You'd think that after the X-Men movies made eleventy-trillion dollars and the Spider-Man movies made another fourteeny-bazillion that Hollywood would tip its hat in respect to comic books, and finally take seriously the zany Rube Goldberg comic-to-movie adaptation process. You'd think that, faced with the prospect of making so much money, the movie-people would prick up their ears and try to figure out what made those comic book movies such a success--big budgets, yes, but also great writing, staying close to the time-tested source material, and trying to win over the existing fan base to give your movie that extra Internet buzz.
You'd be wrong, of course, and beaten for your foolishness until you squealed like a little piggy. This is Hollywood, man--give them a story set in England, steeped in English occult lore, about a dour blond Englishman, and they'll give you back a movie set in Los Angeles starring Nicolas Cage! Well, they'll try anyway, but then Cage will back out and they'll replace him with Keanu Reeves! Brilliant! I mean, I know I've always thought of Mexico as a kind of sweaty Scotland.
Constantine is not a terrible movie on its face, but the more I think about it, the less I care to dwell on its occasional moments of competence. Tilda Swinton is the best archangel Gabriel since Christopher Walken in The Prophecy, and the movie on the whole maintains a nice mood of horror, but you don't get points just for showing up, kids.
The original DC comic about John Constantine is called "Hellblazer" and has run for over 200 issues over the course of 17 years. Along with "The Sandman," "Hellblazer" was one of the flagship titles with which DC launched its Vertigo line of mature comics, a decision that has brought fans many, many great comics series and miniseries over the years. The "Hellblazer" comics contain often-wonderful stories about a sarcastic, trenchcoat-clad working class occult man-about-town, like a British Sam Spade of the dark arts. John Constantine doesn't have much power of his own, but he knows his way around, and often pays a price for what he knows.
Over the course of those 200-plus issues, many different writers and illustrators have re-interpreted and re-defined the character, but none, to my knowledge, have ever thought he should be Keanu Reeves. In Constantine, Reeves can't even smoke convincingly, never mind carry off the charismatic scoundrelness of John Constantine. Without that character to anchor the story like the private eyes of old, there is nothing.
The movie picks up some elements borrowed from the comics, such as Constantine's discovery that after surviving a lifetime of supernatural threats he now faces imminent death from simple lung cancer. Meanwhile, elements in Hell plot Armageddon, and the Spear of Destiny--the weapon that killed Christ--is rediscovered on Earth.
What I really look forward to, though, is the sequel in which John Constantine undergoes hypnosis to recover suppressed memories of his brutal violation by screenwriter Kevin Brodbin and director Francis Lawrence, at which point the audience will learn how the trauma turned his hair black and caused him to lose his accent.
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