A Co-Op Critics Review!
Player 1: One Pumped Ninja
Religious fiction hurts my head. Unlike movies that may take liberties with history and implement anachronisms to fuel the storyline, I just cannot fictionalize religion with the same ease that others can. I think the primary difference is that entertaining the thought that Lincoln had an illegitimate love child with an alien is incredibly remote to my sphere of care as opposed to, say, Jesus running away with Mary Magdalene and everything I believe is a sham. There is a great personal reality of religion to a lot of people, ninjas included, that is impossible to twist into fiction. The difficulty of incorporating spiritual warfare into a real life context lies in wanting to “stick to the rules” and take the smallest liberties possible to propose a rhetorical reality that most people can grasp.
Constantine does a mighty fine job of that. It uses a lot of the theological and doctrinal concepts of Catholic teaching to create the rule-based world of John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) and unashamedly makes gratuitous reference to Catholic beliefs. But it doesn’t get it right all the time.
John Constantine has seen visions since childhood. He’s like the kid from the Sixth Sense except he also sees angels and demons amongst us. Out of the desperation to do away with these sights, he attempts suicide and is clinically dead for two minuts, enough to spend the equivalent of a lifetime in Hell. Having come back from beyond, Constantine doesn’t want to go to Hell and decides that he has to kill enough half-breeds (angel / demon / human hybrids) and restore the Balance to get into God’s good graces. Fair enough. Then there’s the son of Satan who wants to break the agreement between God and Satan that neither angel nor demon would ever manifest in this reality. He needs the Spear of Destiny and a powerful psychic (Rachel Weisz) to accomplish this.
It is an intriguing premise but still does not manage to set itself in a workable, fictional reality. For example, Constantine points out that suicide is a mortal sin and is thus eternally punishable. This is true in the teaching of the Church, but it is not mentioned that suicide is treated as a complex psychological issue that, while considered to be extremely serious, is still up to God to decide. The Church classifies the gravity of sin but it never designates the actions of a sinner as indicative of the hellbound. In perhaps the most glaring example, Constantine says that because he’s a suicide that he’s trying to perform enough “good” works to get into Heaven (which in and of itself is the fallacious thinking that Catholics can work or buy their way into Heaven). However, he’s also well aware of sacramental confession: he tells one half-breed that you need “absolution before forgiveness”, which is not quite true but shows that he knows that there is a thing called confession. If Constantine knows all about Church teaching, why doesn’t he just go to confession? Rachel Weisz did, and she just killed a dude! Finally, there is no definition of power in this world. A demon Mexican decides to pluck Weisz’s character through an office building, through a skyscraper, and into the night sky yet decides that the only way to kill her is to dump her into a swimming pool and stab her manually. What gives?
With no restrictions on what angels and demons can do and with no rational explanation of why Constantine doesn’t know the basics of the theology to which he seems to adhere to, Constantine can be awfully frustrating and unrealistic. If you saw a man smoke 50 demons with a golden gun in the middle of a city street, would you plainly ask “what was that?” and proceed to have dinner with him, or would you freak out and defecate yourself? Right, well, the girl chose the former. Things like that make the movie rather bland when it could have had the potential to be something intriguing.
– Better than having a Mormon come to your door
– Worse than being asked “have you been saved?”
Player 2: DrSpengler
Before they hit it big with Batman Begins, DC/Vertigo Comics’ first step back into the realm of “Good Comic Book Movies” was their big screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s popular star of Hellblazer; Constantine. So, is it any good? Well, it’s no Batman Begins in terms of quality or accuracy, but it’s no atrocity to mankind like Catwoman. Not even close. At best, I guess you could say it’s “Pretty Good”.
The plot is very engaging and keeps you interested in the story and characters all the way through to the end. Basically, John Constantine is a clairvoyant “Ghostbuster” of sorts, traveling the circles of the paranormal underworld, sending demons back to Hell. But his motivation for doing such good deeds is hardly noble. Constantine, a chain-smoker, is dying of vicious lung cancer and is diagnosed with only weeks to live. He hopes to regain favor with Heaven by committing acts against the forces of Hell and hopefully get off Jesus’ naughty list. The plot thickens when a detective investigates the apparent suicide of her twin sister and finds herself at the center of a demonic plot to instigate Armageddon. Things go from bad to worse when Demonic forces get a hold of the Spear of Destiny. Yes, THAT Spear of Destiny. The one Hitler used to keep superheroes out of Germany during World War II. No seriously, it happened. Look it up!
The movie is very dark, with lots of demons and nasty monsters lurking in the dark. The writing is also well above par and will keep engaged through the film’s entirety. Particularly the ending will have you clapping in delight as Constantine attempts to con Satan-himself. The effects are good, the atmosphere is moody and dirty, and the direction is inspired. I, personally, didn’t find it all that scary, but I’m pretty desensitized to horror movies. I’ve heard other people say the movie scared the pants off them, so I guess it depends on the individual.
Now, to deal with the comic book geeks, like myself. Constantine makes some blatantly obvious changes from the Hellblazer source-material. The first of those, and easily the most obvious, is Constantine-himself. In the comics, he’s an obnoxious but clever and usually lovable British guy with a wicked sense of humor. In the movie he’s a surfer dude who looks like he’s had too much cough syrup and can’t keep himself awake. Typical of any role Keanu Reeves fills. But to be fair, Keanu isn’t TERRIBLE as Constantine. Miscast, perhaps, but not terrible. Constantine is still a self-absorbed, sarcastic jerk with the occasional glimpse at that heart of gold, but he isn’t nearly as lively as he should be. On the bright side, he smokes. A LOT.
There’s also the character of Chas, whom I found to be more offensively different than Constantine’s presentation. In the comics, Chas is Constantine’s drinking buddy and good chum who’s tough-as-nails and just barely puts up with Constantine’s crap. In the movie he’s a bright-eyed teenager that desperately wants to be a cool Ghostbuster like Constantine and provides something vaguely resembling comic-relief as he bungles around. Way to destroy a great character dynamic from the source material, guys.
The story-itself is somewhat an adaptation of “Dangerous Habits”, written by Garth Ennis and considered by many to be the essential Hellblazer tale. But even if you have read the story don’t think you’ll be able to predict most of the movie. It takes a few concepts from the story but twists them up to make them fresh and entertaining. Constantine conning the Devil at the end will be the most recognizable part and even includes a certain gesture anyone whose read Dangerous Habits will recognize.
So is the movie good or bad? It’s above average, for sure. As an adaptation of the source material it takes a few too many liberties with the characters and has a few dreadful mis-castings, but otherwise has enough to please most Hellblazer fans to some extent despite the missed opportunities.
So I’ll grade this movie using The Relative Grading Scale of Furry Sex. A GOOD movie would be like…let’s saying “Making-Out with Cheetara”. A BAD movie would be like “Making –Out with the Cookie Monster”.
But this movie was slightly above average, so I’ll give it a “Making-Out with Callie from Swat Kats”.