I expected a total, brain-rattling train wreck of a movie from Constantine,
and it was better than that. Who knew?
None of us here did. Witness our comments in a movie preview feature we did
Books editor Peggy Hailey: "You know, if I were looking for someone to play
a smart shady Brit magician, Keanu would be my first choice, too. Now that Schwarzenegger's
given up the business."
Fiction editor Jayme Blaschke: "Keanu gives me a rash. No, really. I have a
prescription and everything."
There is no reason that this movie should have been watchable. Multiple release
delays and changes in directors and actors usually bode ill. This movie has
been in the works for years. The fact of its release is surprising enough. It
was on the same level as Alien vs. Predator, but not near the sheer
impossibility of Watchmen. (For the record, at this writing, Watchmen
still isn't finished, but Miss Congeniality 2 is. But that's not important
Hellblazer is a long-running comic from DC Comics' edgy-mature imprint,
Vertigo. The movie comes with a pre-movie credit frame with a "Vertigo" logo
that looks similar to Marvel's.
But this is the only time they get to use it, unless they re-release Swamp
Thing on DVD. They could do a movie about Books of Magic. It's
about a teenage boy who learns about the ways of wizardry. Never mind; nobody'd
go see that.
At first, Nicolas "You Got A Panty On Your Head" Cage was the blond, British
magician. I'd rather see a blond British guy play the John Constantine part
like the comics, but given the alternative of Keanu Reeves dying his hair and
doing the accent he did in "Much Ado About Nothing," I'll take his performance
here, thank you very much. Besides, to paraphrase Keanu himself in Parenthood:
"You need a license to catch a fish, but any butt-reaming asshole can
At no time does Keanu issue his trademark "Whoa." That's worth two rating
points right there.
I mainly remember Constantine from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run as
the human guy who Swampy "possessed" so he could give the ol' "Anatomy Lesson"
to Abby Arcane. Thanks to the magic of comic book movies, I present to you now
this mental image: Swamp Thing possessing Keanu Reeves so he can get it on with
For the first 45 minutes of the movie, Keanu Reeves looks like he's reading
a cue card. But after that, he perks up.
Shia LeBouef plays a teenage apprentice to Constantine, who was there to be
the viewpoint of the audience. But then he disappears halfway in. He comes back,
but all this is fine, because I thought the movie was going to be about him.
And that he would have a magic bracelet. Wait -- that was Elektra.
There are British actors here, or at least, non-American ones. But they're only
supernatural beings. Which implies something really good about the British,
or really bad about supernatural beings. Notable among them is Gavin Rossdale,
who is the lead singer of Bush, whose album I bought. It was the mid-1990s,
back when I had money. His appearance leads to the funnest part of the movie:
Constantine's holy brass knuckles! (Why do I want to say "Batman" at the end
of that sentence?)
But as Keanu himself reported in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, "every
rose has its thorn." Like in Constantine's first plot-exposition sequence, when
he explains how the movie's world works. He says, "Heaven and hell are right
here, behind every wall, every window, the world behind the world."
And I said, "Aw, crap! It's The Matrix!" But the Hell and Heaven
of the movie aren't really like that. Which is good.
There's a connection here with Hellboy. In both, the lead actor's acting was obscured. In Hellboy it
was by 20 pounds of red makeup. In Constantine it's Keanu's pale, blank
Horror stories with a freaky twist are the new Next Big Thing in movies. Constantine
fits right in; his comics have been all over that for 20 years. The movie has
that dark, gritty texture of all the Current Horror, except that it's got a
comic book hero in it.
No Heather Locklear, though. Maybe in the sequel.