Movie Review: Constantine

ConstantineLast night I got a chance to see Constantine. Based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer, Constantine tells the story of supernatural detective John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), who has literally been to hell and back. The film, like too many of the most recent films, is based off a comic, which alongside all the remakes of 70’s movies that have been done lately, may be the reason movie theater attendance is down this year.

All in all the movie was pretty good, but unless you’re a fan of either Reeves or of pseudo-theologic fantasy flicks — in other words, unless you enjoyed The Matrix: Revolutions — you may well want to skip this one. Lucky for me, I like both action and pseudo-theological fantasy. Oh, and Reeves isn’t bad, either.

The film opens up with a shot of a Mexican man (Jesse Ramirez) finding the The Spear of Destiny, an artifact said to have been used by a Roman legion to stab Jesus after his death on the cross, just to make sure he was dead. When he finds the spear, the man suddenly gains an apparently unholy superpower, and starts traveling north, as we later find out.

After this scene, it cuts to a scene where John Constantine is battling a demon possessing a little girl. The scene has a strange The Exorcist meets The Matrix feel to it, which as it turns out sets the tone for the rest of the movie. After a quick battle, the demon is destroyed (or sent back to Hell, I guess) and Constantine hops on his ghost buster-mobile, an old taxi cab driven by his apprentice (?), Chas (Shia LaBeouf).

We then meet officer Rachel Weisz (Angela Dodson/Isabel Dodson), who is confessing to a priest that she’s had to kill another man. This is where we find out that her Catholic faith is being tested, and for good reason: she not only has to kill people, but her sister, a very devout and adamant Catholic, seemingly commits suicide. To Weisz, this means her sister’s in Hell for committing a mortal sin, something she’s not willing to accept. That’s when she and Constantine cross paths.

Before I go on, I have to remind any Catholic (or Protestant) readers that this film, like just about every other pseudo-theological film, takes a few liberties with history. If that’s the type of stuff that gets your blood boiling you can stop reading here. This film’s not for you. If you’re not the type to get too rowled up about this then keep reading. If you’ve made it this far there’s a good chance you’ll like the film.

Now Constantine has had his hands full. In a conversation with the archangel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), we find out that his place in eternity is already sealed. Not for the better. Yes, he fights demons and keeps the balance between Heaven and Hell in place, yada yada. But there’s something about him that’s condemned him, a murder, if you will. According to Gabrielle, it’s his selfishness. He can’t buy his way into heaven, not even with good works. And he can’t be forgiven, either. He “believes” in God and Jesus and all the saints, but he doesn’t have faith. (The terminology in the movie is a bit different, but the point’s the same.) And it’s at this point that we find out something else about Constantine: his smoking habit is going to cost him. In other words, Phillip Morris is doing what Satan (Peter Stormare) and his minions can’t.

Constantine, of course, doesn’t like this. “God’s a kid with an ant farm, lady,” he tells Weisz. “He doesn’t have plans for anything.” And it’s lines like this that ensure two things: first, non-Christians may actually start to think that this somewhat accurately reflects Biblical teaching. Second, that Christians will probably consider this a blasphemous movie. He changes this view later on, somewhat unexpectedly. (My expectations here came from Hollywood trends more than this film.)

Characteristically speaking, this is an emotionally dry film, which plays well to Reeves’s constant “nobody is home” look and acting. (Think “Neo” in the Matrix movies, never really showing much emotion.) For Reeves fans, this is good. Reeves’s isn’t the only wooden acting in the film, however. In general, the film is very dry, which I suppose accents the tone of the film. (And it’s not as dry as any of the recent Star Wars films.) After all, trying to tackle a subject like Hell — especially with the number of scenes in the movie where Constantine actually goes to Hell — can be approached one of two ways, somewhat logically or horrifically emotional. And a film depicting Heaven and Hell in their deepest-most passions would be a bit hard to pull off, or as a viewer accept, for that matter. (Hell, by the way, looks an awful lot like the world of the Matrix: a desolate nuclear wasteland on top and a cave fully of humans below. It’s just a lot more red-ish. In fact, it looks like constantly being in the middle of a nuclear explosion, wind, heat, and half-headed mutant demon beasts chasing you and all. )

Maybe it’s me, but this film almost helps (hurts?) typecast Reeves into the Neo-like role. In fact, the whole film has a Matrix-y feel to it. Here’s a list of parallels I found:

  • A cave full of humans under a nuclear wasteland.
  • lots of flying through walls and super powered battle scenes. (No kung-fu, though.)
  • An office building fire battle scene.
  • NeoConstantine going on a solo mission to save the world, only to have someone he didn’t want there join him and be that needed bit of extra help.
  • Saving the world by going head to head with the enemies of humanity, one-on-one.
  • Cinematics very similar to The Matrix. (No bullet-time shots.)

This changes later in the movie, when the film suddenly takes a Resident Evil turn, with Constantine shooting the undead with a fire-bazooka-gun-thing.

Towards the end, there are a couple of surprises which make the movie a lot more enjoyable (and, possibly blasphemous, depending on how you feel about angels). But like in the Matrix, the film ends with Reeves dying for the salvation of man.

Or does he?

Guess you’ll have to watch the movie to find out. All in all, I found this to be a pretty enjoyable movie, one which I may add to my collection, once it hits the Best Buy bargain racks.

Totally objective grade: B+

If you have any thoughts about this or any other movie you feel I should see and write a lot of spoilers for, please feel free to leave your comments here.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Constantine

  1. *Cracks knuckles*
    where to begin. I agree, the movie appeared rather dry and lacking in the emotions department. I was a little confused by the fire gun thing used to fight demons, the mirror thing, and so forth. A B+? im thinking C+, possibly a B at best. You know as i was reading the article, i had more comments, but as i type now, i cant think of any.

  2. I guess you have to know about occult-ish matters in order to understand those two referrences. (I won’t get into them now, since a quick search on google will turn up enough links for you to learn). Regarding the mirror — remember being a kid and someone telling you that if you said “bloody Mary” over and over again in front of a mirror at midnight you’d see her? Think that, but hollywood-ized. (I’m not too sure of all the tales. I’ve forgotten most of what I learned in my Literature of the Occult class in college.) The gun is a nice Hollywood alteration to the tale, though I wouldn’t mind having one of those myself. (“Hey, buddy. Got a light?” “Sure!”) It comes from the comic itself, and the ancient flamethrower contains liquid Dragon fire from the Dragon demon, Al-Gore’s cousin, Kan-Gore.

    All in all, the film relies heavily on occult and historical myths and tales for its material. Unless you’ve either (a) read the comic or (b) are seriously into that type of occultish material, you really can’t analyze the film’s historical or mythological referrences very thoroughly, which is why I didn’t in this “review.”

    I do agree with you on one thing: I was going to give the film a “B”, but since I like this kind of film, and wouldn’t mind watching it again, I’ll bump it up. Could the film have been more? Yeah, absolutely. It had the potential to be a lot more. Maybe they should’ve gotten together with the same guys that wrote “Stigmata”. Though that film wasn’t accurate pretty much at ALL, it was well written, given the topic.

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