A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Constantine

November 7, 2010

Constantine

This is a pretty fun movie as long as you keep one thing in mind from the very beginning: It is NOT an adaptation of the Hellblazer series of comic books. It claims to be – it has the Vertigo logo in the opening credits. But the John Constantine of Hellblazer is not this one. Oh, it’s pretty darned close, but this isn’t the John Constantine I know and love. I’ve been a fan of Constantine since he first appeared in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing books. I was delighted when he showed up in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Books of Magic. Constantine is like the DC universe answer for Dr. Strange but with a more modern bent. He’s a man trapped in the occult world by his mastery of it, which is a very cool concept. The Constantine of this movie is as enigmatic and self centered as the one in the books, but he lacks that sardonic English wit which defines the character for me. And he doesn’t have a proper overcoat. And although I haven’t read all of the Hellblazer books I’m pretty sure that John never had a plucky side-kick in the comics. Just sayin’.

Still, this is a fun movie which I think I would enjoy a whole lot more if the main character weren’t named John Constantine. Let’s just imagine that it’s about an exorcist named James Carpathian. James is the guy – well connected in worlds not quite outside our own – you call when something seriously weird is going on. He’s on speaking terms with “half breed” angels and demons – beasts not quite of Heaven or Hell who walk the Earth in spire of a Truce between the ancient adversaries. He knows all the occultists and other such people who deal in the supernatural. It’s the world of the movie that I most enjoy. The film does a great job establishing the rules and the players and the stakes as it introduces James and his apprentice Chas and the stoic police-woman Angela who is caught up in some kind of supernatural showdown.

Angela’s twin sister Isabel has committed suicide, which according to the rules of this movie damns her to Hell. Eventually this leads Angela to go to James, since he seems to understand things beyond her ken and might know some way to exonerate her sister. Of course it all turns out to be part of a plot involving the Spear of Destiny and the son of Satan, who would very much like to leave Hell and come up to Earth. There’s conniving and scheming and then something else that doesn’t really feel right for the Hellblazer books: a big Hollywood action scene with magical holy shotguns.

If, as I’m doing, you overlook the lead role there’s some very nice casting. Keanu Reeves as James (not John) is actually a pretty cool anti-hero. He plays a cold-as-ice but also slightly haunted character, which he’s well able to do. There’s a lot of posing in front of wind machines and shouting in Latin. Rachel Weisz plays the twins Isabel and Angela (yes, I see what you did there movie… then again it’s not exactly subtle.) It’s a strange sort of role being as she is not quite a romantic interest for James (though the movie teases us with the notion that she might be.) She’s a tortured character with a steel core, which must have been fun to play – it’s unfortunate that the costume department never once let her button up her blouse though. (Seriously – the camera spends so much time looking down her shirt that it made me feel kind of dirty just to watch it. I had to avert my eyes.) Shia LaBeouf is his usual personable self as the totally superfluous Chas, who I think is mostly there for expository purposes. It’s always a pleasure to see Djimon Hounsou, who plays a very small role as one of James’ occult contacts. He just brings such power to the screen with his glares. And there’s my favorite part of the movie – Tilda Swinton. She plays a half-breed angel named Gabriel who is instrumental in the plot, and I pretty much just watch the movie for her scenes. She imbues Gabriel with such a complete devotion that you completely accept that the angel could make no other choice.

This is a movie that’s just fun to watch. There are so many great effects and images. I mentioned that there was a lot of posing, and what I meant to say is that many scenes are set up in service of certain iconic moments that stick in your head long after the movie is over. Director Francis Lawrence is anything but subtle. There’s a strong motif of crosses throughout the film, as well as a great deal of attention to reflections. (Even reflections of letters that look like crosses at one point.) It’s a heavy-handed way of saying “Look! This is a movie about the battle for Heaven and it involves worlds that reflect our own!” But the effects are so well done and the images on the screen so vivid and cool that I never really minded. The glimpses of Hell as a windy, dusty, parched apocalyptic twist to our own world are awesome. There’s a cool battle with a demon made up of snakes and bugs and things which is introduced by a crab that walks over James’ hand (because he’s dying of cancer, get it?) The climax at the end may have shades of the Blade movies to it, but at least it has a cool ending that feels like it fits the rules established about the movie’s world. The film is, if I may be forgiven for the cliche, the very definition of a feast for the eyes.

I like this movie. I like the world it is set in. I even like the stoic hero at its core, as long as I don’t try to think of him as John Constantine. It’s a cool sort of action fantasy take on such horror classics as The Exorcist and The Omen and well worth watching. Oh and hey, if you’re a fan of Shia LaBeouf (and they guy must have some fans, right?) be sure you stay through the credits for his post-credit appearance. I always like post-credit stuff.

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November 7, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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