Revisited: Constantine

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is an exorcist who lives in Los Angeles. Born with the power to see angels and demons on Earth, he committed suicide at age 15 after being unable to cope with his visions. Constantine was revived by paramedics but spent two minutes in Hell. He knows that because of his actions his soul is condemned to damnation when he dies, and has recently learned that he has developed lung cancer as a result of his smoking habit.

After a case involving a full-fledged demon trying to break onto the “human plane,” Constantine seeks an audience with the androgynous half-breed angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton). He asks Gabriel for a reprieve from death so that he can continue fighting demons, which Gabriel declines. Constantine is told that his exorcisms will not gain him a reprieve from Hell because his motives are selfish. As he leaves, Constantine repels an attack by a full-fledged demon out in the open. This encounter prompts him to meet with former witch doctor Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou). While there Constantine also encounters half-breed demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale), who informs him that all of Hell is waiting for him to die and that he is the one soul Satan would come to Earth personally to collect. Constantine begins investigating the situation with his associates Beeman (Max Baker), Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), and Chas Kramer (Shia LaBeouf). L.A.P.D. Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) also shows up at Constantine’s apartment looking for his help with her investigation into her twin sister Isabel’s death. Isabel leapt to her death from the top of a mental hospital, and despite camera footage showing it Angela is convinced that Isabel would never commit suicide. At first Constantine mocks her and denies her request for help, but after demons attack Angela on the street outside Constantine agrees to look into her sister’s death. He informs Angela that God and Lucifer are engaged in a proxy war; a standing wager for the souls of all mankind. Neither true angels nor demons can manifest on Earth, but they are allowed to possess and influence humans. Both sides also use “half-breeds” to peddle influence for their cause.

Hennessy and Beeman’s findings lead Constantine to the conclusion that Mammon, Lucifer’s son, is seeking to create his own kingdom on Earth by breaking through onto the human plane. To do so, Mammon requires a powerful psychic and assistance from God. Balthazar begins killing Constantine’s associates and Angela reveals that she and her sister possessed the same gift as Constantine. Angela refused her visions and they went dormant, but Isabel tried to tell everyone about them and was institutionalized for it. Constantine reawakens Angela’s psychic ability through a near death experience, then hunts down and interrogates Balthazar who reveals that Mammon has obtained the Spear of Destiny, which has the blood of Jesus Christ encrusted on it. The psychic Mammon needs Angela, who is abducted by an unseen force and taken to Isabel’s hospital to be used as the portal for Mammon’s entrance to Earth. Constantine convinces Midnite to allow him to use “The Chair”, an old electric chair from Sing Sing Prison that had killed over 200 inmates. The Chair shows Constantine a vision that the spear was discovered in Mexico and has been brought to Los Angeles. Constantine and Chas head to the hospital and interrupt the ritual, but Chas is beaten to death by an unseen force in the process.

Using incantations and sigils tattooed on his arms, Constantine forces Gabriel to be revealed. Gabriel subdues Constantine immediately and reveals that the plan to release Mammon was theirs. Gabriel laments God’s favoritism towards humans and believes that bringing Hell to Earth will enable those who survive to become truly worthy of God’s love through repentance and faith. Gabriel then throws Constantine from the room and begins to draw forth Mammon. As Gabriel moves to stab Angela with the Spear and release Mammon, Constantine slits his wrists. Time stops as Lucifer (Peter Stormare) arrives to personally collect his soul. Constantine tells Lucifer about Mammon’s plan and Lucifer sends Mammon back to Hell. When Gabriel attempts to smite Lucifer, the angel’s power is nullified and their wings are burned off. In return for his help, Lucifer grants Constantine a favor; instead of a longer life, he asks Lucifer to allow Isabel to go to Heaven. Lucifer then finds that he is unable to drag Constantine to Hell, due to Constantine’s self sacrifice. Constantine begins to rise into Heaven, and infuriated by the idea of losing Constantine’s soul, Lucifer heals his wounds and cures him of his cancer so that he may live again, claiming that Constantine, in time, will be his. Constantine departs with the Spear after resisting the temptation to kill Gabriel, and gives the Spear to Angela instructing her to hide it, then forget it. As he watches her leave, instead of producing a cigarette, he starts to chew on some nicotine gum.

In a post-credits scene, Constantine visits Chas’ grave. He leaves his lighter that he always used. When he leaves, Chas appears as an angel with wings and flies upward to the sky. Constantine smiles, shakes his head and leaves.

REVIEW:

In this time when superheroes, it may be forgotten that there have been some comic book films that set things up for this great time in comic book cinema. One of these is Constantine. A little news this week about a possible TV show for John Constantine on NBC (unclear if it will be related). We’ll see if that happens, but first, let’s talk about the film.

What is this about?

In a world ruled largely by logic, an eccentric private detective with a taste for the supernatural investigates an apparent suicide in this thriller based on the comic book “Hellblazer.”

What did I like?

Gabriel. Today must be Gabriel day, because I was just watching another actor portray him in an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess this morning and now Tilda Swinton brings him to the screen. Swinton’s take on the archangel is quite…interesting. I don’t really know if he is androgynous in the comics, but being that they cast her, the casting directors knew what they were doing when they cast her, as she was highly effective.

Effects. There are plenty of films that use the imagery of demons and hell, but this film really plays up the “hellish” aspects of Hades. Some of these effects would have worked in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, if you ask me. The demons are also well designed and imaginative. Very easily, they could have been carbon copies of each other, but careful thought and consideration was obviously given to their design.

Change is good. In the comics, John Constantine is an angry, blonde, British drunk who resembles the singer, Sting. There was talk of Keanu Reeves adapting an accept and changing his hair, but that didn’t happen, thankfully. Yes, Reeves isn’t that great of an actor, but when he’s doing his usual shtick, it works for him. As we saw in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is perhaps best if he sticks to American stuff. The decision to not have him act as a Sting was a great one.

What didn’t I like?

Devil’s due. When Lucifer enters he slithers in with some kind o odd black liquid covering him, and yet he still has an immaculately clean suit. I’m not really sure what that black stuff was, and we weren’t really told what it was, either. Peter Stormare does give a good performance, regardless. I just wish there was an answer to the mystery.

Shia. To my knowledge, Constantine doesn’t have a sidekick, so the use of Shia here is nothing more what we’ve gotten in every other film they try to shove him down our throats in. Why is it that Hollywood seems to think this guy is going to be the next great actor. It just isn’t gonna happen. This character isn’t bad, mind you, just not worth using him when they could have just as easily used some random character actor, or made him more like he is in the comic.

God. It seems we see every major religious figure but the Almighty. Even in Dogma, he…well, she…makes an appearance. It would have been more powerful, at least if you ask me, to have God show up somewhere, even if it were just a cameo. With all the talk about hell and demons and such, it would have made for a nice ray of light, if you will.

Constantine is a good vs evil film. Interesting tidbit, the leading man doesn’t seem to have a thing for the leading lady, though it was written for him to have a girl who is killed, but those scenes were cut. Religious nuts, specifically Catholics, are probably not going to be jumping up and down about the themes and images on display. Those folks aside, this is actually quite the entertaining film, complete with elements of horror, action, and suspense. I highly recommend it, so give it a shot!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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