Double Take is a series in which Anna Swanson and Meg Shields sit down and yell at each other about the controversial, uncomfortable, and contentious corners of cinema. In this edition, they consider whether the reputation of Constantine as a mediocre comic-book adaptation is deserved.
With remakes and reboots engulfing Hollywood, it’s easy to get the impression that originality is lacking. Indeed, there are very few instances where a retread is justified in order to improve or reinvigorate an already beloved film. But the once-maligned Constantinedeserves a chance at redemption.
Francis Lawrence’s feature film debut was met with critical fire and brimstone when it premiered in 2005. Critics slung the phrase “spiritual shoot ‘em up” like that was a bad thing. They accused a neo-noir of being “dreary.” And they dismissed it as nothing more than a poor man’s version of The Matrix. They were, of course, wrong as hell.
The film follows John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), a freelance exorcist and marked cynic who’s as hard-boiled as they come. He’s been to Hell and back. Quite literally. And the experience left him with the ability to see Earth for what it really is: a battleground of heavenly and demonic gangsters, vying for control over the hearts, minds, and bodies of an unsuspecting humanity.
And so, Constantine does what he can, roaming the streets, with a persistent cigarette, doing his part knowing full well that he’s got a one-way ticket back to Hell when his time’s up.
Enter Rachel Weisz’s Angela, an LAPD detective determined to prove her twin sister Isabel’s fall from the roof of a mental hospital wasn’t a suicide, but rather proof of something far more sinister and supernatural. She teams up with the grizzled exorcist to discover who — or what — is responsible.
With talks of a sequel in the works and this year marking the sixteenth anniversary, what better time to revisit this unjustly dismissed genre masterpiece.
Meg Shields: I thought it might be fun for me to start by reading you the names of some films. They might be related…they might not be…
Anna Swanson: Ok
MS: Joe Dirt. The Hot Chick. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. The Waterboy. The Dukes of Hazzard. Freddy Got Fingered. Catwoman. Thirteen Ghosts…Constantine.
AS: Is this a list of Razzie nominations?
MS: This is a list of Roger Ebert’s most hated films.
AS: Oh, wow.
MS: There’s an entire section of Ebert’s most hated list called “Hideous horror and science afflictions” that includes Constantine, The Village, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, Resident Evil, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. You know, things that I think most people accept as being enjoyable if not straight-up good.
AS: Halloween III!
MS: Ebert’s not infallible, but I just wanted to use this to set up that there are people who lump Constantine in with the worst horror/sci-fi ever made. And I think ultimately what we want to do here, for the film’s anniversary, is engage with this criticism. Namely, because we disagree with it.
AS: Yeah Constantine can drive now, it’s sixteen, so it’s time to revisit. What was your experience with the film prior to us rewatching this recently?
MS: I’ve never read Hellblazer, the comic the film is based on. But honestly, I think going in blind has its perks because some fans took issue with the deviations. He’s not from Liverpool, he isn’t blonde. And coming into it fresh means you don’t have the expectations of what an adaptation of the comic books should be.
AS: Constantine is supposed to be from Liverpool? Ok, so, we need to change our position here, because now I’m mad that I was robbed of hearing Keanu Reeves do a Scouse accent. I’ve changed my tune on this film.