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Review - Constantine

Posted by askanison on 2005.07.30 at 04:38
I went into watching the Constantine DVD with the same uncomfortable curiosity that has plagued me since Spawn was released oh so long ago. It seems, however, that my worries were unnecessary; despite the blasphemous title change, Constantine seems to follow in the footsteps of Guillermo Del Toro's take on Hellboy in making a movie that is close to the comic book while still being very entertaining.

While I was never an avid reader of the Hellblazer series from DC Comics, I was instantly greeted by an aesthetic that was very reminiscent of the art style of the series. The gruff, sometimes comedic, sometimes painful dialogue reminded me of what I remembered from the book, and the plot seems to be what I expected it to be. But this is a movie, so I had to put the comic book geek in me aside and evaluate it for its worth in this medium.

The plot in Constantine is generally linear, but it is very strong. John Constantine is a reluctant "hero" who is waging a war on hell in order to basically buy his way into heaven. The whole idea of an anti-hero without hope fighting demons from hell will likely appeal to fans of Stigmata and Evil Dead alike; Biblical references mix with gore and violence in what amounts to be an overall excellent presentation. While it's not exactly always "scary," there's enough thrills and suspense to make it worthwhile. The drama is highly active and suspenseful, thanks to excellent scene setup from director Francis Lawrence. It's hard to believe that the man who directed the video for "Jenny on the Block" could put fulfill the emphasis on the dark, hellish stylism that this movie required. The imagery is consistent and frightening, and the CG is even believable.

While I won't spoil the plot for everyone, it seems that the one real negative it had where a few of those old deus ex machina moments where you just stand up and say "what the hell?" It's not that bad (it's definitely not The Matrix Revolutions), but occasionally the plot meanders into "quick story cleanup" mode. Having said this, I can easily overlook it, simply because the story is about supernatural and metaphysical subjects that make it more reasonable to include such plot devices.

The characters are well done, even if star Keanu Reeves still reaks of Neo and Ted "Theodore" Logan. He manages to pull of the grizzled John Constantine fairly well, even though one might expect him to declare his knowledge of kung-fu at any moment. I guess typecasting has done well for Reeves at least; he is most definitely what I would have expected John Constantine to be. Had he never starred in the sometimes-neat sometimes-awful Matrix trilogy, I would likely have been much more impressed.

Rachel Weisz's dual role is actually quite inspiring; her performance is extremely believable, even when her characters start acting all weird and supernatural. I think Weisz is coming into her own as an actress, and it's likely we'll see some excellent performances from her in the future.

The supporting cast of Constantine is refreshingly thin, allowing the plot to concentrate closely on the lead characters without too much side story. Shia LaBeouf plays Constantine's young and underused sidekick. His character ends up sadly underdeveloped, although his performance is excellent and the role is necessary to the plot. Supporting angels and demons such as Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, Tilda Swinton, and Peter Stormare provide shockingly excellent performances, both on the sides of good and evil. I was impressed with these three actors; although each only had one or two real important scenes, they all were absolutely perfect in their roles and provided incredible atmosphere and background for the story.

Overall, I was very impressed with Constantine. Even after putting the comic fanboy away, I found this to be a very solid film. Fans of thrillers and horror films such as The Exorcist or Stigmata should definitely give this movie a shot. Everyday action movie fans might be put off by the strange story, but generally this film functions as a decent action movie as well. It's a recommended rental; if you're a comic book geek or horror freak, it's a recommended purchase.

Final Score: 4/5
Constantine: This film knows kung-fu.

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