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Review: Constantine

Directed by Francis Lawrence
Story by Kevin Brodbin
Screenplay by Kevin Brodbin, Mark Bomback and Frank Capello
Based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer

Constantine begins with a quote about the Spear of Destiny, which is fabled to have been the spear that pierced Jesus’ side while he hung from the cross. A young man in Mexico finds the Spear and when he touches it, his body becomes possessed and he begins a journey, as does the audience.

We cut to Los Angeles where John Constantine performs an exorcism on a young girl, but this one felt different to John; a demon was trying to use its host as a doorway into this plane, which is against the rules of the game set up by God and Satan, who are competing to see who can win the most souls. The internal struggle that we wrestle with between good and evil has been shifted into an external struggle, one waged fiercely by angels and demons. They can influence people, but do nothing more. That is, until now, but then it’s no surprise that demons would break the rules.

Constantine has been aware of the game for a long time. From a very young age, he’s been able to see the angels and demons among us. He started battling demons and sending them back to Hell in an effort to earn his place into Heaven when he learned that his soul was damned because he took a life.

Constantine seeks answers to what is altering the game from sources like the archangel Gabriel and a voodoo witch doctor named Papa Midnight who runs a nightclub where good and evil mingle; neither has anything to offer. However, the mystery begins to reveal itself when police detective Angela Dodson seeks out Constantine’s help after her sister Isabel’s suicide. Angela says Isabel would never have committed suicide and believes that something influenced her to do it. As Constantine works with Angela, he soon discovers that others want to get in on God and Satan’s game, which doesn’t bode well for mankind.

I enjoyed this film a lot. It’s a fun romp through the fantasy/horror genre filled with action, thrills and intrigue set amidst Biblical mythology. Constantine is an interesting character with as much depth as can be expected in an action film. He’s a brooding demon-fighter, well versed in the occult arts, who suffers from excessive cigarette smoking. Keanu does a good job bringing him to life. He captures the quiet, subdued, except when called to action, qualities of the character, creating an anti-action hero. He’ll probably go over well with the angst-filled, dressed-in-black demographic.

What I liked best about Constantine is that he resolves the situation by using his brains. He took a calculated risk and it paid off because the writers created a smart, believable script. Of course, we know as the theatre lights dim that mankind isn’t going to be destroyed; however, the writers made some intriguing choices in the plot that had me surprised a couple of times. They also did a good job of providing bits of information along the way rather than having the pacing come to a halt by a big exposition dump. For example, we learn about why Constantine is damned to Hell early on, but it isn’t until later in the film that we find out what actually happened.

That’s not to say there weren’t some flaws. The supporting characters get the short shrift and even Constantine doesn’t seem completely fleshed out as he would have in a television series, but they only had two hours. Some times the CGI monsters and backgrounds looked really good and other times they were just okay. I would have preferred to have not seen Satan’s face.

I highly recommend Constantine. When the film ended, I immediately thought about seeing it again and that rarely happens to me. I know most critics disagree and panned it, but I don’t know what they expect in a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s not like the filmmakers were making Wild Strawberries.

In conclusion, let me state that I have not read any of the Hellblazer books. I have seen the John Constantine character appear elsewhere, but have no recollection of him. I mention this because on the Internet there are some fans of the series that are very upset with the changes that have been made in bringing Constantine to the big screen. Due to the differences in the mediums, I’m sure that there are a number of alterations that frustrate these people to no end, such as transporting the story from England to Los Angeles or changing his hair color. While neither of those seems important, I can sympathize with their plight because I cringe every time I hear about work on the film adaptation of one of my favorite novels of all time, A Confederacy of Dunces. [I shuddered after typing that last sentence.] However the true heretics who have defiled their precious comics are not the filmmakers, but whoever at DC/Vertigo licensed the property. Make sure to direct your curses and incantations in the proper direction.
SC: Tan The Man

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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