Friday, March 18, 2005

Title: Constantine
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare
Director: Francis Lawrence

In recent years we have seen a rise in the number of films adapted from comic books, Marvel Comics have particularly been flooding the market, with Dark Horse not so far behind. Traditionally over the years there have always been the big two companies, Marvel and DC - DC gave us Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. In recent years DC haven't really been making much of their properties in the film world, except for the derisible Cat Woman film from last year. With Constantine they are doing something a little different, taking a character from the DC imprint Vertigo Comics and putting it in the cinema.

Vertigo was created something like 10 years ago, consolidating the titles DC had which didn't really fit the parent line, those which were a little more grown up, weird and spooky. One of the classics that fell under this umbrella was Swamp Thing, which has actually been made into two films, but those were a little slap stick and more action movie than the Vertigo heading dictates. While sales were falling on the title, one of the industries top names was brought in to give it a fresh lease of life - Alan Moore. In the recent industry of comic conversions, Moore has had several of his works brought to live - From Hell and The Extraordinary League Of Gentlemen being two obvious examples, while The Watchman and V For Vendetta are in the works. During his run on Swamp Thing this British writer created a character called John Constantine, a hard smoking, hard drinking bastard from England who dabbled in black magic. This character was spun out into his own title, and thus was born Hellblazer. A title which was written by a succession of British comic talent, from Jamie Delano through Garth Ennis to Warren Ellis.

Constantine the film is based on the character John Constantine from Hellblazer, and in particular the period that was written by Garth Ennis. Of course the most obvious problem that anyone will point out is that of casting. The film role of Constantine has been given to Keanu Reeves, which obviously doesn't match the comic book vision of a rugged, mischievous bastard. Even in terms of appearance, Constantine is a sort of dirty blonde, and tends to be depicted with a dirty brown raincoat. Instead Keanu has dark hair and wears a black coat, but hey, those are minor concerns if he can pull off the part. Unfortunately Keanu can't pull off the part at all, even if you take the role from fresh Keanu never seems to convince that he is as much of an anti-hero as those around him would have us believe.

Regardless. God and the Devil are at war for the souls of all those on earth. But with this they have certain rules, they can try and influence the souls, particularly through half-breeds, but they can't put a full-breed angel or demon on earth. Unfortunately there are extra chapters in the devil's copy of the bible, which suggest conditions under which hell would be visited upon earth. Those conditions are starting to be met, and Constantine finds himself dragged in. From childhood he had always seen strange things, and was eventually driven to suicide; he was brought back from death, but the attempt was enough to damn his soul to hell. Being damned to hell he has spent the years since banishing demonic forces in a bid for redemption, making him particularly hated amongst hell's forces.

This sets up the film where Constantine is detecting increasing demonic forces, his friends are being picked off, and he finds himself dealing with a police woman who's twin sister has just been killed by mysterious forces. From there we have a mixed bag of a film, there are times where Keanu gets a grasp of the character and the production team get a hold of the plot - so the whole clicks briefly. But at other times the film just kind of fails to convince as much as I would have liked. The scene where Constantine is visited by one of his friends and shown all sorts of mystical weapons feels a little too much like a scene from a Bond film, something which has already been imitated to death.

On the whole Constantine is pretty average. There are occasional moments that shine. But on the whole Keanu fails to perform, as usual, and Weisz is not at her best, while the teenage side-kick feels too much like someone grooming themselves for stardom than being particularly relevant or important to the film. Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare have brief parts but manage to provide some of the films "moments". So, yeah, ambivalence, tending towards disappointment if I think too much about what could have been.

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