Review by Gordon Justesen
Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince,
Djimon Honsou, Gavin Rossdale, Peter Stormare
Director: Francis Lawrence
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: July 19, 2005
thought that comic books are at their highest level of enthrallment when the
particular hero question falls under the label of the “anti-hero”. They make
the best kind of comic books, and they do make the best comic book movie
adaptations. The best example of such a hero, and movie, would be Frank Castle,
aka The Punisher, who got a movie
treatment last year that was for the history books, as far as I’m concerned.
Now, the Vertigo/DC
Comics creation of Hellblazer blasts
onto the screen in the form of Constantine,
which can now take its place amongst the best comic book movies of recent years.
The movie manages to mix in awe-inspiring visual effects with an intriguing and
most thought provoking story. It’s the sort of achievement that is quite rare
in a comic book movie, let alone an effects driven one.
Keanu Reeves stars
as the title character, and let me say upfront that Mr. Reeves, with this
performance, confirms more than ever that his acting chops have improved more
than a hundred percent since his days as Ted Theodore Logan. He blew me away in
the three Matrix movies, and his solid
work here demonstrates that the breakthrough work in those films wasn’t a
fluke of any sort. Reeves perfectly conveys the downtrodden qualities of the
hero of the movie.
who serves as sort of P.I./Exorcist, is inches away from death’s door. A
longtime chain smoker, he is counting the days until the death opens its doors
to him. He knows good and well where he is going when he dies, as an incident
from his childhood very much sealed his fate.
Constantine has the
ability to detect demons and angels, in human form, in the flesh and communicate
with them. It is both his power and his curse. His visions of late have raised
his suspicions about a possible war that may occur between Heaven and Hell,
right in the modern day Los Angeles, no less. After performing an exorcism on a
young girl, and seeing that a “soldier demon” has found its way on Earth, he
knows right away that something isn’t right.
At the same time,
Constantine gets an unexpected visitor in the form of L.A. cop Angela Dodson
(Rachel Weisz), who wants answers relating the mysterious, alleged suicide of
her twin sister, Isabel. When he tells her of the ability he carries, she asks
him to find out if her sister is in fact present amongst the demons of hell.
The centerpiece of
the story involves the discovery of an ancient relic known as the Spear of
Destiny, which is dug up in Mexico by an unsuspecting drifter, who’s then hit
by a car and killed, only to be resurrected by way of the Spear’s power, which
also possesses the same person into carrying it all the way to L.A., indicating
that Satan maybe nearby to collect his long lost possession.
One of the many
pleasures of Constantine is the array
of darkly mysterious characters that are found in the world of its hero.
Characters such as Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), who runs a nightclub establishment
where good and evil seem to congregate, and who occupies a sort of “electric
chair” that can transport those who sit in it to hell and back. Constantine
also has a priest named Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who scouts out cases for
him, as well as a weapons specialist named Beeman (Max Baker), who supplies such
methods of defense as holy water and flame torches, aka Dragon’s Breath. He is
also able to exchange words with both the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) and the
diabolical, but well-dressed, demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale).
Constantine is a comic book atmosphere brought to life by both its dark and
brooding characters, but also by an amazing effects artists and production
designers. Two specific sequences, both involving Constantine’s transport to
hell and back, are nothing short of amazing. The final battle, which does
involve the appearance of Satan himself, also has some eye-gazing moments, both
in story and in visuals.
While so many
movies throw in so much special effects just for sake of it, here’s a movie
that applies them for true spectacular usage. This is one movie that is most
deserving of an Oscar nomination for visual effects and set design. The look of
the demon beasts alone is a treat for the eyes.
First time director
Francis Lawrence, a veteran of music videos, has established himself as a pure
visionary filmmaker. Lawrence has the chances, I think, of being elevated to the
same level as that of Peter Jackson or Alex Proyas. Judging by the outstanding
quality of the sets, effects, and action, his chances are more than good.
In the realm of the
comic book movie, Constantine is
nothing short of a superb surprise. It’s one of the more original films to
emerge from the genre. Those seeking both groundbreaking visuals and an engaging
story to match are bound to be blown away by this one!
Having seen this
movie in its theatrical run, I knew that this was destined to be a pure knockout
on DVD, and I was absolutely right. A visually dazzling movie like this is what
the format was made for in the first place. Warner has delivered what is indeed
one of the most amazing looking presentations of the year. The anamorphic
picture is strong in every sense. With scenes ranging from bright to dark, the
image quality is clear and lively detailed throughout. The eye-gazing effects
look even more astonishing in this presentation, and the colors are simply
jaw-dropping. A tremendous job, indeed!
I had the same
prediction on how the sound quality would turn out, and the 5.1 mix delivers a
monster of a bang. Any comic book movie is bound to make a killing in the sound
area, and Constantine may just be one
of the best examples you’ll ever come across. Every possible sound element,
from music to dialogue to action to effects, is given amazing treatment and
explodes through the channels in knockout clarity. The sequences in the
underworld of hell will knock your socks off, as will other key effects
sequences in the movie. This, like its video quality, is destined for a
mentioning at this year’s DMC Awards.
Warner also manages
to deliver one of the absolute best packages with this fully loaded, 2-Disc
Deluxe Edition. A single disc release is also available, but trust me when I say
that this is the edition you should definitely take advantage of.
Disc One includes a
commentary track with director Francis Lawrence, producer Akiva Goldsman and
screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, a music video for A Perfect
Circle’s most terrific song “Passive”, and Theatrical Trailers.
Disc Two contains 18 minutes of Deleted Footage, as well as an Alternate Ending. Also included are two production documentary galleries; “Conjuring Constantine: The Production from Hell Documentary Gallery”, which contains the featurettes “Director's Confessional”, “Collision with Evil” and “Holy Relics”.
Then there’s the
“Imagining the Underworld
Documentary Gallery”, featuring “Hellscape”, “Visualizing Vermin”, “Warrior Wings”, “Unholy
Abduction”, and “Constantine
Cosmology”. Lastly, there’s a third documentary titled “Foresight: The
Power of Previsualization” and Exclusive DVD-ROM Content.
Also featured, and
ONLY FEATURED, in this Deluxe Edition release is a collectable Hellblazer comic,
which features a reprint of Issue #41, “Dangerous Habits”, and a Hellblazer