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John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) was born (or cursed, depending on who you ask) with the ability to "see" the demons and angels that are hidden in the guise of human beings all around us. As a young boy, this gift was too much for him to handle, so he committed suicide. However, he was bought back to life by the Devil, and since suicide is a mortal sin, he's forever damned to hell when he finally does die. So, he spends his waking hours sending rule-breaking demons back to the depths, with the slim hope of saving his soul. Over the course of a fateful few days, Constantine encounters: the Spear of Destiny (the spear that pierced Jesus’ side on the Cross); the emergence of the Antichrist; a police woman (Rachel Weisz) who is investigating the death of her sister; and news that he has lung cancer. This film is based on a Vertigo/DC Comics series named Hellblazer
Now, I know what you’re thinking: this movie has pretty much been forgotten, so it must not be very good. However, I’m here to tell you that time and repeat viewings have proven that “Constantine” is one of the very best comic book movies made to date.
“Constantine” takes the time to explore its universe and all of its inherent possibilities. Credit for that I think has to be given to director Francis Lawrence, who went on to direct “I Am Legend” a few years later. He seems to respect this world, and he seems to find it fascinating, and by taking his time in telling the story, he grants US the time to become fascinated with it as well.
I must give Lawrence credit for not "music video directing/editing" the hell out of the thing. Instead of trying to “dumb down” or “action up” the plotline, Lawrence shows confidence in the material by simply letting the story map out its own course. Moreover, he actually ensures that each action set piece has a purpose, and isn't just action for action's sake. Side note: action for action's sake is ok, sometimes, but a movie sticks with you more in the long run when the action scenes both entertain and propel the story forward.
John Constantine is a great character; he alone makes the movie worth watching. He's a charmingly cynical, sarcastic hero; think Han Solo with lung cancer. And this brings me to the man that played him.
I don't think Keanu's a good actor, but, I don't think he's terrible either. I think he's as good as the role that is written for him, and as the performance that is coached out of him. At best, he's passable when in the right role. However, I can't imagine anyone else as Neo in the “Matrix” movies, so take that for what it's worth. And, I think it's telling that his best performance was as Ted "Theodore" Logan in the “Bill and Ted” movies.
At any rate, I liked Keanu in this movie. I think it stems more from the writing and conception of the character than anything else, but nevertheless, Keanu has charisma, and he plays a fine John Constantine.
Another side note: it’s funny seeing a pre-fame Shia LaBeouf in this film as Constantine’s sidekick. He plays essentially the same role that he played in “I, Robot,” except he’s way more relevant to “Constantine’s” plot. Not to mention that Keanu referred to him as his "Robin," and that was just great.
Anyway, there are many things I adore about this movie. The opening scene, where the Spear is discovered; the exorcism that follows immediately; Constantine vs. the roach demon; every time Constantine visits Hell, which is realized incredibly; the slow build up to the main plotline; the details of what Constantine actually does and how he lives his life; the scene where Constantine fights the demons in the hospital; the depiction of the devil (played by kooky character actor Peter Stormare); and pretty much the entire final thirty minutes, including the resolution to Constantine's personal story.
If you’re a comic book movie junkie, then as a point of reference I'd say that the comic book movie “Constantine” most resembles is “Blade,” with a dash of “Hellboy” to boot. One scene in particular is very reminiscent of “Blade” (you'll know it when you see it). However, “Blade” was more of an action movie, and this is more of a mystery/thriller. Ultimately, I'd say that “Constantine” is a better movie overall. It has more character depth and a better, more thought out story. I implore you to check out “Constantine” if you have a chance. It takes itself and its subject matter seriously, it respects its source material, the humor isn't forced and is actually very clever, it looks great, the tone is both witty and sullen, the effects are suitably immersive, the story and details are riveting, the action is inventive and well-shot (don't expect wall to wall action scenes though), and above all, it was directed with a sure hand that is rare for a first timer.
Every time I watch “Constantine,” I seem to like it more. I can’t see why it has fallen to the wayside. To me, it’s the perfect example of an underrated film.