“Hellblazer”. One of the better DC comics Vertigo titles “Hellblazer” chronicles the adventures of cynical, sorcerer John Constantine who battles to protect mankind from the ongoing war between Heaven and Hell. While the comic has a devout cult following, when it was announced the film would switch the beloved hero from British descent to an American played by Keanu Reeves many fans wrote the film off as another case of Hollywood messing up a good thing. When the Matrixesque trailers began to premiere, fears only grew as even those who were unfamiliar with the comic sensed there was something derivative and off putting about the film. The good news is that “Constantine” is an entertaining supernatural film noir, the bad news is it is nowhere near as good as its source material and should prove a large disappointment to the comics fans.
Considering the amount of characterization and thought put into the comic, even taking a handful of the ideas and making a movie would have proved interesting, which is in effect exactly what happened here. Contantine is still a magically inclined do gooder helping to dispell demons who try and upset the balance between Heaven and Hell. Despite his good deeds, Constantine is a marked man, his years of chain smoking have caught up with him and he is dying of lung cancer. Making matters worse is that a past sin is providing a road block to his reaching Heaven and with time running out, Constantine is facing an eternity with souls he helped to damn. Enter Angela (Rachel Weisz), a cop trying to get to the bottom of her sister*s suicide whose case may just provide Constantine with a way back into the Lord’s favor.
There is a lot of good in here, the inspired casting choices such as Tilda Swinton as the androgynous angel Gabriel and Gavin Rossdale as a lower level demon. Despite the fan outcry, Reeves does a serviceable enough job as Constantine and is helped by strong performances by Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Shia LeBeouf playing Constantine’s apprentice Chas. The basic storyline and dark tone is engaging and there will always be something compelling about a guy armed with a Holy Shotgun blowing away demons yet…
“Constantine” never rises above Hellblazerlite.
The film makes things simply too black, especially considering the complexities of the comic. Chas is older in “Hellblazer” but here is played by the precocious LeBeouf (who does a good job as always) just so the film has a wider appeal. A love story of sorts develops but is forced and seems inappropriate given the events going on. The seedy, three dimensional character of Constantine (who can be a real sob in the comic) is more of generic Hollywood detective here. Sure he smokes a lot and dabbles in magic, but this is not the character who brought the comic to life. There is a great moment from the comic where Constantine, who has battled cancer, is confronted by a demon made of tobacco and nonchalantly tears a piece off for a cigarette. Smart, original moments like this are absent from the film and it is this type of wit that would have elevated the material from B-picture to something truly memorable.
The film looks good for the most part aside from some over the top excursions in CGI, but the plot relies too heavily upon coincidence and chance, never really engaging the audience. The ending lacks a real sense of urgency since the lead villain is hidden for most of the film. “Constantine” is to be commended for setting a slow deliberate pace instead of a “Resident Evil” type of action film, but the characters should have been given more to do.
In the end, “Constantine” is an engaging supernatural mystery, but could have been a classic if it had stayed even closer to and taken the chances of the material upon which it was based.