As demon hunter John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) fights a new otherworld foe in this eye-opening supernatural thriller based on characters from the DC Comics/Vertigo Hellblazer graphic novels and set in a City of the Angels where spirit-world bounds have broken...and all hell is breaking loose. Armed with a shotgun and assisted by an intrepid cop (Rachel Weisz), he's a spiritual warrior gone to apocalyptic war. Djimon Hounsou, Shia LaBeouf, Peter Stormare and Tilda Swinton also star.
Constantine was one of the first live-action films that I reviewed and looking back on that old review now I want to shield my eyes in terror. Granted I didn't know what to talk about in those earlier days, but man, I didn't even touch on what made this film so entertaining. This was also the first R movie I saw in theaters after turning 17, so it definitely holds a lot of "firsts" for me. Another "first" is that it was one of few movies where the general critical reception wasn't mirrored in my feelings towards it; generally speaking I tend to go with the usual consensus on things, although I've known to deviate (The Number 23 comes to mind). This isn't a "following the sheep" mentality but rather that's just usually where my thoughts on films go. For Constantine, however, reading Rotten Tomatoes' consensus of "Despite solid production values and an intriguing premise, Constantine lacks the focus of another spiritual shoot-em-up, The Matrix" made me throw my hands up in rage and ask just what the hell was going on with those reviews that they somehow drew a straight line from Constantine to The Matrix.
While I suppose you could throw similarities around between the two films (Keanu Reeves, guns...uhh...?), there's really just too much different about them to really lump them together like that. I'm sure many will dismiss the film as poorly adapted drivel, but I really and truly did enjoy this film and never once did I feel bored or uninterested in its plot. It hooks you from the beginning and the character of John Constantine is likeable, relatable and hateable, with a constant variance between the three all throughout the film. Weisz's character is also quite interesting, with her appearance in a comic book adaptation quite rare for the elite star, bringing to the table a great deal of depth to a character that we only get to know for a couple hours. Not to mention Shia LeBeouf in a pre-Transformers role that shows he has been a solid actor since his youth (I'm probably one of few who actually watched Even Stevens on the Disney Channel solely because I found him humorous).
So the film is populated with great actors, what else? The plot itself is mixed in with so much religious heaven and hell battle that it becomes entirely engaging since it's essentially taking stories that have been around for thousands of years and peppering them with a whole gaggle of new theories, stories and characters. Stormare's appearance as Lucifer remains one of the best portrayals of the Prince of Darkness that I've seen and whole integration of the actual physical plain of hell into the film was also a sight to see. These elements, more than anything, is what sold the movie for me. As unbelievable as the acts were, the fact it was tied into something that many do believe in made it feel more real.
Of course the films low budget makes for some occasionally dated looking CGI, even by today's standards, but overall it still is a solid looking film. Director Francis Lawrence has a great eye and the camera angles and the sepia tones that cloak the world fit the depressing tone of the film, while the action sequences and demon possessed individuals create a violent and explosive time on screen. For me there is just a lot to enjoy about the film, but part of enjoying it is also buying into the mythology of it all. If you can't get past that then I can see how it could be passed off as a mediocre action film, but if you can really get into it all then it becomes that much more engaging.
Overall Constantine remains one of my favorite comic book adaptations, if only by the associations I have with it. I still greatly enjoy watching every moment of the film and the little quirks like holding a cat when crossing over and John putting out a cigarette in his own blood make for some really memorable bits for me. If you've dismissed the film as another The Matrix, then I implore you to give it another shot. Reeves and Co. really make the film a lot of fun to watch. Recommended.
Considering all I expected from this release was a clone of the two-disc DVD edition, I was quite surprised by all the content found here. One of Warner's first HD-DVD titles to support the BonusView technology, Constantine is absolutely loaded with extras to watch and listen to. The set itself comes in a standard Blu-ray case with an insert with the code for the digital copy of the disc as well as an insert telling you to keep your player up-to-date. As with all WHV Blu-ray's, the film starts immediately and the only menu is a near full-screen pop up that lists the various extras of the film.
The VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 1080p transfer provided for the film is absolutely fantastic. I didn't expect to be as impressed with the video transfer for this film as I was and it seems that the set has carried over the immaculate HD-DVD transfer in full. Detail is high, there is minimal, if any, smudging and the depth available in the sequences is amazing. True, the film is only a few years old - it hit theatres on February 18, 2005 - but I still didn't imagine the transfer looking this good; I recall the DVD looking quite nice, but not as pristine as this. This is truly a fantastic transfer if I've ever seen one, and quite possibly reference quality if you pop in the right scene (the Hell-scape sequences are a good choice).
In the audio department we get a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that is quite a bit more potent than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track (also included). Plenty of bass and surround work is included and everything is crystal clear and easy to hear without any distortion or hiss. The TrueHD track is noticeably quieter until you up the volume then everything begins to sing with clarity; I've noticed I've had to dial it up a bit on some Blu-ray titles, but since there's no distortion everything just ends up sounding all that better. Also included are French Parisian, French Quebec, Spanish Castilian, German, Italian and Japanese in 5.1 and Latin Spanish in 2.0. Subtitles include English, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.
Moving into the extras we first have the BonusView segment to take a look at. Once again carried from its HD-DVD brethren, this extra throws in scene-specific behind-the-scenes footage about the film. It cropped up a little infrequently in the middle of the film, but by the end it started to ramp up and quite a few scenes had extras to watch in quick succession. The rest of the extras on the set are all provided in standard definition, but there's plenty to check out so let's get started.
First up is the selection of deleted scenes (17:41) with optional commentary by director Lawrence. An alternate ending is included here, which I'm glad they didn't tack on as it did feel a bit strange as the director pointed out. Next we have the "Making-of" split into a plethora of various segments including “Channneling Constanting” (8:00), “Conjuring Constantine” (15:43 , “Director’s Confessional” (5:35), “Collision with Evil” (4:39), “Holy Relics” (8:22), “Shotgun Shootout” (2:03), “Hellscape” (11:59), “Visuazling Vermin” (9:36), “Warrior Wings” (3:18), “Unholy Abduction” (5:47), “Constantine’s Cosmology” (5:21), “Foresight: The Power of Previsualization” (13:56) with optional commentary by Francis Lawrence, “Demon Face” (2:01) and “Writer’s Vision” (1:18). These are all worth checking out if you enjoyed the film, as they tackle specific areas of the film with great detail.
A few other extras including A Perfect Circle “passive” Music Video (4:16), Teaser Trailer (0:55), and Theatrical Trailer (2:22) round out the standard extras on the set. The final two bits to check out are the two commentaries. Those who owned the previous DVD release will notice that, while that release contained only one track, these two here may sound remarkably similar. That's because the two tracks, one with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Akiva Goldsman and another with screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Capello, were combined into one for the DVD release. Most of the interesting bits come from the writers, as Akiva Goldsmith acts like a bit of a jackass for the entire track. That is one thing I can still read about my old DVD review of this film, as even though I'd like to think my writing style has gotten better, Goldsmith still manages to act like a jerk for the entire track. No amount of writing experience can change the way you word that one.
Overall this release comes Highly Recommended. Well worth the upgrade if you enjoyed the film.
Constantine arrives on Blu-ray on October 14th, 2008, and is already available on DVD.
Zach Demeter is the co-founder of The World's Finest.
Check out the Constantine trailer in the above player.