Constantine: Revisiting the forgotten comic book movie classic


Constantine, the 2005 cult classic movie, is often forgotten about but, with Keanu Reeves’ reinvigorated career, many fans are revisiting the film in hopes for a sequel.

2019 seems to be the year of Keanu Reeves. The third installment of the John Wick franchise, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum was the movie that finally upended Avengers: Endgame at the box office and has been praised by critics and fans alike, which is hard to do in the ever divisive age of Rotten Tomatoes.

It was just announced that Reeves will return for a fourth installment of the Wick Franchise in 2021, which accompanied news, from earlier this year, that he will also reprise his iconic role of Ted Logan in the 2020 film, Bill & Ted Face the Music. It doesn’t stop there, as Reeves will ALSO be voicing Duke Caboom in Toy Story 4, which comes out next month. There is no doubt about it: we are in the middle of a Keanu Reeve-ival!

There is one universe, however, that many comic book fans wish Reeves would revisit during his Reeve-vial, and that is the world of Constantine. The 2005 movie has become somewhat of a cult classic among comic book movie fans, who are pinning for a sequel to the Francis Lawrence film. Just do a “Constantine” search on Twitter, and you will see a slew of tweets from fans praising the aesthetic and feel for the black magic nature of the movie, Reeves’ performance, or their general love for the comic book movie adaptation of the Hellblazer:

Reeves himself recently admitted, during an interview on Variety’s podcast The Big Ticket, that he would love to return to the role in the future because, “I just loved that world, and I love that character too.”

There is so much to love about the DC/Vertigo movie, that it’s no wonder fans, and Reeves, still speak so highly of it, even 14 years after its initial release. As a supernatural thriller, Constantine hits all the right notes that any “heaven versus hell” movie should hit on. The use of Catholic iconography and the use of the Latin language, which any good supernatural movie worth its weight in salt should be able to pull off, were utilized extremely well.

The iconography is aided by the worldbuilding, which is second to none. Unlike other mysterious paranormal movies, Constantine’s backdrop gives the world an added sense of mood, namely darkness (literally and figuratively) and hopelessness. This is then compounded with a layer of eeriness that truly feels like Armageddon is upon that universe.

The character designs for the movie set the bar high for the occult genre, as the demons and hell are stunning to look at and have aged, relatively, well. Using a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles as hell was clever and made it feel as though a medieval painting had come to life.

Credit to DC and Warner Brothers

But what really makes Constantine a true classic is the juxtaposition Constantine is put in and how that drives the character’s development. The writers put Constantine in an incredibly difficult position of trying to save the world from the antichrist (and *spoilers* Gabriel,  the Angel of death) while trying to earn good favor from God to let him into heaven, as he is dying of lung cancer. Smoking every second, of every minute, of the day, will do that to a human.

Yet despite all of his exorcisms and demon battles, the desperate Constantine can’t be sent straight to heaven because of John’s attempted suicide attempt as a teenager. This existential crisis Constantine faces takes him from being an extremely selfish person to doing the ultimate selfless act to earn his way into the good graces of God. Whether or not the viewer is a religious individual, they can ultimately relate with Constantine’s struggle for acceptance and his attempt to achieve some inner peace.

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For how well the character in this movie is written, one of the major criticisms, however, is that Keanu Reeves’ Constantine is not really Constantine, and the creative liberties taken in the film really took away from who the Hellblazer essentially is. Keanus’ Constantine is a far cry from the bi-sexual, punk band frontmaning, egotistical and cocky Brit, but is still a very entertaining version of the character. They do, however, share the propensity to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day.

Credit to DC comics and Warner Brothers

While very “Keanu,” Reeves version is not only a “passable” version of the character but, when taken on its own and not compared to the Constantine of the comic books, the Hellblazer we see in the 2005 movie is extremely enjoyable and makes the movie as great as it is.

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As good as Reeves is in the film, he didn’t do all the heavy lifting, as the movie was also chock full of stars or soon-to-be stars including, Rachel Weisz, Shia Labeouf, Tilda Swinton, and Djimon Hounsou.

While being  a modern fan favorite, there is a reason why Constantine earned the status of cult classic, as not many people, specifically critics, had as much love for the movie upon its initial release as fans do nearly 15 years later.

Sitting at 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, the “critics consensus,” was not kind to Constantine, “Despite solid production values and an intriguing premise, Constantine lacks the focus of another spiritual shoot-em-up, The Matrix.” The Matrix franchise did not help the movie’s cause as, for many, the previous Reeves driven movie was a better version of the same film.

While a critical miss, Constantine did see some relative success at the box office, earning a total of $230.9 million at the box office, on a budget of $100 million.

Credit to DC comics and Warner Brothers

The early 2000s was an awkward time for comic book movies, and Constantine was a victim of bad timing, which is perhaps why the critics were not fans. Released on the heels of what many consider two of the greatest comic book movies of all time, X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) and two of the worst Catwoman (2004) and Daredevil (2003), it feels as though Constantine missed its window and couldn’t quite find its footing during the early years of the comic book explosion in Hollywood.

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For all of its faults, Constantine has found its way into the hearts of comic book movie fans who are hoping to get a sequel soon. Despite the fact that we may never get another Reeves-led Constantine movie, we will always have the original Constantine, a truly forgetten comic book gem, to hold us over until a proper adaptation hits the big screen.