Constantine (2005) — Ted goes back to hell

“Heaven and hell are right here, behind every wall, every window, the world behind the world. And we’re smack in the middle.”

Kyle’s rating: I’m British; did you know?

Kyle’s review: Whether you’re a casual film-goer, a die-hard Hellblazer comic book junkie, or just an idiot who has high hopes for any movie attended, Constantine is probably going to piss you off. That’s just how it is. Only the women (and men) of the “Keanu Reeves Is Handsome” fan club will be endlessly amused and entertained by Constantine, so if you’re big on the Keanu, you will love Constantine. The rest of us will have to wonder about what could have been.

But as usual, my downer opening paragraph probably has you thinking Constantine isn’t good and/or worth your time. Not the case, actually. For half the running time (mostly the first half) Constantine is a kick-ass, thematically-sound, and an overall satisfying experience. There’s a cool exorcism (sight-unseen, I’ll take Constantine’s exorcism over the entirety of The Exorcist: The Beginning), a lot of wild demon and hell-related stuff going on, and Reeves and Rachel Weisz just look good. Really good.

There’s stupid stuff thrown in, but it’s worth it for the rest. But then you hit the halfway point, there are some nagging questions that start bogging down everything. There’s a master plan to create hell on Earth, and it makes sense since it’ll start in Los Angeles, but it also doesn’t make sense. There’s a great underwater tub scene with Weisz that doesn’t boggle because of the water-impenetrable material her bra is made of, and then there’s a holy shotgun and demons (zombies?) and conspiracies and a Heaven that looks like the guy’s house in The Transporter (as in, French). What? Constantine, bad, no. Why not kiss Weisz, Keanu? I just don’t get it. And twins! Twins make my head hurt, every single time (see: The Matrix Reloaded). Be sure you stay after the final credits for one last swift kick to the crotch region; you will sob or laugh or sob quietly.

I’d say Constantine is like a lesser, medium-quality Weird Al Yankovich spoof song. The source material isn’t something everyone is familiar with but it’s broad enough to sustain a pretty good adaptation. But then creative license is taken, things are simultaneously convoluted (dramatic tension!) and dumbed down (people are dumb!), and Buddhism gets ignored altogether (movies are like college fraternities, aren’t they?). So you’re left with something that’s entertaining, maybe even amusing, but it could have changed the world (like “Eat it” or “Amish Paradise”) if it had been properly cultivated. All we can do now is enjoy the lives we have and hope that a future director’s cut DVD restores the cut Ellie (a half-breed demon and John’s sometime girlfriend — usually for an hour or so, if you catch my meaning, guv) scenes and makes the entire movie kick-ass instead of just the beginning.

There are like seven or eight characters in Constantine. I don’t want to deal with them all. Keanu is John Constantine, noir-ish world-weary demon butt-kicker and smoker extraordinaire. He’s got some issues, but he balances them out with a great long black coat and a sweet lighter that he draws attention to every time he lights a cig (yeah, great lighter, we get it, John). Weisz is a detective cop who doesn’t believe her crazy-yet-Catholic twin sister would commit suicide. Twice the Weisz is very nice, but they’re never together (alive), so don’t get your hopes up. There are other characters, like John’s helpers and the lead singer from Bush (who must be evil ‘cause he took Gwen Stefani away from the rest of us), but they’re all pretty stupid and forgettable.

No, I’m going to focus now on Tilda Swinton, who plays the archangel or maybe half-breed (my comics knowledge and movie knowledge are in arms over this one) Gabriel. Dude, Tilda is awesome! The role is supposed to be androgynous, I get it, but man is Tilda hot. And like Reeves (love him or hate him, I like him) she rolls through her role by screen charisma and interesting looks. I was cool with Reeves as Constantine because even though he’s nowhere near the Sting-inspired original design, I knew he’d make the movie watchable (and I was right). But I was unprepared for the intriguing screen presence of Tilda, and greatly surprised with how much I wanted to see more of her in the running time. Idiotic final line aside, she made the Gabriel character seem a lot more interesting than it would have been without her. Totally awesome. Where’s the Oscar for Tilda, huh? Huh? Stupid Oscars.

So, if you can handle Keanu Reeves (if you know you can’t, don’t even bother with this) or if you want to see a passable hell-centric demon-fighting movie with a couple memorable female performances (Tilda, just for you I’m going to seek out that Young Adam movie; yeah, baby!), Constantine could be fun. It seems a little long and inflated, and gets pretty murky in motivation and planning in the later half (even I was lost, and I’m smarter than you are), but trust in Keanu and you will be just fine. I’m certainly down with a sequel or two, especially if they bring in James Marsters and we can all go “doh!”

Justin’s rating: Moo? MOO! moo.

Justin’s review: There’s a good reason why Hollywood, whenever absolutely forced to touch the searing topic of Christianity, tends to go Catholic instead of Protestant (unless they need a raving Baptist minister pronouncing doom ‘n gloom, of course). Catholics are much more into physical symbology than Protestants — you got crucifixes, little candles in front of statues, holy water, rosary beads, Big Tall Hats, all sorts of specific details about heaven, hell, demons, and angels that are nowhere to be found in the Bible — and the trappings of a visible faith are easier to film than the spirit of a strong inner faith. It’s also why if someone is a Buddhist in a movie, they have to demonstrate supernatural kung fu powers; Hollywood can’t live without taking someone’s quiet personal faith and turning it into a high spectacle. It’s just too bad that movies like Constantine, which is saturated with the symbols of faith, religion, and mythology, demonstrates a severe lack of any genuine spirituality of any sort.

If you think we’ve done this before, we have. Keanu Reeves as a Christ-like figure. Keanu Reeves encountering the temptations of Mr. Lucifer (The Devil’s Advocate). Gruff heroes arming themselves with unwieldy religious weapons. A rogue angel. And, ye gods, a psychic. Can I hear a strong “Amen!” that no film anywhere, ever again, be allowed to use psychics? What a movie cop-out they are, and never interesting, either.

I didn’t intend for this review to get off on such a negative foot (my positive foot is out for cleaning). I certainly enjoyed Constantine, thought it fairly well-done with some interesting parts (let’s give it up for all the cows that drop dead when a possessed guy walks near them!), but it’s just one of those flicks that the longer you’re away from it, the more you have to nitpick.

Constantine (Reeves) is a chain-smoking disenfranchised exorcist who employs the help of friends who are there to be expendable assets. While his exorcisms are showy and exciting, one can’t help but wonder why a person with no real faith of his own is able to cast out demons — if The Exorcist taught us anything, it’s that demons kinda shrug that sort of thing off and then spit pea soup back in your face. He gets caught up with a girl — yes, there’s ALWAYS a girl — and some sort of prophetic plot to bring Lucifer’s love child into the world. And there’s an insect demon, but that’s neither here nor there.

Argh. I’m really split on this film because while the story is, to put it kindly, the work of a second grade hack, the filmmaker shows great talent at putting imaginative visuals and ideas up on the screen for us to enjoy. Every time we descend to Hell, for example, they didn’t go for a typical “flames everywhere” boutique. Instead, it looks like Los Angeles in the midst of a constant nuclear firestorm, which just summons up all sorts of emotions in me. The battles and action sequences are fun, and are pretty much the only reason why we tolerate Constantine himself — if your main character is a tortured soul and is dull about being a tortured soul, then the only redeeming value is that they be highly self-confident and able to kick demon booty all over the place.

Whether from Hollywood script writers or the graphic novelist himself, I just found most of the mentions of religion, faith and Christianity to be the same worn-out dreck that’s been recycled in films anytime someone is pressed to mention the subject. We’re handed, yet again, the “God and Satan made a wager for all of the souls of mankind” bit that unimaginative scriptwriters seem to adore (Another is the oft-repeated quote, “I don’t believe in God!” “It doesn’t matter; He believes in you.” What is THAT supposed to mean?). Even if I had no beliefs of my own, that’s just a dumb premise that’s only really used because movies like having a clearly-defined conflict instead of something more real yet much more complicated. Oh, also, anytime they mentioned how suicides automatically go to Hell (“To be ripped apart, over and over”), nobody bothers mentioning how this is mainly a Catholic belief. Perhaps, if certain characters were so worried, they should convert over to, say, Quantum Presbyterians.

I have really no idea what the graphic novel is like or how fans of it will see this film. I can only say from my unadulterated perspective, Constantine is a foundationally flawed yet superficially enjoyable movie. Act now, and we’ll throw in a field of dead cows!

Didja notice?

  • Every hero needs a sidekick, no matter what. So even though the comic book John Constantine is an essential loner with few friends and more people he blackmails into helping him, the film Constantine has adoring followers. The change isn’t quite for the best.
  • The key to getting into Midnite’s club is really, really cool
  • The holy shotgun isn’t really that cool
  • Constantine must have magical punching ability, because I don’t see him taking down the guy at the velvet rope without some magic
  • Going to Hell for a quick look around is really hard
  • Cats truly are evil! Here’s proof!
  • The Hellish Los Angeles… is pretty close to the real thing at certain times during the year. Come out and visit if you don’t believe me.
  • John Constantine = J.C. Hmm… who else has similar initials?

One comment

  1. I like it as it’s own thing — a Christian-mythology-based horror movie. I think it works well as that. Not so much as a Hellblazer movie. Man oh man, does this one shaft Chas. He fares worse than any other character from the books. Seriously. Check him out in print.

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