Released in 2005, director Francis Lawrence's Constantine starred Keanu Reeves as the DC Comics/Vertigo character, though fans were quick to note that this movie version of John Constantine didn't look or sound much like the one from the comics. Originally created by Alan Moore, the Constantine of the Hellblazer comics is an irreverent, foul-mouthed Brit with blond hair while the movie version is played by the dark-haired Reeves - who thankfully does not attempt a British accent as he did in 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula - and the action moves to Los Angeles.
For some fans of the comics, the differences were a deal-breaker, which may have had something to do with the film's poor critical performance - it only has a 46% on Rotten Tomatoes. Also telling, however, is that Constantine came out on the heels of Reeves's role in the Matrix trilogy, leading to unfair comparisons to those very different films. Also, comic book movies hadn't really found their footing yet in 2005. After all, the first Guillermo del Toro Hellboy came out only the year before and Iron Man was still three years away.
Whatever the reasons, a lot of people dismissed Constantine when it first came out, despite the presence of a truly devilish devil and no shortage of visual panache. With Reeves back in the spotlight thanks to the John Wick franchise, it's time to take another look at this unsung gem of a movie. You might be surprised to learn that 2005's Constantine is a better film than you remember.
Early in the film, Constantine is told that his is the only soul Satan will come up to collect in person, which is exactly what happens during the climax. Played by Peter Stormare, we're first introduced to Constantine's Satan as boiling tar drips down onto the floor from his bare feet and stains the hem of his white pants. Decked out in a white suit, he pulls up a chair to taunt Constantine, and the combination of Stormare's gentility and strange mannerisms sell one of the most unforgettable devils ever put on screen.
If you aren't sold on Stormare's Satan the moment he shows up, you will be by the time he confronts the "half-breed" angel Gabriel. "Son of perdition!" Gabriel calls him. "Most unclean!" Stormare smiles and practically purrs, "I do miss the old names."
When it came to creating the look of hell in Constantine, director Francis Lawrence had a unique vision. "His idea was that hell is a parallel universe," visual effects supervisor Mike Fink explained. "It exists in another dimension as a complete replica of our world. You have the same buildings, the same streets, and the same rooms. The difference is that everything seems to be perpetually hit by a nuclear heat wave. This universe keeps decaying forever. It just never stops."
Creating the effect took seven vendors and an extended period of filming, but the result is a vision of hell like no other. Palm trees burn as a ruined LA skyline looms on the horizon. A radioactive wind picks apart everything in sight and cadaverous demons swarm among the souls. To get the visuals right, the FX team looked at actual footage of nuclear blasts that had been declassified for the 1984 TV movie The Day After.
Whether it's as subtle as the numbers 666 hidden in the logo painted on the wall of the bowling alley where John Constantine lives, or as obvious as the billboard that reads "got faith," there are plenty of visuals buried in Constantine's textured depiction of LA.
The film's MacGuffin is the Spear of Destiny, which pierced the side of Christ, and it is found buried beneath the concrete ruins of what was probably once a church, its three crosses now forming a nod to Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Another time, as Constantine is bent over coughing in the rain, he looks up to see a billboard that says "Your time is running out... to buy a new Chevy."
A hard-drinking, chain-smoking freelance exorcist who has literally been to hell and back, the John Constantine of the movie is a detective character brought into a world populated by supernatural beings who he calls "half-breeds," and he is caught up in a wager between God and the Devil.
The movie trades in plenty of film noir staples. Constantine has been around and seen it all, or so he thinks until a woman who is more than she appears brings new trouble into his life. There are doubles - Rachel Weisz appears as a pair of twins - and double-crosses, and everyone is playing a long game with much higher stakes than they thought. What starts out as a simple enough investigation turns out to be part of a much bigger conspiracy. And, of course, while there's no Maltese Falcon, Constantine does have its very own MacGuffin, in the form of the "Spear of Destiny," the lance that pierced Jesus Christ.