Richard catches up with this regrettably cancelled adaptation of a beloved DC character. Was this the Constantine we needed and need again?
I still remember when the film adaptation of Constantine came out in 2005. It starred Keanu Reeves and had an interesting concept as well as a “fuck you” attitude that my teenage self could really appreciate. It also had Shia LaBeouf, which somewhat spoiled the fun. What really stuck with me was the concept of the John Constantine character and the implications of his oh-so mixed street magic; this idea that every variation of religion and the occult coexisted in some grand supernatural melting pot. What I wasn’t sold on was the character beyond the concept. Reeves did good work in the film, but the downbeat and fatalistic approach just didn’t seem to hit the right note. Fans of the original Hellblazer comics responded to the film with nothing but disappointment, as their beloved exorcist seemed to exist only in name, profession and smoking habits, as every other aspect of the character had been changed for the film. Where was the cocky conman swagger, that punk rock sense of the dramatic, or the goddamn trench coat!? Easy, we were just waiting for Matt Ryan all along…
Now officially part of the “Arrowverse” television franchise, fans were promised a version of Constantine that was going to be much closer to the source material. And while narrative aspects were certainly altered from the comics for the adaptation to screen, I’ll say their efforts were a success. The John Constantine of 2014 was, as stated on his business card, an “Exorcist, Demonologist and Master of the Dark Arts.” A card made before a recent tragedy pushed him into a mental asylum to question his abilities. However, with a bit of a heavenly push, Constantine re-enters the game against the “rising darkness” which is changing the rules of the supernatural world and is causing that hidden world to spill into ours. A show with such an insane and yet massive world needs to find the right tone and tour guide to make it all work, and this is where the show thrives.
Though perhaps not the sharpest series in terms of challenging its audience intellectually, the show does its best to capture that Hellblazer spark. Supported by his oldest friend (for good reason) Chas, played by Charles Halford, and the mysterious psychic Zed, played by Angélica Celaya, Ryan brings the cocky con artist aspect of Constantine to the forefront. The cast comfortably wields a wry and sarcastic sense of humour which works in concert with the truly dark nature of the forces they face. The special effects for a mid-budget television show are truly impressive as they give life to everything from baby-eating princesses from hell to miner-killing mud creatures. All these factors are needed to support a show whose mixture of The X-Files, The Exorcist and Snatch really could have been too silly to stand on its own two feet.
The show is not without its flaws as the quality of the episodes and the threats being faced fluctuate without much overall sense of development, leading to an unpolished feel. Though the cast keep a solid handle on their characters, the world around them and the urgency of the larger, looming threat is never explored well. The show too often relies on blatantly obvious answers to mysteries being missed, or being wrapped up with magical deus ex machinas. There is no sense of the impending chaos the show makes constant references to. Also, I wasn’t a big fan of Constantine’s guiding angel Manny, played by Harold Perrineau, who despite growing on me a little later in the season, was still aggravating in both character and performance.
Sadly, Constantine only got the one season before being cancelled, and all efforts by the creators and cast to save it were unfortunately in vain. Matt Ryan as Constantine still pops up occasionally in the Arrowverse and also has a new animated series coming soon, but this solo attempt only managed a 13-episode run. Clearly the showrunners expected another season as the series ends on something of a lacklustre note that you might expect from a midseason finale, not a show’s final swansong! I’m sad to see it go as Constantine had all the hallmarks of a series just starting to find its footing and laying out the pieces for a larger gameplan. Some shows need to die because their faults are fundamental and unfixable no matter what steps are taken, but I don’t think Constantine was such a project. Who knows if more time would have helped it or not, but for now, we say a fond farewell to the street sorcerer and his special brand of Liverpudlian likability.
- The phone number shown on Constantine’s business card was a working number. When dialled, it connected to an outgoing voice message from Constantine. 404 is also the area code for Atlanta, where the series was filmed and set.
- When Zed is seen drawing pictures of John Constantine in her apartment constantly, a lot of the artwork is based on comic artist Tim Bradstreet’s covers during the “American Tour” story arc.
- Lucy Griffiths appeared as Liv Aberdine, who was supposed to be the female lead of the show. She was subsequently dropped after executive producers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone decided to take the series in a different creative direction. Some of Griffiths’ final scenes from the pilot were re-shot, explaining why she doesn’t join Constantine in his adventures as it was originally intended.
- In the premiere, Liv picks up a gold helmet. John warns her “put that down, before it puts you down.” The helmet resembles the Helm of Nabu, the regular headgear of Doctor Fate, a fellow DC comics character who is a wizard himself, and John’s warning is a reference to the lore of the Nabu persona being tied to the helmet, taking control of whosoever puts it on.