A for auteurs: With visual force, sly humor, widespread literary influences and a thing for odd locations (like subway stations), the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix) take control over projects.
B for belabored: Unfortunately, too much philosophical jibber-jabber diminishes the impact of V for Vendetta, a movie as in love with loud repetition as London revolution at the center of its plot.
C for cutting room: The brothers would have been wise to visit it after the 90-minute mark, when the movie strangely downshifts. It seems to forget “Vive la revolution!” and leaves la revolution.
D for director: Wait, didn’t the Wachowskis only write and produce V? Wouldn’t it be freshman director James McTeigue’s fault? Permit me to skip ahead a bit — F for figurehead filmmaker.
E for Evey: Natalie Portman plays this troubled woman in a futuristic, totalitarian London who’s saved from assault by V, a masked man fond of knives and alliteration. She then befriends him.
G for Guy Fawkes: V’s disguise is as a 17th-century British revolutionary who attempted to blow up Parliament. To inspire a slack-jawed populace, V (Hugo Weaving) wants to get the job done.
H for Hurt: As in John, playing Chancellor Adam Sutler, the hidden, Hitler-esque leader of Britain whose sluggish mantra is “England prevails.” How bad is he? He’s outlawed real butter.
I for Inspector, J for Joker and K for Killer: In a supporting cast of pasty, pale faces, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and Tim Pigott-Smith stand out. Rea’s seen-it-all cop is invigorated by instincts as he explores V’s past and possible reasons for his anarchic anger. Fry’s late-night talk-show host offers comic relief, particularly in a priceless scene of Benny Hill mania. And as Sutler’s main muscle, Pigott-Smith is a menace when he wields both his truncheon and his psychotic ego.
L for layered: V’s best moments come when the Wachowskis roll together the power of words, symbols and perception with the passion of V’s rhetoric and the sadness of Evey’s past.
M for Matrix: But for a movie about going against conformity, it has clone tendencies — a from-the-skies shot of rain, slow-mo swooshes during fight scenes and those darn subway sets.
N for Natalie: It’s not Portman’s best work and her accent is choppy, but nobody cries with as much fragility as she can, and it’s a knockout moment when Evey starts to resemble …
O for O’Connor: As in Sinead, when Evey’s head is shaved bald when Sutler’s goons nab her.
P for powerful: This starts the film’s most elegant, involving sequence — offering a poetic flashback from a tangential character and the slightly sick side of how far V goes to prove a point.
Q for quirky: It’s part of what makes V a fascinating figure — a well-read subterranean dweller with fleeting sanity and a scarred psyche and body who is, nevertheless, strangely likeable.
R for repetitive: The Wachowskis wallow in details. We get that V was “born by fire” and that he has plenty of time to set up and knock over intricate domino patterns forming his nifty logo.
S for simple symbolism and T for taut topicality: There’s a lot of “if A=B and B=C, then A=C” stuff here — Sutler’s touts of faith equaling strength (Dubya), a pill-popping conservative TV guy (Limbaugh), a horror-of-horrors detention center (Abu Ghraib). There’s also an obvious Phantom-Christine vibe between V and Evey. Far better are brief bits such as Sutler’s ban of the 1812 Overture after it’s an attack soundtrack and criminals taking advantage of V’s own propaganda.
U for unending, V for villain overload and W for Weaving: The humorless final reel becomes a protracted list of Big Brother speeches from Hurt, twists that are silly even within its internal logic and a final scramble from Weaving to hold it all together. It’s quite something to see a film anchored so strongly by a man who never shows his face, but it’s easily the year’s best work so far. (X for … give me a break, X is too hard.)
Y for yowzer visuals and Z for zealous ideas: There’s room for any number of moods, scenes and expressions in V for Vendetta, and the scope of what it attempts is impressive. But it alternates with the touch of a feather and a hammer — far from groundbreaking and barely effective.