Hello, my friends, and welcome back to Fanboy Action Theater, our semi-regular look at superhero movies. This time around, we’ll veer away from the traditional cape and spandex heroes to the ultimate trenchcoat-wearing magician in Constantine, the movie based on DC Comics’ John Constantine from the Hellblazer comic. As usual, spoilers will abound, so stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens!
The premise of Constantine is that the character of John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is an American mystic who is fighting the forces of evil, specifically the son of the Devil who wishes to rule the Earth by bringing Hell to Earth. The movie begins with the Spear of Destiny (the spear that pierced the side of Jesus at his crucifixion) being found by a man who is then possessed and heads to LA. We then meet John Constantine as he performs an exorcism on a girl, and he is startled by the demon’s tenacity to get into our world. Constantine is then contacted by Angela Dodson (the always smokin’ Rachel Weisz) who wants him to found out if her twin sister committed suicide or was murdered.
Reluctantly, Constantine agrees to do so and finds out that Angela and her twin sister both have the ability to see the supernatural, specifically the half-demons that exist on Earth. Constantine explains to Angela that Earth exists as a neutral place between Heaven and Hell and that both sides are fighting for control of Earth using the number of souls saved or damned as a measuring stick to see who wins. Both sides have agreed to certain rules and that angels and demons cannot come to Earth, but that half-demons and half-angels (both of which are called ‘half-breeds’ by Constantine) do the work of Heaven or Hell on Earth. Constantine knows that Angela has repressed her ability to see the supernatural after seeing how her twin sister was institutionalized for saying that she could see such things. Angela is remorseful when she realizes that she betrayed her sister by not supporting her and, in fact, her sister did commit suicide and is now in Hell. Constantine then further explains to Angela that he understands as that he can see half-demons as well and that he did commit suicide as a teenager, but was revived. His suicide, however, is a sin and he knows that he is damned to go to Hell when he dies. His only hope to escape damnation is to fight against evil, which he does with a world-weary heart (and a chain-smoking habit which leads to lung cancer thus ensuring his quickly approaching death).
Constantine learns of Mammon’s (the Devil’s son) plan to bring Hell to Earth by possessing a powerful psychic and then by destroying the psychic’s body using the Spear of Destiny. Constantine learns that Angela is the psychic that Mammon intends to use for his plan. Despite his best efforts though, Angela is kidnapped. Constantine then gears up for a final battle to save Angela and all of Earth.
Arriving at a hospital where the ceremony is to take place, Constantine’s apprentice, Chas, blesses the water in the sprinkler system so that Constantine can use it to weaken the horde of demons that he is facing. Mammon is restrained by Constantine and Chas but the half-angel Gabriel appears and kills Chas. Gabriel then beats up Constantine and proceeds with the ceremony. Gabriel informs Constantine that humanity is granted salvation too easily and that humanity is at its finest when confronting adversity, thus he intends to have mankind face the ultimate adversity, Hell on Earth.
Constantine realizes that he can’t stop Gabriel so he slits his wrists knowing that the Devil will show up personally to take his soul. When the Devil (Peter Stormare) appears, Constantine tells him of Mammon’s plans and the Devil then defeats Gabriel and sends Mammon back to Hell. The Devil then tells Constantine that he owes him for the information and that he will grant him a favor. Constantine then asks for Angela’s sister to be released from Hell. The Devil agrees to do so, but is enraged when he learns that by willing to go to Hell to save the sister, Heaven has forgiven Constantine and he begins to ascend towards Heaven. The Devil, in order to prevent Constantine from being saved, reaches up and removes his cancer from his lungs thus keeping him alive and on Earth.
Well, there are quite a few differences between the movie and the comic book. I started reading Hellblazer way back from issue number one (before there was a Vertigo imprint for DC) and I have been a huge John Constantine fan since that time. I haven’t read the books in the last few years since I got out of comic collecting, but I still remember them extremely well. When I first heard that there was going to be a Constantine movie, I thought, “Uh oh. That is going to suck.” All the rumors were stating that he would have a female sidekick, a souped-up car, and be American. The Constantine that I love in the comics is a down-and-out English mystic who chain-smokes, wears a battered trenchcoat, and is an utter bastard. While the movie changed some things, I was actually happy with Constantine.
The main changes from the comic are that Chas is not Constantine’s sidekick and he is not a teenager. In the comic, Chas is an old friend of Constantine who is middle-aged and not happy with him at all. Also, the whole notion of half-demons and half-angels exists only in the movie. In the comic, angels and demons exist freely on Earth and you don’t need a special sight to see them. The biggest difference is Constantine himself. In the comic, he’s an English bastard who knows mysticism through and through and doesn’t engage in gunfights with demons. Constantine uses his knowledge, not superior firepower.
With all the differences that I noted, I still like Constantine very much. Its feel is very true to the feel of the comic. While Constantine is American and not a complete bastard, he is still very abrasive. I understand that the producers wanted to make him more likable as that they wanted the audience to root for him and not despise him. Keanu Reeves plays a good John Constantine, being world-weary and abrasive, but still fighting to do the right thing in his own way.
Another aspect of the film that I liked was the depiction of the supernatural community, especially the scenes in Papa Midnite’s place, where good and evil beings freely intermingle. This reflects the supernatural community in the DC comics (read The Books of Magic mini-series from DC) where there are places where good and evil beings freely meet as that normal superheroes don’t understand the mystical nature of the their existence, but a hated foe does.
I must make mention of the scenes with the Devil (or Lucifer) played by Peter Stormare. Those scenes are incredible, especially the part when the Devil first appears floating in mid-air wearing a crisp white suit, but his bare feet are dripping mud. Those scenes are worth the price of admission alone.
Overall, while Constantine has some differences from the comic, it does stay true to the feel of the comic. There is talk of a sequel and I sincerely hope that there is one.
Overall, I give Constantine an ……………………………A.