Okay, we finally saw Constantine tonight (because, y’know, it’s Easter, so we may as well watch a religious movie…)
Until now I’ve been very much in the “give it a chance” camp: I know it’ll never be 100% faithful to the comic. I accept that Keanu is atrociously wrong for the part. But I’ll think of him as John Constantine’s American cousin, remove my preconceptions, and it may well be a decent movie despite all that.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Let me get the source material out of the way first of all. I used to read ‘Hellblazer’ in the Jamie Delano / Garth Ennis days, but have lost touch with it in recent years. The movie is ostensibly an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ Son of Man storyline. As an adaptation of the comic, both generally and for that specific story, it’s ridiculously unfaithful. Papa Midnite and Constantine’s lung cancer are about the only recognisable elements of the story. Constantine is superficially similar in personality, but even leaving aside the fact that the comics version is an abrasive bleach-blond cockney, the movie character has an entirely different backstory and outlook on life. His best friend Chaz shares only a name and a taxicab in common with his comics counterpart. God, Satan, Lucifer, Gabriel… all are at odds with their depiction in the comic; sometimes massively so. Even the nature of heaven and hell seem different. There’s a great, faithful, low budget British movie waiting to be made from the comic, but this isn’t even trying to be that movie.
Let’s put the comic aside, therefore. What’s the film like on its own terms? Well, it isn’t a terrible movie. If I hadn’t been familiar with the underlying worldview of Hellblazer and a number of other Vertigo comics, I might have thought it had some pretty clever ideas in it. It’s certainly not your average, by the numbers blockbuster movie, and there are one or two very good scenes. It reminds me most of a cross between The Prophecy and The Crow; both of which are pretty decent movies in their own way.
What lets it down is that unlike those movies it doesn’t know what it wants to be; it hedges its bets at every turn. Is it a Van Helsing-esque Romp? Is it a horror movie, an action movie, a gritty character-driven movie, or movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger lays a smackdown on the devil? Unfortunately, it’s a little of all of those things. It’s not action packed enough to be an action movie, but it’s not ‘real’ enough to be a scary or suspenseful horror movie. The characterisation is interesting, but intermittent and one-note. It doesn’t help that the plot and even the underlying rules of the universe sometimes appear to lack logic and internal consistency.
The performances are generally good. Some are broader than others, but Rachel Weisz acquits herself admirably, Tilda Swinton is fantastic as an androgynous angel, and Keanu himself is… not bad. I’m not one of the anti-Keanu brigade, and given the right character I think he’s a decent enough actor. Here he’s perfectly fine. In no way does he convey the requisite world-weary depth of character or charisma, but he’s certainly better than embarrassing. Think ‘The Matrix’ rather than ‘Dracula’.
What you’re left with is a movie which is neither realistic nor ridiculous, neither thrilling nor boring. It entertains, and is a little bit offbeat, but never has the courage to make much of an impact.