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FANGO Flashback: “CONSTANTINE” (2005)

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To be honest, Francis Lawrence’s CONSTANTINE is a film that gets an undeserved bad rap. At the time of its release, it didn’t fare very well with critics or fans of the HELLBLAZER comic series, many of whom harped on the film’s use of CGI and the casting of Keanu Reeves as the title character. However, time can certainly be a very curious thing, and in CONSTANTINE, not only is this a very strong genre effort- almost a modern equivalent to NIGHTBREED- but could perhaps be Lawrence’s crowning cinematic achievement as a filmmaker.

While the small screen version of John Constantine may be more similar to his comic book counterpart, the big-screen version of Constantine is still one hell of a fun character to watch unleashed. Constantly smoking, swearing, drinking and generally being a reckless, demon-hunting son-of-a-bitch, there’s a certain jaded, go-for-broke attitude on display that Keanu Reeves has since perfected into the likes of John Wick. But in CONSTANTINE, what Reeves lacks in range, he makes up for in outright confidence, making the character’s easy navigation of the supernatural underworld all the more realistic and effortlessly enthralling. And when Reeves’ Constantine decides to take out the big guns and fight against the demons, you buy it instantaneously, and man, is it satisfying.

But CONSTANTINE is more than just Reeves, and to be honest, there’s plenty of high points in the film for fright fans to relish. While the CGI is still dated to an extent, it’s not nearly as much of an eyesore as some other CG-drenched contemporary films can be, and the fact that so much is achieved practically is enough to give the film a pass on that regards. Furthermore, the action is really well-executed, especially when paired with the incredible sets and the myriad imaginative supernatural beings on display. That’s not even to mention CONSTANTINE’s superb third act, which stands among the strongest in superhero film history while offering a pair of excellent set pieces that horror fans are sure to love.

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While Francis Lawrence has since gone on to be known as the director of blockbusters such as I AM LEGEND as well as the last three chapters of THE HUNGER GAMES saga, his skill as a passionate filmmaker of ultimately expensive ideas has never been more clear than CONSTANTINE. Lawrence does a magnificent job of establishing the world of John Constantine while doing as little as possible to explain the mechanics that drive the unknown, especially considering Kevin Brodbin & Frank Capello’s script isn’t afraid of allowing darkness to spill into an inherently dark story. And with assistance by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and editor Wayne Wahrman, Lawrence establishes reality as ever-so-askew, capturing the wicked yet epic vibe of the HELLBLAZER comics as a result.

Furthermore, Lawrence’s penchant for directing actors in big budget productions is on display as well, especially with Keanu Reeves as his anchor in the CONSTANTINE cast. Rachel Weisz is rather great in a dual role, truly embracing the genre elements of the material and bringing a certain amount of gravitas to the project in tow. On the supporting side of things, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Honsou, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Max Baker are each exceptional as those who aid Constantine on his quest, each luckily finding their voice and moment to shine among the ensemble. However, the real scene-stealers would be that of the film’s villains, with brilliant performances by a delightfully fanatical Tilda Swinton, a surprisingly vile Gavin Rossdale, and a brilliantly playful Peter Stormare.

20121221025618378But perhaps what truly makes CONSTANTINE a great film to revisit is just how mature it treats its audience: CONSTANTINE is a film for adults, and doesn’t quite rush to fill in any gaps or overexplain itself. Much like NIGHTBREED, CONSTANTINE is a showcase for a tale of men among monsters, with the respect paid for one equally paid towards the other. And with riveting action, legitimately great performances and an undeniably awesome third act, Lawrence should be proud of what he achieved with CONSTANTINE, an anti-hero film that surprisingly pays more respect to the horror genre than most studio horror films.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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