Don’t believe in the devil?
You should. He believes in you.
Look, I’m the first to admit that I’ve never been a comic book reader. I just don’t get them to be honest with you. Sometimes the art is amazing and that’s cool, but I just never could gel with reading them. The words and the pictures… why do you need both? Respect to all the comic book lovers out there. I’m not judging you. Let’s just say that I’m a straight up old fashioned novel type of girl.
With that in mind, when I heard that Keanu Reeves was doing a movie called Constantine I was just happy. I had no idea it was a comic and no idea what an uproar it was going to cause amongst fans of the comic. I just thought the concept sounded like something that was going to be right up my alley. I didn’t see the big deal.
And here’s the thing. I still don’t.
I know Keanu polarises a lot of people. Especially those of you not old enough to remember the genius of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or the range of feels that you get from watch Parenthood (especially when you’re a bit older and all the concepts make sense to your own life) or the infuriating frustration if My Own Private Idaho – seriously WTF was that even about? Apart from The Matrix, which most people agree is an awesome film, I know a lot of people don’t rate Keanu as an actor and tend to judge all of his films before they even see them. I’ve read people saying that he can’t act and that he’s wooden. Whatever. Speed was life changing to me. Jack Traven was part of my sexual awakening and Point Break is close enough to my heart that I’m beside myself with grief over the remake, so if you don’t like Keanu this post isn’t for you and we’ll just have to agree to disagree … And you’re wrong about him btw.
Back to Constantine. I love the shit out of this movie and if you never saw it or haven’t seen it in a while, I would push you to give it another try. As I’ve said in no uncertain terms, I don’t know how it fits into the wider comic mythology, and I don’t really care. We all need to get over it when our favourite novel/graphic novel characters get a bit bastardised by modern cinema. If I can manage to accept Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, then you too, can overcome whatever issues you have about Keanu taking on the role of someone who is meant to be blonde.
So, what’s so right about this film? Well, let’s look at the supporting cast for starters:
Rachel Weiz: As Angela Dodson. She’s been a major girl crush of mine since The Mummy (my love of The Mummy is a whole other kettle of fish) and I loved her in this. She manages to be both hard in the cop role and soft(er) as intended target for demonic possession. I wish that she and John had had more of an intimate interaction, but we don’t always get what we want and, in service to the larger story, I thought their chemistry and the evolution of the relationship really worked within the film. This is not the first time Rachel Weiz and Keanu Reeves have starred in a film together and perhaps that accounts to some degree, for their familiarity and chemistry on screen. Now, unlike Constantine, Chain Reaction was a bloody awful film. On that we can agree.
Tilda Swindon: As Gabriel. Tilda, you weird bitch. Only you could play this role. I love the fact that Tilda Swinton has the guts to be a woman and play a man. You might argue that Gabriel could be either, and you’d still be right, which is again, why Tilda Swinton is awesome. Also, the scene at the end when she appears (‘Into the light, I command thee’) and delivers a beat down on Constatine is bad-ass.
And Peter Stormare: As the Devil. I’ll hand it to Peter Stormare, he’s the best Satan I ever saw in any film and that alone makes this movie worth watching. From the second he descends and the hot tar is dripping from his feet until the moment he whispers into Constantine’s ear ‘You will live.. You. Will Live,’ he just nails it. For those of you who’ve read Paradise Lost, you’ll see that he’s clearly drawing on that idea of that Satan, the Satan that’s a fallen prince of Heaven, the Satan who was once a beautiful creature and is now relegated to the depths of Hell, the Satan that’s pissed off about it. I’d go as far as to say that Satan himself is probably jealous of this perfomance.
Djimon Hounsou: Papa Midnite. Amazing. If I needed a wing man to help me battle the forces of evil he’d be first on my list. Likewise, next time I need a mysterious witchdoctor to pray over me before I head into battle, or just someone to drink scotch and smoke with on a Saturday night, I’ll be fishing his number out of the referdex.
Shia LaBeouf: as Chaz. Now, Shia is another fellow that manages to upset people left, right and centre, but no matter what he does, be it punching people at the local pharmacy or refusing to bathe, I still love him. I can’t help but recall that one unfortunate interview he gave early on in his career, where he said that he thought his mother was the sexiest woman in the world (ethereal angel might have been the exact term) and it kind of got twisted out of context and used against him. I feel like society has been against Shia since then. In this film though, none of that has happened yet, he’s young and a bit chubby and just trying to get into Papa Midnite’s Bar and I love him for it. For the record, I agree with you Shia, it was totally two frogs on a bench…
Now, back to the main man. I think Keanu, as John, turns in a solid performance here. He’s cold and conflicted and damn angry and really, for a man who has had so much tragedy in his life in the real world, I think he frankly had a lot of emotions to draw from. What I really like about John, is the fact that I almost don’t want to like him. I mean, there are scenes where he’s just a straight up dick. But then, almost moments later, I feel sorry for him and I want to give him another chance. The scene where he confronts Gabriel about getting an ‘extension’ for instance. Yes, John, you really are f*cked.
And let’s not forget that we’re talking about a stand alone film here, not a franchise. It’s impossible to capture the John Constantine of Hellblazer, in his entirety, in 90 minutes and still manage to make a film that’s going to attract a wide audience.
I have no doubt that I’d have a much better grasp of the inner workings and demons of John Constantine if I were up on my comic book mythology, but even without any reference material to draw on, what comes across clearly is that for John, the battle between Heaven and Hell, Angels and Demons, isn’t just an external one, it’s totally internal as well.
Perhaps another reason a lot of people don’t like this film or don’t get it is because there’s a really rich catholic imagery running throughout. If you’re not down with catholic dogma a lot of it is probably going to go straight over your head. Likewise, if you’re down on the Catholicism in general, it’s probably just going to annoy you. I’m not going to get on the cross at you in either case, but regardless of your personal options on organised religion or the other JC, you can’t go past the Catholics when it comes to amazing thematic imagery and some cracker good versus evil mythology. The movie wouldn’t be nearly as good without it. Similarly to Daredevil, you need the Catholicism in there in order to really drive home the inner turmoil.
The Spear of Destiny, that’s an actual thing guys… well, depending on who you believe. I actually have a book about it, which suggests that Hitler was obsessed with the spear and actually stole it from a museum during WWII. Admittedly, it’s probably not the most historically trustworthy source (I’m an historian, I should know better) but it is a compelling theory. I’d suggest looking it up in your spare time. If it did exist, or does exist, history is certainly going to get a whole lot more fun when it shows up!
Bibles in hell? Okay maybe not. That part of the plot was a bit hard to come at, but I’ll forgive it. I’ll also ignore that whole bit about cat’s being ‘half in, half out any ways’. No film is perfect.
I’m sure there may be some Hellblazer fanatics out there reading this right now and thinking, who is this stupid girl? She has no idea! This is blasphemy! And you know, you might be right. What do I know about the comic book John? A big fat nothin.’ I’m sorry if I offended you, but I’m just keeping it real. Constantine shouldn’t cop a bashing over the fact that Keanu is in it. Let’s just get off of Keanu’s back, okay? I’ll take his John Constantine over Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher any day (seriously, I love those books, but I was rooting for Jai Courtney in the film).