A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 252 – Constantine

Constantine – November 7th, 2010

I honestly don’t know where people ever got the impression that this movie was based on comic books. I mean, this is obviously not the John Constantine from Hellblazer. He’s American, and not nearly witty enough, and he pronounces his name “Constanteen” and he’s played by Keanu Reeves. So really, why would anyone think this is about the John Constantine from the comic books? I have no idea. I mean, just because the folks who made the movie said so, that’s no reason to believe them.

Really though, if we’re going to go accepting that this is an adaptation of the Hellblazer comics, we’d have to accept a pretty radical alternate universe setting. I’m capable of it, as evidenced by my relative lack of continuity-based issues for many of our other comic book movies. I could run with that here. But really, I think here it’s much more akin to O Brother, Where Art Thou? than, say, X-Men. It’s taking cues from the source, but using it more as inspiration than anything else. And that’s all well and good, but I didn’t review O Brother, Where Art Thou? on the basis of how well it cleaves to The Odyssey. I reviewed it on its own merits, which are many. So I’m going to try and do the same here. I’m going to ignore what I know about the original John Constantine and not try to compare Keanu Reeves’ performance to that particular standard.

Contrary to the impression I might have given when I reviewed Much Ado About Nothing, I do like Keanu Reeves. He’s not the most facially expressive actor in the world, but I guess that’s one reason why he’s done a lot of action roles (that and his fused vertebrae – which I read somewhere make him have to move a certain way that comes off as “dynamic” on screen and thus attractive to action films). But I like him. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and he does do determined well. He would not have been my first choice for an American John Constantine (that would be Denis Leary, if you’re curious), but for the purposes of this movie? I actually quite like him. He doesn’t need to be facially or emotionally expressive here. The character is remote and closed off. A loner. Even his faithful sidekick, Chas, has to beg to be included in his jobs. This is not a guy who makes friends easily or wants to in the first place. He’s got a job to do and that job is sending demons and half-demons to hell. It’s serious work. You need to put on your Serious Face to do it and Reeves has a decent Serious Face.

With Reeves in place as our hero, the demon-busting John Constantine, the movie really does a decent job setting up a supernatural action mystery involving a sinister angel, a suave demon, the spear that killed Jesus Christ and a pair of psychic twins. One of the twins is dead, having jumped off the roof of a building. The other is a police detective and meets John by accident, but soon enlists his help in trying to find out why her sister, a devout Catholic, would take her own life and condemn her soul to hell. Along with some help from a few associates of John’s (all doomed, of course) she and John uncover what seems to be a plot to allow Lucifer’s son entry into the human world. As one might guess, this would be bad.

The big climactic scene at the end really is rather good, as is the rest of the action. All through the movie you get to see this world Constantine inhabits, where carrying ampoules of holy water is a good idea for self defense and exorcisms are a daily event. All the things you don’t want to believe are real, are real, and he’s constantly dealing with the bad side of it all. My one complaint with the movie’s worldbuilding is that while a goodly amount of it is shown to us through John’s interactions with other people who move in the same circles, one of those people is his sidekick. They should have just named Chas Mr. Exposition. He’s often found following John around, telling him things John certainly already knows. Yes, thank you for telling us the background behind Midnite, Chas. Certainly we wouldn’t have known he’s a neutral party from the multiple times he says so himself. It’s a frustratingly clunky bit of writing in a movie that’s not brilliant by any means, but also isn’t usually that much of a hammer to the head.

Moving away from the not so good stuff, let’s end on a high note and talk about Gabriel. Now, I’m not blaming Shia LeBeouf for Chas’s lines or role of exposition machine, and we’ve gone over how I feel about Keanu. I have no complaints about Rachel Weisz as Angela and Isabel. But I love Tilda Swinton as Gabriel. Love. Her. Swinton is an odd one, to be sure, but that’s what makes her so eminently perfect for the part of the androgynous, mysterious and quixotic angel Gabriel. I love every scene Gabriel is in and a lot of that is due to Swinton’s performance. It is magnificent, especially the very end and Gabriel’s last words to Constantine. Idealistic to the last.

This isn’t a good movie by any means. I mean, I can think of a bunch of other fantastical action movies I’d put in before this one. But it does have its good points. I think the expectation that it should be more like Hellblazer ends up hiding what the movie does well, which is too bad. If it wasn’t supposed to be an adaptation of the comic books and was merely a supernatural action movie, then maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so derided. So really, the trick to enjoying it is to just let go of the blond British guy and embrace the movie on its own terms. Keanu and all.

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

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