Sunday, December 4, 2011

Theological Action-Adventure Meets Its Star With Constantine!

The Good: Decent characters, Good plot, Decent DVD extras, Decent effects
The Bad: Some of the acting does not hold up
The Basics: While John Constantine's time on Earth runs out, he works to vanquish demons back to hell and uncover the mystery of what truly happened to Isabel Dobson.

Have you ever watched a movie and thought, "I wonder why that didn't do better at the box office?" Too often lately, I've seen flicks where my reaction is "I can't believe that grossed as much as it did!" Then I sat down and watched Constantine on DVD and my thought was that of all of the film's based on comics or graphic novels lately, this one was possibly the best and most interesting of the bunch. And you know, it kept me interested the entire film, which is pretty much a rarity these days. Here's what you can expect from Constantine:

John Constantine, a chain-smoking exorcist who has the ability to see the shadow realm of demons that coincides with the known real world, is drawn into a case where a police detective's identical twin has committed suicide, much to Angela's complete disbelief. Constantine begins to doubt that everything is as it seems as the forces of Heaven and Hell converge on Earth in such a way that indicates that the fragile separation between the realms is breaking down.

Constantine soon finds himself working to protect Angela from one of the prime servants of Hell, Balthazar, who is bent on capturing her. Problematic as it is, Constantine finds his clock ticking as God prepares to claim his soul and he finds himself trying to outrun the angel Gabriel and his coming mortality.

Constantine is a pretty pure action-adventure with a little mystery-horror twist to it. The film takes a few minutes to clearly establish the tenants of the universe it embodies, with the clear understanding that there is a heaven, hell, and Earth and John Constantine is able to see the forces of both sides on Earth. But more than that, it becomes clear that Constantine is part of a war between the forces of heaven and hell where he is a tool and the rules are pretty simple: Demons cannot appear on Earth in their natural form. Apparently the rules of engagement allow for the forces of hell to possess any life on Earth, but not appear directly.

The film begins to get real interesting when it becomes clear that that rule is being broken by Satan.

The whole conflict about whether or not Isabel was killed or killed herself becomes a decent incentive to involve Constantine and Angela and the search for the truth is both a good plot point and an opportunity to explore the characters. And they are reasonably dark characters. John Constantine is a man who has been to hell and returned and while he now works for the forces of good, he lives with the knowledge that he is soon to die and that he will not be going to Heaven when he dies.

Constantine might sound like a lot of religious hoopla and no one is more wary of the advance of the Evangelical Right into the mainstream (check out my review of The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right here!), but it's basically an action-adventure/horror film using religious characters. Think of it as Van Helsing with characters from the Bible as opposed to Bram Stoker. And unlike some of the films made and marketed toward the Evangelical Right, Constantine is pretty strongly edgy and dark as opposed to uplifting and preachy.

John Constantine is a pretty clear anti-hero, he's not looking out for his own best interest and he's not looking for redemption because he knows he's not getting it. Instead, he accepts his place as a tool in the grand scheme of things and he works for Gabriel and god only because he is compelled to, not out of some sense of nobility or desire for grace. Constantine is played by Keanu Reeves with the same sense of destiny and quality as he played Neo in The Matrix (reviewed here!). In other words, Reeves isn't asked to play above his ability here and instead, the role seems tailor made to his understated ability to deliver lines and his ability to do things like run, play opposite CG villains and shoot a gun. Reeves is fine as the title character and he leads the cast well.

In fact, if anyone disappoints, it might be - sadly - Tilda Swinton as Gabriel. Swinton is such a great performer that one instantly notices her nuances. As a result, it is Swinton who ruins one of the bigger surprises of the film with her portrayal of Gabriel. Swinton tips her hand as to her character's conflict and it's unfortunate because had she held out longer for the surprise, the character's motivations could have been seen as truly shocking.

Either way, this is a dark film loaded with special effects and one of the nicer bonus features on the DVD deals with the special effects and the making of the movie. The behind-the-scenes featurette is worthwhile and entertaining and adds value to the disc.

At the end of the day, it's entertaining and pretty well made. The film holds up over multiple viewings and it's worthy of the attention of anyone who likes a good, dark action-adventure story or who has been waiting around for a horror film that is interesting. Much more on the side of action-adventure/detective, Constantine is well directed by Francis Lawrence who has a good sense of how to keep the convoluted plot moving along at a decent pace.

For other works with Rachel Weisz, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Definitely, Maybe
The Fountain
The Mummy Returns
The Mummy


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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