Re-Reviewed: Keanu Reeves’s Constantine deserves a bit more respect

ROME - FEBRUARY 10: Actor Keanu Reeves attends a photocall to promote his new movie "Constantine" at the St. Regis Rome Grand Hotel on February 10, 2005 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
ROME - FEBRUARY 10: Actor Keanu Reeves attends a photocall to promote his new movie "Constantine" at the St. Regis Rome Grand Hotel on February 10, 2005 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images) /

Constantine is better than its reputation would have you believe. 

Trying to adapt John Constantine to other forms of media hasn’t exactly gone well. NBC’s attempt at a TV series fell flat. That version of the character reappeared in the Arrowverse, though he still wasn’t the exact Constantine fans knew and loved from the comics.

But before Matt Ryan played the character on TV, the nicest person in Hollywood played him on the big screen. And while Keanu Reeves’s Constantine wasn’t exactly well-received at the time, looking back on it now is a much more favorable view.

Who is John Constantine?

TOKYO, JAPAN – APRIL12: Actors Keanu Reeves (R) and Rachel Weisz pose with director Francis Lawrence during a press conference to promote the film “Constantine” on April 12, 2005 in Tokyo, Japan. The film opens on April 16 in Japan. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images) /

The biggest hurdle this character has to finding success in other mediums is the fact that you have to be a pretty regular comic book fan to know him well. He’s not exactly a household name like Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman.

John Constantine wears a lot of hats. He’s a reasonably powerful warlock and an accomplished occult detective. But he might be best known as a con man of the first order. He made his debut in 1985 in the pages of a Swamp Thing title, owing his creation at least in part to Alan Moore.

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Despite headlining various iterations of his own title since 1988, the character has often struggled to find mainstream attention, even in the circles of comic book fans. But a 2005 film would help bring a lot more attention to John Constantine.

Keanu Reeves becomes the Hellblazer

Based on various comics that had built John Constantine’s legend to that point, Constantine starred Keanu Reeves in the titular role. He actually played the cynical con man warlock extremely well, infusing him with the put upon humanitarian attitude fans loved in the comics.

That being said, the film portrayed Constantine as more of an exorcist than an all-around warlock, focusing on one aspect of his abilities. While this limited the character somewhat, it fit the movie’s story about John trying to stop Lucifer’s son Mammon from coming to Earth.

The casting for the movie was solid, including bringing in Tilda Swinton as the nefarious Archangel Gabriel. But Peter Stormare shone in the movie as Lucifer himself, bringing a truly menacing and used car salesman-like quality to the character.

What went wrong…

Tilda Swinton, Constantine
CANNES, FRANCE – JULY 17: Elkin Diaz, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tilda Swinton and Juan Pablo Urrego attend the final screening of “OSS 117: From Africa With Love” and closing ceremony during the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival on July 17, 2021 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Kering) /

The movie came out in 2005 during an era of comic book films that weren’t particularly great. That same year saw the releases of V for Vendetta, Son of the Mask, Fantastic Four, and Elektra. At the same time, Batman Begins and Sin City also came out that year, so it wasn’t all bad.

As a genre, comic book movies were only starting to get some actual respect at that point. And while Constantine is certainly a better movie than it got credit for at the time, it also wasn’t everything it could be. Again, focusing solely on exorcisms was a choice that limited the film.

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If anyone else had played John Constantine in this movie, there’s a good chance it would have been nowhere near as good as it turned out. Still, the comic book character deserves the opportunity to show what he’s really capable of in feature film.