely brilliant.
And in your final description, you called it "technically competent."  I believe that its direction, acting, editing, and special effects far surpass the word "competent".  For most people, the film was exhilarating.  That said, there was a large group of people who either hated it or were indifferent.  You happened to be in the latter category.
In short, I believe that a film with broad critical (in the US, anyway), commercial, and public success such as V For Vendetta has achieved deserves at least a C+ on your scale.
You also stated that it lacked intelligence.  That's not entirely true.  It isn't nearly as intelligent as Orwell's book 1984 (which is one of my favorite books, incidentally), but it manages to be intelligent enough by being thought-provoking.  Merely bringing up issues isn't enough for a film to reach that.  It did, through its analogy, manage to be very intelligent.
Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there.  It's a C+ film without question at least.  Personally, I'd rate it higher, but as I said, there are many people with low opinions of it.


Scoop's rejoinder:

Well, you're stretching the point a bit.

First of all, $131 million worldwide and a 62/100 at Metacritic are not scores to crow about. The latter falls short of rave reviews and the former falls short of wide acceptance.

Second, you are couching the debate in incorrect terms by suggesting that I'm among the group which least appreciates it. In order to be there, I would have to be a British film reviewer. One cannot simply ignore the fact that it received ZERO positive reviews from the major newspapers in England, where 6/10 was its absolute acme, and only two of the nine major reviewers rated it that high. And the BBC agreed! I mean, let's get real - not one positive review in the entire country? An average of about 1.3 stars out of four (33/100)? I'm not in that audience at all. I'm more in the category of "kinda liked it, albeit not unmindful of its weaknesses." I see it about the same way as the "Top 1000" voters at IMDb, who score it 7.3, or the Metacritic sample of 62/100 - a pretty good film which falls short of greatness. The correct way to couch the debate is to say that you are in the audience which most appreciates it, the British critics are in the audience that least appreciates it, and I'm in the vast middle ground which can understand neither their contempt nor your passion.

As for the film's intelligence, well, let me make an analogy. Some of my conservative friends get upset when I deride Dan Quayle's intelligence and ridicule his various flubs when he visited Oslo for Olav's funeral in January of 1991. (I witnessed every faux pas first hand, and was astounded to see none of it reported by the American press.) My friends always say something like this: "Hey, he can't be that dumb. I agree with everything he says." And have you ever noticed how the audience on The Daily Show applauds every time somebody derides a Republican, no matter how lame, dumb, or even inaccurate, the attack? The point is that it is difficult to analyze the flaws of a position that you agree with wholeheartedly. The characterizations in V have the subtlety and depth of a Road Runner cartoon, as even Alan Moore pointed out, and the film frames every issue in stark black and whites, not in increments of grey. Intelligence is characterized by subtlety and a recognition that every issue requires perspective and a respect for opposing viewpoints. Only blind, knee-jerk ideologues frame issues in black and white terms. This is a film designed specifically for those true believers. It is, in fact, a beautiful illustration of Godwin's law, a way of saying Bush=Hitler without blurting it right out. The analogy enables true believers to think that an unintelligent lack of nuance can actually be intelligent if gussied up with plenty of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. You can't compare V to 1984. Remember that Orwell could be both intelligent and totally one-sided since he was creating an analogy for Stalinist Russia, which is one of the few places and times where the issues really could be reduced to the lowest common denominators without oversimplification. If you argue that the society in V is an analogy for modern day North Korea, then perhaps I must concede the parallel to be an intelligent and thoughtful one. Somehow, I don't think that's what they had in mind!

But I take your point, and you are right. The film's very placement in the Top 250 (and high up there, at that, with very little dissent) at IMDb indicates that it is a film which is loved passionately by its young audience, so I suppose it must be a C+ by our definition. I didn't think it through properly when I assigned a "C" originally. I have argued in the past that any highly-beloved cult film must be a C+, even if the audience is fairly small. I've assigned C-plusses to films which are beloved by small cults, and which lack V's technical élan. In this case, the appreciative group is not so small and loves it very much, so a C+ is definitely right.



  • Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta" – The cast and crew of V for Vendetta reveal the intense filmmaking process
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • The Two-Disc Special Edition features these exclusive supplements:
  • "Designing the Near Future" - A look at the artistic process of creating the frightening future world of V
  • "Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot" - The history behind the story of Guy Fawkes
  • "England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics" - The origins of the original V story is illuminated
  • Cat Power Montage – Cat Power song played under images of the film
  • Easter egg: Saturday Night Live digital short


None, but there is a marvelous look at Natalie Portman in panties.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three out of four stars. James Berardinelli 3.5/4, Roger Ebert 3/4.

  • British consensus:  one and a half stars out of four. Mail 0/10, Telegraph 2/10, Independent 4/10, Guardian 2/10, Times 2/10, Sun 5/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 6/10, FT 2/10, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.3/10 (Top 150 of all time)
  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $54 million for production. It grossed about $70 million in the USA and a comparable amount overseas.

Miscellaneous ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+ (changed upon due consideration), a classic cult film with extremely strong appeal to a certain youthful target audience.

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