Normally, this is the time of year when we’d be right in the middle of the San Diego Comic-Con. Some of the year’s biggest announcements about our favorite movies, TV shows, and comic books are made at this event. Unfortunately, due to the continued threat of the COVID-19 outbreak, the mega-convention couldn’t be held this year and I can’t say I blame them. Imagine it, thousands of sweaty, nerdy fans, decked out in their cosplay, in 90+ degree heat with 80% humidity, as they all walk around hacking and coughing a deadly virus on each other. Half of the attendees would be in the hospital by the end of the week. Not a pretty picture.
However, we weren’t completely left empty-handed, the folks behind the long running annual fan event, came up with Comic-Con@Home, multiple panels were live streamed online for folks to enjoy a little bit of Comic-Con from the comfort and safety of their own home. Nothing beats the real Comic-Con experience, but they still put together some very interesting panels. One of the highlights, for me at least, was the Constantine 15th Anniversary Panel. Star Keanu Reeves, producer Akiva Goldman, and director Francis Lawrence discussed the 2005 film with one of writers from Collider.
I want to take a minute and to give the film some context. John Constantine is easily among my top 10 favorite comic book characters. He was created by legendary comic book writer Alan Moore during his Swamp Thing run for DC and the physical inspiration for Constantine was world famous musician, Sting. The character was enough of a standout to warrant his own series from DC under their mature readers imprint, Vertigo, called Hellblazer. Constantine was sort of a con-man mage based out of London. Writers like Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Brian Azzerello, and Warren Ellis have all done memorable work with the character, in fact Hellblazer was the longest running books in Vertigo’s history.
Constantine is a little more high profile these days, appearing in both live-action and animated TV shows and films. Most notably, actor Matt Ryan has portrayed John Constantine in pretty much every appearance the character has made over the last 6 years. We first saw Ryan’s interpretation of the role in the short-lived (but cancelled too soon) Constantine TV series (2014-2015). Unlike Keanu Reeves, the British and blonde haired Matt Ryan is much more in line with the traditional depiction of John Constantine. But you can’t keep a good warlock down, and Matt Ryan reprised the role of John Constantine on Arrow and eventually became a series regular on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (these appearances retroactively made the Constantine TV series part of The Arrowverse). Ryan has also voiced the character in multiple animated films, like Justice League Dark and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, as well as an animated miniseries. Much like Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker, Matt Ryan has become the unofficial, definitive version of John Constantine in the eyes of many fans.
Having said all that, I think 2005’s Constantine is an extremely underrated movie that deserves more credit than it gets. On paper this movie should not work. First of all, John Constantine is one of the best comic book characters ever created and holds a lot of reverence with fans. Does Keanu Reeves sound anything the character I described above? A British, street sorcerer that looks like Sting? At the time, casting Keanu Reeves in the title role seemed like a weird and misguided choice for the movie. That’s strike one. Producer, Alkiva Goldman, has had his name attached to some truly dog shit projects over the years, including Joel Schumacher’s infamous Batman & Robin. Strike two. Finally, this beloved character was in the hands of a first time film director, who predominantly directed music videos before this movie. Strike three! But goddammit if they don’t manage to pull it off. Not only did the movie work, it was pretty damn great.
Despite the changes to the source material, especially the casting of Keanu Reeves and the film taking place in LA instead of London, the movie did a phenomenal job at capturing the essence of John Constantine and his world. Keanu was so good in the role that the superficial changes didn’t matter as much as you’d think. The spirit of the character was there. Reeves did a better job of inhabiting John Constantine than a lot of other actors in comic book films that seem perfectly cast from the jump. There are so many great, little moments throughout the film that show how Keanu Reeves and the filmmakers really get exactly who this guy is and what makes him tick.
The look of the film, the supporting cast, Peter Stormare as Lucifer, are just a few examples of what makes this movie an underrated gem. I definitely recommend checking out the full panel, which you can watch right here:
It sounds like Keanu is up for a sequel, which would be pretty cool. So what do you guys think? Is Constantine an underrated classic? Or am I nuts and it’s a piece of shit? Let me know in the comments below.
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