NOTE: As a longtime reader of “Hellblazer,” I knew that reviewing the movie “Constantine” would require me to keep my love for the original material in perspective while judging the film on its own merits. Unfortunately, I’m not that good a writer, so the only way to reconcile my appreciation of the movie with my disbelief at what’s been done to one of my favorite comic book characters was to write two reviews. This one rates the film as an adaptation of the source material. It also ignores most of the salient plot points, which you can get in the first write-up.
For actual readers of Vertigo’s “Hellblazer,” the only possible way to approach the movie “Constantine” is by disassociating it entirely from the monthly comic. This should be less difficult than it sounds, thanks to the glaring and oft-cited differences. After all, the comic book Constantine is blond and British, a scouse con-man rather than an American demon hunter banishing supernatural baddies for Good; Chas is John’s oldest friend and confidante, not a teenaged “apprentice;” and the idea that John Constantine would ever resort to good deeds in order to wheedle his way into heaven is so at odds with the character it’s laughable. The longer one watches the film and sees what’s happened to our favorite con job, however, the more one wished the filmmakers had simply created a brand new character and washed their hands of John Constantine entirely.
That appears to have been too much to ask, however. The truly maddening thing about “Constantine” is how screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello have sprinkled it with so many tidbits from the monthly title that fans can’t help but be reminded of the cinematic screw-over the character is receiving. They’ve made a half-assed attempt to file the serial numbers off the “Dangerous Habits” storyline (and in the screening I attended, I didn’t see author Garth Ennis’ name anywhere in the credits), but the key ingredient (John’s lung cancer) is still there, so are a few lines of dialogue between John and Gabriel, as well as Constantine’s climactic middle finger salute (put in an entirely new context and thereby losing most of its effectiveness). There’s also a scene involving holy water that is obviously “inspired” by Ennis’ run on “Vampirella.”
Of course, none of this is enough to distract us from: the Holy Shotgun of Antioch (or whatever the hell that stupid thing is called)…or the James Bond scene involving Constantine and his version of “Q” trying out the latest in occult gadgetry…or Chas as Robin to Constantine’s Batman…or that indescribably awful bit that takes place after the final credits…or that tattoo…or Keanu.
Keanu Reeves gets a lot of credit for his movie choices (avoiding “Speed 2” probably means his IQ is significantly higher than we’ve been giving him credit for), but here, as an actor, he falls on his face. No, he’s not from Liverpool and he doesn’t look like Sting, but a decent American actor (not Nicolas Cage) could’ve pulled off a believable representation. John Cusack, anyone? Wasn’t Roy Dillon from “The Grifters” sort of an Americanized Constantine minus the sorcery? This character is supposed to be the embittered veteran of a thousand psychic wars, but he might as well be a stockbroker with a hangover from too many appletinis, the way Reeves portrays him here.
The irony of all this is that Warner Bros. presumably adapted “Hellblazer” – in part – to get fans of the comic to see the movie, but they’ve made such a half-assed go of it that these same fans are going to be spitting venom for months. In fact, I’d almost recommend that those of you who’ve followed the exploits of the character created by Alan Moore (and fleshed out by the likes of Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, and Mike Carey all these years) avoid the film entirely. You’ll live longer.
It could’ve been worse, though. They could’ve kept the Hellblazermobile.
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