How many times have I started a review with something along the lines of Batman started it all? I know it gets boring and monotonous, but hey, it’s who I am…
But seriously, after the big hit that was 1989’s Batman from Tim Burton, I rediscovered comic books, which I had abandoned as an adolescent, and was hooked immediately. After trying many a super-hero book out, I went to the dark side, and made the joyous discovery that comics weren’t just for breakfast anymore. No wait, that was orange juice…but really, I think it is mostly for breakfast. Unless maybe you’re sick, and you drink some in the afternoon with a couple of Vitamin Cs, you know?
But seriously (again), comics weren’t just for kids. The better ones were actually for “mature readers”, and they ran the gamut from let’s say, the equivalent of “PG-13”, to what can only be called “XXX” (Faust anyone?).
While the most heralded and respected of these “Mature Readers” titles was the amazing DC Comics title Sandman by the Godlike Neil Gaiman, many other books were available. One of these was another DC book called Hellblazer, which revolved around a blonde, chain smoking British bloke in London that was sometimes in over his head in occult happenings. The character, John Constantine, first appeared in the pages of Swamp Thing in the early Eighties, and writer extraordinaire Alan Moore literally modeled him after the famed musician Sting, the blond leader of The Police. Hellblazer is still being published after all these years. Constantine’s still British and he’s still blonde…
Hollywood is here to fuck everything up, once again.
I can just imagine the Hollywood suits discussing this one:
”He’s British you say? Nah, let’s make him an American!
He lives in London? No good, how about L.A.?
He’s blonde you say? Perfect, let’s get Keanu Reeves!”
All that being said, I have to say…
Constantine was pretty freaking cool. It’s hard for me to say how close it is to the comic since I only read issues written and drawn by the great team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (with awesome covers by Glenn Fabry!), but I would say it was at least close in tone. Well, at least in the way that Keanu Reeves portrayed Constantine, with a sarcastic, dry wit. And definitely as a chain smoker. I think Reeves did a great job. Rachel Weisz plays both Angela and her twin sister Isabel. Those aren’t characters from the comics, but they’re interesting characters and Ms. Weisz is so beautiful anyway, I don’t care if the characters are new or not. She’s a great actress too.
Djimon Hounsou plays Papa Midnite, which I don’t remember from the DC Comics world, but I’m pretty sure got his start there. He’s very believable in the role as his thick African accent lends credence to the character. Shia Lebouf is very good as Constantine’s assistant, Chaz, a name which sounds vaguely familiar from the books, but probably in a very different context. Tilda Swinton is pretty great as Gabriel, the archangel. Angel’s are supposed to be genderless, but obviously with a name like Gabriel, this angel seems more male than female. I remember a movie called Orlando in which Swinton played a man that became a woman (or maybe it was the other way around). Weird, huh? Does Ms. Swinton have Gender Identity issues? Maybe some day Hilary Swank will play her in a movie…
Mr Gwen Stefani, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale (I suppose that makes Dick Cheney a Bush sideman?), plays Balthazar, a half breed demon who wants Constantine dead. Not a bad job for a singer from the Nineties. Rounding out the cast, in what amounts to little more than a cameo, is the always creepy Peter Stormare, playing, you know him, you love him, Lucifer Morningstar. Satan. You know, the Dark Prince himself. Unfortunately he plays him a bit like Paul Lynde. Weird.
Francis Lawrence, an acclaimed music video director, uh, sorry, I can’t name one right now, but I think he has some good ones, makes his film directorial debut with Constantine and I think he does a great job. Visually, the film is great. I think the CGI demons are a little lacking, but it’s kinda cool that they kind of look like Eddie, the Iron Maiden mascot. There are a lot of disturbing images too, at least to a wimp like me.
Written by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, the film has a good mix of action and religiously themed creepiness. Very creepy at times, and pretty deep subject matter once you peel away the comic book veneer. I don’t know how much money this movie will make, but I think it’ll please fans of supernatural thrillers, horror flicks, action flicks, and dare I say it, possibly even comic book fans.
I’m elitist enough to take away points for changing the story from England to America, etc., but as you can see, it still gets a good grade.