Shiny Shelf


By Stephen Lavington on 11 September 2005

It is pretty much a given that the release of any film based upon a comic book will be accompanied by controversy. Well, ‘controversy’ in the sense of a removal of yellow lycra, addition of organic web-shooters or incorporation of Special Agent Tom Sawyer. Nevertheless, changes made in the jump from page to screen can sometimes make a major difference to the fundamental direction of the character, and this is the case in ‘Constantine’.

Given the negative reaction to news that Alan Moore’s cynical blonde scally conman and practioner of hard-luck magic John Constantine would be played by Keanu Reeves, it is surprising that the casting actually worked out quite well. Reeves does a good job, though his efforts at weary insouciance too often come across as teenage petulance. Rachel Weisz is, as always, adequate while Djimon Hounsou, despite a shaky start, makes a good Papa Midnite. Peter Stormare steals the show in a manner that, to mention any more details, would give away one of the movie’s few twists.

The plotting and pace are enjoyable, if somewhat formulaic in the introduction of Macguffins and characters to the viewer. The story is passable pastiche of the supernatural stock-in-trade of the ‘Hellblazer’ comic: biblical artefacts, angels and demons, psychics and seedy street magic. However, a promising start swiftly gets bogged down in scenes of heavy exposition and a finale that owes rather more to ‘Blade’ than its source material.

The main problem, however, is characterization. The John Constantine of ‘Hellblazer’ is equally contemptuous of both heaven and hell. Presumably this was judged too gloomy for the film, which presents Constantine as damned, basically, on a technicality – rather than the more complex, conscious bloody-mindedness of the protagonist of ‘Hellblazer’ – and all too eager to ingratiate himself with God and buy his way into heaven. Aspirational stuff, but something the comic’s protagonist would dismiss with a sneer as spineless toadyism.

Granted there is grimness to the movie’s tone, and a reasonable attempt to stick to the idea of a spiritual battle between heaven and hell. However, the cinematic John Constantine is more of a ‘good guy’ than his comic book counterpart could ever be.

Entertaining, but not quite right.

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By Stephen Lavington

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