Published on February 21st, 2005 | by Erich Becker0
After the major disappointments that were The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, you would think Keanu Reeves would want to stay away from the comic book world. While The Matrix sequels weren’t based on comic books per se, their stories were heavily influenced by the graphic novels that occupy so many hardcore fans throughout the world. Still, Warner Bros., and Reeves, teamed up once again, for another foray which has one half of Bill & Ted in the role of an action hero. This time Neo steps into the shoes of John Constantine, a man who can see the demons that influence us, and uses every tool at his disposal to send them back to hell.
Constantine, based on the Vertigo/DC comic Hellblazer, has the title character portrayed as a hard-boiled, cancer-ridden hero who has no desire to do anything but rewrite his fate in the afterlife. He’s destined to go to hell after attempting suicide earlier in his life, and by Catholicism rulings, a mortal sin such as taking your own life can only mean one thing, eternal damnation. For all his demon killing Constantine still hasn’t managed to buy his way into heaven, and with lung cancer about to end his quest, all seems lost. Yet he stumbles upon a young woman, Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), who is investigating the apparent suicide of her twin sister, but there’s more to her death than it seems (isn’t there always?).
Constantine is a decidedly dark movie, equally akin to the undertones of the Matrix trilogy, and those with a deep religious background may find some imagery and talk disturbing. There is no sugar coating when describing hell and this certainly isn’t the hell portrayed in The Simpsons where demons simply go bowling with your head. Here, the great below features half-headed demons ripping you to shreds over and over again for eternity. The world is a mirror image of our own, only blasted like a heat furnace with fire raging all around you. It certainly sounds like a great tourist destination, no? One of the movies main criticisms is it devotes the explanation of everything (good and evil) under the rules of the Catholic/Christian principles of religion, completely ignoring the fact that Christianity isn’t even the major religion on the planet. Yet, I find it hard to fault the film based on this simply because of the source material the original writers decided to use.
Reeves, who has been faulted before for not living up to his acting potential, does a good job portraying John Constantine as a re-envisioned character. In the comics the protagonist is a blonde haired Brit, in the film he’s a dark haired American. Surely some of the comic’s die-hard fans will be disappointed by the creative liberties taken by the screenwriters, but that’s to be expected when jumping from the colored pages to the silver screen. Rachel Weisz also puts in another strong performance as the twin sisters Angela and Isabel. She’s definitely the eye candy of the film, but plays the part of a deeply religious detective believably.
Constantine suffers, however, from the weight it puts on itself and the audience. The film, running for a full two hours certainly feels its running length. The first two acts are slow to develop and brooding in the darkness that is Constantine’s fate. The climax, part of it obviously influenced from the open scene in Blade, lacks the overall punch you expect it to have. Yet, maybe it’s our expectations that need to be changed? As the credits rolled, Tom and myself actually applauded the director for sticking with a non-Hollywood ending, even though the character dynamics where there to implement it. It almost feels as though the movie is about to go cookie-cutter when it just throws the dough on the pan and lets it form its own shape. Still, in this day and age, where fancy camera tricks and gunplay make up a great majority of our movies, Constantine just doesn’t have the “wow” factor at the critical moment.
I was genuinely impressed with the film, in that, it managed to keep my attention for two hours, lacked the punch that most films deliver in their climaxes, and still has me smiling at the end. Is it worthy of a re-viewing in the theater? Maybe, but with a packed DVD the film is definitely worth owning. As with most comic book movies, the die-hard fans will find plenty to complain about, but those with no prior knowledge of the series will find something to enjoy in the darkness that is this world.