Friday, February 24, 2012

Constantine - 2005

"Constantine" - 2005
Dir. by Francis Lawrence - 2 hrs. 1 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Probably the most important things to know about this movie is that it's "based" on the long-running DC/Vertigo comic book series, "Hellblazer," and that it features a character co-created by Alan Moore (as well as artists Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch).  What does that mean for you?  A legion of people who were prepared to hate this movie from the get-go (and I'll get to the reasons in a minute) got to it before others did, and spread their hatred far and wide.  Ordinarily, it wouldn't even be worth discussing, but this is a pretty decent film once you divorce it from it's source material (and one of it's creators).

First off, Alan Moore.  Whether or not he's right (and that's strictly a matter of opinion), he does have a habit of complaining loudly and publicly disavowing any movie that's made based on one of his creations.  Or another way to put it is that someone from the media shows up on his doorstep every time a movie is made based on one of Moore's creations, knowing that he'll say something inflammatory and spectacular.  However you look at it, it's like clockwork.  He has no problems publicly sabotaging movies based on his work, and does so out of a general moral objection to adapting creative works to different medium.  Secondly, what you see on-screen bears little resemblance to the comics work, other than the general idea and the general adaptation of one of the better Hellblazer graphic novels, titled "Dangerous Habits."  Whereas the character was initially supposed to resemble Sting (from The Police, not the wrestler) in a trenchcoat and was a cynical Brit, the filmmakers decided to cast Keanu Reeves in the main role.  So you can understand why fans of the character might not have been inclined to view this movie in a charitable manner going in.

I don't consider the changes to be necessary ones, but they were made, and there is no imaginary perfectly-strict adaptation to compare this Keanu Reeves version to.  That leaves a potential viewer a couple of reasonable options.  One is to say that the changes are absurd, and to stay far away.  The other is that you have to accept what is here, and take it at face value.  What is not reasonable is to watch it so that you can complain about it.  Yes, "Hellblazer" would have been an excellent title, but try to get a film with "hell" in the title into multiplexes.  Not impossible, but a needless battle to fight during the Bush administration.  Yes, it probably would have made more sense to cast a fair-skinned British actor in the lead, but they didn't.  It's set in Los Angeles and not London, no matter how much pouting and crying anyone does over that fact.  The question is, can you just shut up and enjoy what's here?  If not, the exit is to your left.

The story is kind of a tortured religious logic one: there are extra books to the Bible that us common folk don't know about, and they explain how the son of Satan (not the Marvel Comics character) will try to come to Earth.  Until then, demons and angles live among us incognito, playing their roles in a cosmic bet between God and the Devil to see who can collect more souls.  The demons are becoming more brazen, which concerns John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), but his lung cancer also concerns him.  The other main character, Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), a detective, discovers that her recently-committed twin sister has committed suicide, which she finds unlikely considering the large religious consequences for her soul.  John and Angela end up working together to try to unravel what happened to Angela's sister and for the recent aggressiveness of the demons.

Does this measure up to the best "Hellblazer" comics?  Probably not.  The structure of the movie is Franchise Establishment 101; Constantine has a young apprentice, Chas Kramer (Shia LeBeouf) to spin-off in the future, there's a Magical Negro (TM Spike Lee) in Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) with a shady past (there's your prequel), and there's an implied future romance between Constantine and Dodson.  And they don't even kill the big bad guy (that would be Satan himself, played with creepy awesomeness by Peter Stormare).  Hell, they've even got the music crossover locked down with Gavin Rossdale's character.  The entire design of the story is textbook.

But the execution is pretty fun, and that goes a long way.  The settings look fantastic; even Hell is a creepy swirl of warm colors and nasty creatures.  Keanu does the Keanu thing, there's some perverse pleasure in watching a British actress try to pull off an American accent, and the bit players rock.  Swinton and Stormare in particular are a ball to watch (not at all unusual).  If you're open to it, there's fun to be had here. If you're in the mood to nit-pick, there's certainly fuel for that fire as well, but for a spooky/action movie, "Constantine" isn't bad at all.  It's not a good adaptation of the source material, but taken on its own, it's a solid movie that could have been the foundation for an on-going franchise if things had played out a little differently.

3 / 5 - Blu-Ray

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