Superhero Month: "Constantine" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Superhero Month: "Constantine" Review

-- Rating: R (violence and demonic imagery)
Length: 121 minutes
Release date: February 18, 2005
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Fantasy/ Horror

Comic books have served as source material for the movies since the early Batman and Spider Man serials, with modern movies following suit by bringing the biggest names in comics to big-screen life. Francis Lawrence bucks this trend, however, reaching out to a little-known character named John Constantine as the titular character of his 2005 action-horror picture "Constantine." The film, starring Keanu Reeves in the leading role, is far darker than most comic book movies, embracing a heavy, plot-driven storyline instead of wall-to-wall action, but still managing to produce a movie that attracts comic book lovers and horror movie aficionados alike.

The film is taken largely from the pages of the comic, following a 1991 story arc written by Garth Ennis. John Constantine is a man with the ability to communicate with demons and angels, seeing their spiritual word in stark reality. With knowledge of the truth of angels and demons, he attempts to redeem an early sin of attempted suicide by acting as an exorcist to send the demons back to hell. His work generally involves half-demons and, after facing the attempt of a full-demon to break free from hell into the human realm, he tries to gain the aid of a half-angel, Gabriel, as portrayed by Tilda Swinton.

Constantine's meeting with Gabriel does not go well, leading to a denial of his request for a get-out-of-death-free card to pursue demons, as well as an attack by a full-fledged demon as he leaves the meeting. The failed meeting drives Constantine to seek out advice from the other side through a meeting with Papa Midnite, a witch doctor, and Balthazar, a half-demon, who inform Constantine that hell is awaiting his death anxiously.

With no serious help from either side to keep the full demon safely barricaded in hell, Constantine begins his own investigation during which he meets Detective Angela Dodson, portrayed by Rachel Weisz. Angela is looking for help in solving the apparent death by suicide of her sister Isabel. Angela is convinced that Isabel did not die by her own hand, but those around her, including Constantine, see no reason to doubt the evidence. What Constantine does, however, is tell Angela all about the hidden spiritual word and the battle between God and Lucifer for the souls of mankind. In a surprising coincidence, Angela and Isabel were both able to see the angels and demons, though Angela denied her own powers and had managed to suppress them.

Constantine's investigation leads him to the realization that the full-demon he is trying to stop is none other than Lucifer's son, Mammon, who wishes to establish his own hellish kingdom on Earth. With this revelation, the fight between Mammon and his minions and Constantine begins in earnest.

While there's nothing new about a battle for human souls between Heaven and Hell on the big screen, the comic book approach gives the plotline a completely new dark edge. Reeves is splendid as the cynical demon-hunter. His portrayal of a man already sentenced to Hell and desperate to find a way out through the exorcising of demons is well-played. The character has a dark side that makes the viewer wonder if he's actually fighting for good, having lost much of his own compassionate humanity over the years. His allies are often as dark as he is, straddling the line precariously between right and wrong as they provide him with their often-dubious assistance. Rachel Weisz is the perfect partner for Reeves as Angela. She's strong without becoming abrasive and just as desperate as Constantine in her own search for the truth behind her sister's death.

This is director Francis Lawrence's big-screen debut. His work before this was largely as a music-video director. There's a music-video-like quality to the film, with quick cuts and broad scenes where the characters seem overpowered by the rooms that surround them. Given the ultimate good-vs.-evil nature of the film, however, the large scenes feel appropriate and serve to sell the smallness of the characters of Angela and Constantine when faced with the angelic and demonic forces.

Moviegoers should find "Constantine" to be an enjoyable modern horror film, with elements of fantasy and action tied in to keep the plotline interesting and to add narrative color. While the movie doesn't stick closely to the story as presented in the comic books, the main character as play by Reeves brings enough of the core character to the screen to keep fans well satisfied. Overall, the film is a good escape flick, with a plot that's engaging and with enough action to get the pulse racing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5