At first, after the early director troubles and the casting of Keanu, I wouldn’t have given Constantine a snowball’s chance in Hell. But, while I can definitely see how it might come off as long-winded, somewhat inscrutable, and mostly boring to folks who hadn’t read the comics, I found the movie a surprisingly good adaptation of the source material. Much more atmospheric than your average February release comic book film, Constantine is a well-thought-out, well-constructed (if occasionally overlong) B-picture. As Keanu might say, “Whoa.”
I haven’t read Hellblazer much in the past decade, but what I remember most about the early adventures of John Constantine were (a) his frequent conversations and complicated pacts with the various demilords of Heaven and Hell, and (b) the absurdly short life-spans among his worldwide network of demonologists, clairvoyants, freaks, and hangers-on. To its credit, Constantine gets both details exactly right, with Tilda Swinton, Gavin Rossdale, Djimon Hounsou, and Peter Stormare playing otherworldly nobility to great effect (although I think I preferred Viggo’s take on Lucifer in The Prophecy), and Max Baker and Pruitt Taylor Vince (born to play a Constantine sidekick) layering on the eccentricities thick as unlucky compadres of the man of the hour.
When Constantine falters, it’s mainly in the long, protracted scenes between Keanu and Rachel Weisz, the latter of whom plays twins (one the love interest, the other the McGuffin.) The two (or three, whatever) don’t have much chemistry, and they stop the film cold occasionally in the middle hour. Also, the depiction of the Underworld, which basically resembles Sarah Connor’s nuclear nightmare in T2, has that cheap FX-house look to it, and fails to capture the wry malevolence often seen in DC’s comic-book Hell (for example, in the various torments visited upon Alan Moore’s Anton Arcane in Swamp Thing, or, in a creepy vision that I’ve never escaped, when Grant Morrison’s Kid Eternity encountered his teddy bear in the throes of agony, pleading for respite and demanding vengeance for his abandonment.)
Still, despite these lapses, I found Constantine for the most part an enjoyable and sequel-worthy adaptation, and an auspicious sign for fanboy cinema in 2005. Perhaps this’ll even bode well for FF…Nah.