‘Constantine’ can’t compare to its comic book counterpart

Walt Kneeland

“What did I tell you about farting in the bathtub?” Rachel Weisz and Keanu Revese get blown away in Constantine.

Credit: Walt Kneeland

“Hell wants him. Heaven won’t take him. Earth needs him,” reads the tagline for Constantine. This refers to title character John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), a detective of sorts who deals with the supernatural.

Early in the film, we witness a scene in Mexico as a man unearths a piece of metal — the Spear of Destiny. After a shocking demonstration of the spear’s power, we shift to a scene in Los Angeles. Here, one John Constantine arrives and is able to do what the police could not: exorcise a demon from a young girl.

Constantine recognizes the demon as a “soldier-demon,” and realizes something much larger than general demonic possessions is going on. We are also introduced to Angie (Rachel Weisz), a police officer who has just lost her sister, a patient at Ravenscar, to apparent suicide. Angie’s investigation into her sister’s death leads her to Constantine, and then all hell breaks loose. Literally.

The trouble with reviewing this film comes in the necessary — and obvious — comparison to its source material. Constantine is officially based on the Hellblazer comic series from Vertigo/DC Comics.

As such, there are certain elements that one would expect to appear in the movie — these are generally lacking here, or exist in such a changed form as to be virtually unrecognizable. While it is understandable and generally a given that any movie based on some other media is going to have changes, the changes here are glaring.

In the comics, John Constantine is an English, blonde, trench-coat-wearing, chain-smoking, womanizing, selfish jerk. For this film, he is an American, black-haired, dress-shirt-and-tie-wearing, self-serving jerk who apparently smokes a lot.

Chas Chandler (Shia LaBeouf) is a kid here, rather than Constantine’s adult contemporary. Finally, Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) appears in the film as a “neutral party” in dealing with the supernatural order, rather than the villain the character served as in the comics.

There is a lot of potential to the character and the story, even by Americanizing the character. However, this film fails to capture that, and instead, it rushes around attempting to show off as much as it can of the title character’s “attitude.” Not to mention the use of supernatural-themed gadgets that would be more at-home in last year’s Van Helsing.

Comments are made in reference to certain characters never directly introduced in the film, and other scenes seem to be present solely for their “coolness” factor, or to attempt to incorporate specifics from the comic book source material it is based.

In short, comparing the film to the comics leaves it in an extremely negative light, as it has been changed beyond any real recognition of its source. However, taken by itself with no comic book comparisons, the film is not nearly as bad.

In the end, this film is decent, but not wonderful. The acting is not stellar, though it could certainly be worse. If you’re interested in the film from the comics angle, you will certainly be disappointed, as this John Constantine is a radically different character with a few similarities to the comic counterpart.

If you’re coming to this film with no previous knowledge of it even being based on a comic, you’ll find yourself a fairly enjoyable — if rather predictable — film.

As with many films of late, I would recommend catching this film for a matinee showing rather than paying evening price to see it. It’s probably not going to win any awards, but you could certainly find many worse movies than Constantine.

If you are interested in reading about the monthly exploits of the John Constantine character, check out Hellblazer comics and graphic novels at comics specialty stores and the larger book chains. Of particular note would be Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits, which contains the story of Constantine’s battle with cancer, which part of the film is based on.

Contact pop arts reporter Walt Kneeland at [email protected].