Constantine

“You are going to die young because you smoked 30 cigarettes a day since you were 15… and you’re going to go to hell because of the life you took.” 

Long before the character’s recent run on television, comicdom’s most famous rogue magician had his own movie – though he was nearly unrecognizable from his original design.

CONSTANTINE (2005)
Directed by Francis Lawrence 
Story by Kevin Brodbin
Screenplay by Kevin Brodbin & Frank A. Cappello

It’s not unreasonable to expect changes to a comic book concept when it comes to the big screen. Concessions are made to adapt a character or a story to a new medium, because what works on the page won’t necessarily work when it comes to a motion picture. I get it. 

But turning John Constantine, the working class occult detective from London whose design was based off of musician Sting, into a guy from Los Angeles, California who resembles Keanu Reeves? That was almost too much to bear. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Keanu didn’t try to do a British accent here. I’ve seen him try that and it’s bad. 

The casting of Reeves in the title role was almost too much for me to bear, but I am a big fan of the character and I was curious about how it all came together. Truth be told, it’s not a terrible movie. In fact, I think it’s a pretty good movie. I’m just not sure it’s a good movie about John Constantine, HELLBLAZER

The movie takes pieces of the Garth Ennis and STEVE DILLON Hellblazer story “Dangerous Habits” and adds it into an original story about Constantine the L.A.-based demon hunter trying to prove that the twin sister of a police detective didn’t commit suicide. His search to help Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) intersects with his own problems – he’s dying of lung cancer, and because he tried to commit suicide when he was a kid, and because he’s a right bastard, he’s going straight to Hell. Oh, and the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) is trying to bring Hell to Earth to make humans more grateful for their existence by having Angela give birth to the son of Lucifer. 

There’s a lot going on in this movie, which is a testament to the source material, which was often one of the best-written horror comics available precisely because the material was handled with such care. 

Visually, CONSTANTINE is stunning. It’s depictions of Hell, based on images of the aftermath of nuclear bombs, look amazing and water and shattered glass flying around ensures that the movie looks cool. It looks like a music video, which makes sense considering that before helming this picture, director Francis Lawrence had exclusively worked on music videos. His sensibilities translated well here, and it helped make the movie more palatable, even with a black-haired, American Constantine. 

Also, the Holy Shotgun was kind of awesome. 

I’ll even go so far as to say that I prefer the resolution of movie John’s lung cancer to how the problem was solved in the “Dangerous Habits” arc. In the comics, Constantine threw together a convoluted plot that involved the three Kings of Hell fighting over his soul as he lay dying, forcing them to cure him lest there be a war within the domain. In the film, it’s pure jealousy on Lucifer’s part. Constantine managed to make good on his search to buy his way into heaven with good deeds, and the First of the Fallen wanted to ensure he made it back to hell, so he lets John live, sure that he’ll do something to damn himself again. It’s a pretty safe bet, actually. 

No one will ever argue that Keanu Reeves was the perfect choice to play John Constantine. And getting the character right isn’t impossible. Matt Ryan is doing now on LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (and in his own short-lived NBC show). But as far as this flick goes, it gets a bad rap.