It was a magical time for comic book movies back in 2005. Spider-Man had been released to record-breaking numbers back in 2002 and The Dark Knight hadn’t yet been released in 2008 which necessitated a more serious tone in which comic book movies were approached. Seeing how much money there was to be made, there was a huge surge of comic book movies in these years while every studio thought they would be the ones to hit it big. You had bigger name characters like the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Daredevil, The Punisher, and Catwoman, all of which were relatively successful at the box office but weren’t received well by critics. Luckily, we also had lesser-known characters and titles being made, which gave us movies like Hellboy, 300, V for Vendetta, and Sin City. Caught in between the mainstream and independent world would be Constantine, named after the main character John Constantine in the Vertigo comic Hellblazer. Even though Constantine wasn’t all that well received by movie critics, comic book fans, or audiences, and somewhat deservedly so, there are still quite a few really cool things about the movie that I hope might cause people to give it another look.
Jumping to grab a piece of that 47 Ronin cash.
After an opening sequence establishes that a sacred object has fallen into the hands of a regular person, we cut right to seeing John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) doing what he does best, which is exorcising a demon from a little girl. Maybe that’s not what he does best, but when it comes to the supernatural, there’s really not much that Constantine doesn’t do. Unfortunately, Constantine always saw demons walking the Earth since he was a child, to the point that he even attempted suicide. His body might have been revived, but the act of suicide meant his soul was damned. He figures that if he’s fucked anyways, he might as well try to send as many demons back to Hell before he’s dragged down there with them. When she gets word that her twin sister has killed herself, Angela (Rachel Weisz) contacts Constantine to try to figure out why her incredibly religious twin would damn herself with suicide. Turns out that there’s some funny business involving the birth of the Antichrist, which results in a movie full of demons, bugs, cats, an angel, holy devices, bibles, the lead singer of Bush, and an over-the-top performance from Peter Stormare as Satan himself.
Looks like your face got covered in……glycerine.
Keanu Reeves is a shitty John Constantine. Essentially, that’s what all of my criticisms boil down to. Two characteristics of John Constantine are that he’s blonde and he’s British. Keanu Reeves is not blonde. Okay, sure, hair color isn’t necessarily intrinsic to someone’s personality, but it instantly causes backlash. Keanu Reeves is not British, he’s Canadian, and he’s like…Chinese or something? Or Hawaiian? Who knows. We saw with Michael Clarke Duncan in Daredevil that if you have the right actor, the ethnicity of a character is only one aspect of who they are, so it’s possible to change things about them to fit a movie. Unfortunately, Keanu Reeves just wasn’t a good John Constantine. Although being British isn’t the important part of the character, his sense of humor and the way he carries himself is. John Constantine is an “arse-hole” and he knows he’s an “arse-hole”. To the readers, his dickhead attitude is what makes him cool. Keanu Reeves seemed to think John Constantine was cool, which gave him liberty to be a dickhead. WRONG, KEANU. Constantine being British means the reader can quickly tap into a British sense of humor and attitude, and that attitude never came across in Reeves’s performance. The lines that could have been delivered with intensity within this world were delivered laughably because you knew that Reeves was pretending to be Constantine who was pretending to care. When your entire film revolves around a shitty performance of a good character, it’s easy to see why people dismiss the film, but I see a lot more in it.
YOU’RE SO COOL, KEANU!
Visually, there are a LOT of really cool things that this movie has going for it. The ways in which time will slow down/stop when a character travels to Hell, seeing Angela get sucked out of the side of a building, or Constantine’s body looking like it weighs thousands of pounds when Satan tries dragging him down to Hell. Granted, there’s a scene in which Constantine shoots bad guys while the sprinkler system is going off that reminds you of the blood rave in Blade and a scene where Constantine lights a handkerchief on fire while in total darkness to kill demons was reminiscent of a scene in Pitch Black, but there are plenty of other unique visuals that made the whole thing feel very stylish. This being the first movie based on Constantine, the film has to introduce you to his universe which can be taxing on the viewer. There are demons made out of bugs that are defeated in that very scene, there are powers given to Constantine in the film that he doesn’t have int he comics, and Tilda Swinton plays an asexual angel. Even though all of these new ideas and concepts might be disorienting to the audience, from what I’ve read of Hellblazer, the tone is similar. Constantine doesn’t know everything about the supernatural, so he sometimes has to track down being he didn’t know existed, exploit them for one thing, and then moves on. Similarly to the tone of Hellboy, I think Constantine helped establish how vast the universe of the comic book is and sets things up well to explore sequels down the road. Yes, ten years later, Keanu is still shitty, but maybe if the sequel had another visually interesting director (please not Zack Snyder) and maybe a convincing lead actor, we could see John Constantine kick the shit out of demons and be excited about it.
Wolfman Moon Scale