Constantine (2005) Review – Noir with Demons and Other Stuff

I really like this film. Well there’s my thoughts summed up in one swoop but stick with me, there’s more to this.

Before his ‘live action’ debut, the character of John Constantine was a staple of the ‘Hellblazer’ comics, published by DC Comics and started in 1988 but his first comic book appearance was in ‘The Saga of the Swamp Thing #37’ in 1985. The ‘Hellblazer’ comics lasted until 2013 where the character was re-established for another comic book aptly titled ‘Constantine’ and was also published by DC Comics and released in the same year. All this either coincidentally or purposely coincided with the TV series of the same name which started in 2014, was produced by NBC and only lasted for one season before being cancelled due to poor ratings. The ‘Constantine’ comics also finished in 2015.

I’m going to be honest; I haven’t read the comic books and I haven’t seen the series. The only reference that I have with the ‘Constantine’ universe is the live-action film that was released in 2005 and starred Keanu Reeves as the titular supernatural detective.

The actual plot of ‘Constantine’ is a bit complicated and so deserves close examination, but I’ll give a rough summary just for reference.

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) lives in LA (the City of Angels) and is spending as much time as he can exorcising demons and chain-smoking. Meanwhile, Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) is devasted by the suicide of her identical twin, Isabel who was confined in a mental institute. Not believing that her sister would commit suicide due to their families deeply held Catholic beliefs, Angela’s investigation sends her to John Constantine who himself realises that Angela is being used for a more sinister motive and a full-scale war between Heaven and Hell threatens to make its way onto home turf.

There’s your taster, now let’s go deeper.

The character of John Constantine as he’s portrayed in the film is something of a tragic figure. He’s had the ability to see ‘things’ since he was a child and his parents subjected him to electric shock therapy to try and cure his visions. He was so convinced that he was mad that he tried to kill himself and was only temporarily successful. Although he was brought back to life, in the two minutes that he was dead, John’s soul was sent to Hell for taking his own life and when he came back, he knew that he was doomed for Hell on his dying day. His life since then has been a constant attempt to get back into ‘His’ good graces by exorcising demons and sending them back to Hell to earn his way into Heaven.

The first instance that we get of this is when we see John arrive at a run-down apartment block where a young Filipina girl has been possessed by a demon. John’s friend, Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) calls John to such cases although his reasonings are ambiguous. It could be a favour for John or the knowledge that John is the only man who can deal with it or maybe he’s finding the possession cases for John so he can keep racking up the exorcisms.

Anyway, John arrives and we as the audience see that he’s a little bit cocky around the demons as he’s got his own calling card. He simply speaks, “This is Constantine, John Constantine… Asshole” which is only one step above James Bond although James Bond is incredibly smug and very ‘punchable’ when he says it, but John speaks with all sincerity.

His method of removing the demon is placing a mirror over the girl’s bed where she is currently tied, and John performs his little ritual where the ducks out of the way and the demon is encased in the mirror. With some difficulty, John gets the mirror out of the window where it smashes. The demon is gone, and the girl is fine.

For John, it’s just another day at the office but it’s not until he’s attacked by a proper demon that’s seemingly made of creepy crawlers does he think that there’s something wrong. When he goes to see Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) and ponders the notion of demons attacking him, Papa Midnite mentions that demons don’t like him (I wonder why) and that his is the one soul that Lucifer would come up from Hell to collect himself. I’m sure that last part was mentioned more than once.

However, when Angela comes to visit him for the first time, he rejects her proposition of helping her find out what happened to her sister and only agrees when he sees demons flying in her direction. When demons attack and he dispatches them quite easily does he say that he doesn’t think that they were after him. Really? John, you were attacked not that long ago by a proper demon and was confused by it and now demons have turned up again but this time you’re sure that they’re not after you?

Nevertheless, John is convinced that something is wrong and Angela is mixed up in it all so he decides to see whether or not Isabel is in Hell to see once and for all if she killed herself. John’s method for going to Hell is still something that baffles me. It’s ‘explained’ in a bit more detail later but for now, Angela takes John back to her apartment and places a washing-up bowl full of water in front of a chair. John takes her cat and sits in the chair. He places both feet in the chair and asks Angela to leave and as she’s barely out the door, he looks into the cats eyes and somehow this method transports him to Hell. He sees Isabel and just before he’s attacked by demons, He smashes a bottle of Holy water on his chest and this transports him back to Angela’s apartment. Angela re-enters and sees that smoke is coming off his coat and he’s coughing. As proof that John has been to Hell and seen her sister, he tells her that they were twins and gives her Isabel’s scorched hospital wrist tag. Now Angela is a believer in Hell despite being Catholic and previously not believing in the Devil.

Now we get a vision of the overarching plot as John explains to Angela that God and the Devil placed a wager over the souls of mankind. There would be one rule which is ‘No direct contact, only influence’. The people who do the ‘influencing’ are called ‘half-breeds’ in that they are half human and half demon/angel. We all know that if you do very bad things then you will go to Hell but this movie puts a different slant on it by saying that the people who do bad things are influenced by the Devil’s side and vice versa for those on ‘Team God’.

Angela also learns about John’s experiences as a child and his attempted suicide thus his true motivations for exorcising demons. She, however doesn’t ask about his smoking. I think she’s assumed just like much of the audience that John’s excessive smoking is a coping mechanism but he’s really goofed because in the film (but I suspect he’s known for a while) he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given a year to live. Angela doesn’t know about any of this and it’s probably for the best. John doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would tell a stranger about his personal health issues although his friends know about it. He’s constantly coughing throughout the film and keeps it at bay with pharmacy cough syrup, he even coughs up blood once or twice. Interestingly, in one of the earlier drafts of the script, John collapses and coughs up blood in front of Angela and she finds out just how ill he really is but like I said, it’s probably better that she doesn’t know because the knowledge that he’s dying would change the dynamic of their relationship and I also don’t get the impression that John likes being bathed in sympathy.

So Hennessey and John’s other friend, Beeman (Max Baker) are killed by Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) who is a half-demon and so John sets off with a crucifix shotgun which is introduced in a manner that would suggest that the audience knows what it is and its relevance to the continuity. I personally don’t but it’s a cool weapon otherwise.

John finds Balthazar and discovers that Mammon (the son of the Devil) is planning to cross over to Earth and kick off Armageddon and to do that, he needs two things. One is the ‘Spear of Destiny’ which is the name given to the spear that was wielded by a Roman Soldier and was jabbed into Jesus as He was nailed to the cross son it’s stained with His blood. The other thing is the ‘psychic’ which was Isabel but since she killed herself to stop that from happened, that honour fell to Angela since she could see things as a child but then stopped seeing for some reason. Since John gave her a sneaky peek into Hell which ruined his bathtub, the demons have seen her also.

Some other stuff happens and with the help of Papa Midnite and John’s driver, Chas (Shia LaBeouf), John arrives at a swimming baths for the final confrontation.

Now, it wouldn’t be a film without a betrayal or two so when Chas is killed by an invisible third party which is presumably the same invisible third party that kidnapped Angela, the invisible third party is revealed to be the archangel Gabriel who’s played by Tilda Swinton and she plays the role very well.

On a side note, as a UK resident and a watcher of films, I really like Tilda Swinton as an actress. I’ve seen her in quite a few things and she plays the quirky roles quite well. The point is that wouldn’t she have been a great choice to be Doctor Who? If it’s so fucking important to have a female doctor then wouldn’t be a great idea to have an actress who would know how to handle such a role? If they’d have picked her and she’d have said ‘yes’ then I may still be watching Doctor Who instead of having utter distaste for it at this point.

Back to the plot.

Gabriel doesn’t like humans and thinks that it’s not fair that humans can do terrible things and then say their sorry and God forgives them. Apparently, only in the face of true adversity do humans show their true nobility and so when the Earth is being fucked by Mammon then maybe humans will be worthy of God’s love and those who are unworthy will die. John is disposed of by being tossed into a glass door and out of options, John makes a drastic move.

I really like this sequence as it’s foreshadowed throughout the movie. It’s understood that when someone goes to Hell, time stops and John is told (I’m sure more than once) that his is the only soul that Lucifer would collect himself. So, with that in mind, John picks up a piece of glass and slits his wrists. As he bleeds out, time stops just before Mammon can be cut out of Angela using the Spear of Destiny.

As expected, Lucifer arrives and he’s played by Peter Stormare who is again, another actor that I really like. This was a risky move on John’s part but it just so happened to work out since there was a possibility that since it is Lucifer’s son who wants to kickstart the Apocalypse then maybe Lucifer could be all for it and cheerleading from the side-lines but nope, Lucifer had no idea and so foils the whole plan by banishing Mammon back to Hell and since God doesn’t have Gabriel’s back anymore, Lucifer incinerates Gabriel’s wings resulting in Gabriel becoming human.

John has the option of not being taken to Hell and becoming Lucifer’s plaything for all eternity but instead, John accepts the ‘plaything’ option under the condition that Isabel be sent to Heaven. However, there’s a catch (playing on the re-occurring line in the film, ‘Always a catch’), since John has made a selfless sacrifice, he is granted entry into Heaven but Lucifer doesn’t like being double-crossed and so before John gets out of arms reach, Lucifer grabs John and rips his shirt open. Just before we as the audience think this film has taken a sinister turn, Lucifer thrusts his arms into John’s chest and declares that John shall live so he can live a lot longer and once again condemn his own soul to Hell. We’re shown what Lucifer was doing inside John’s chest when he releases John and we see that Lucifer’s hands are covered in tar and tumours.

John awakens and takes a deep breath. His cancer is gone and his wrists have healed. Angela too is fine. Gabriel on the other hand tries to convince to John to commit murder with Gabriel being his victim because Gabriel doesn’t want to live as a human. Instead, John punches Gabriel and walks away.

In the last scene, John gives Angela the Spear of Destiny and tells her to hide it where not even he can find it and they make an agreement to go on a date maybe. As Angela leaves, the camera spins around John and just as we think he’s putting a cigarette in his mouth, it’s actually a piece of gum. Probably Nicorette. All in all, great movie.

Constantine had a budget of $100 Million which is surprising because it doesn’t look like a $100 Million movie which sounds like a smartarse criticism but it’s really not. The CG effects are really good, and the sets are really good too. There’s also a stellar cast so maybe the $100 Million figure is about right.

Reviews are mixed for this venture. Somehow, this film was compared to ‘The Matrix’. I’m not quite sure how that happened. Is it because Keanu Reeves starred in both? Because they are different movies. Elsewhere, the performances and the CG effects were praised.

On the flip side, the main criticisms seem to be the differences between the comics and the film but like I said at the start, I’m not familiar with the comic so maybe a little but of distance is what the film needed. There were some things in the comic that weren’t in the film or were changed for the film. To be fair, the ‘Hellblazer’ comics were going for 25 years. There’s only so much you can put in a 2-hour movie and for someone who knows nothing about the comics, I really liked this movie so what’s the problem? It worked just fine on it’s own. I understood what was happening without any reference and that’s what a good ‘stand-alone’ piece should be like.

It doesn’t matter anyway because ‘Constantine’ made $230 Million Worldwide at the box office so, Ha.

Although everything nice that I’ve said about this film is totally valid, I watched this film in the first place because Keanu Reeves is in it. I like him as an actor and in interviews, he comes across as a really nice guy and although he’s been in some really shitty films, he was always the best part of them. Characters like John Constantine are the best kind of roles for him as in the lone, tortured, action type guy which is probably why the ‘John Wick’ films have been so successful.

It’s a shame there wasn’t a sequel to ‘Constantine’. The Director of ‘Constantine’, Francis Lawrence has said that he would like to do a sequel that’s darker and scarier than the first one which I would totally be up for.  I also believe that Mr Reeves himself has said recently that he would like to play Constantine again. Maybe a sequel isn’t totally out of the question, just not anytime soon.

Keanu Reeves is a bit of a hot property at the moment what with the new ‘John Wick’ film having been released a few weeks ago and his upcoming performance in ‘Toy Story 4’ and his recent appearance at the E3 convention which made the internet wet itself with glee. I was going to buy ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ when it came out anyway but now, I’m definitely going to buy it now I know that Keanu Reeves is in it. April 2020 is too far away.

By the way, have you seen my book yet? It’s really good and written by me.

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