Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Keanu Reeves,
Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Gavin Rossdale,
Director: Francis Lawrence
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: October 14, 2008
“INTO THE LIGHT, I COMMAND THEE!”
I’ve always 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.
John Constantine, 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!
Even though it seems as if just about every Blu-ray release garners a four star rating, trust me when I say that the transfer given to this visually stunning movie is nothing short of SPECTACULAR. I would even go as far as to say that if have just bought or are planning to buy a player, this would make a terrific starter disc. When you’ve got a movie like this that depends on a heavy mixture of color tones, both in effects sequences and in regular shots, HD provides remarkable results. The entire atmosphere encompassed in this movie looks astonishing in its every frame. Remarkable in every possible way!
We get two Dolby 5.1 tracks, but it’s the TrueHD mix that makes all the difference! And with the many action and effects sequences in this film, it truly delivers one nice sounding spectacle. There are many sequences where the sound is toyed with, especially in the effects scenes, and in HD these scenes deliver quite an impact. Dialogue delivery is tremendously clear and music playback is most incredibly rendered.
All of the extras from the 2-Disc Deluxe DVD are carried over here; only with the Blu-ray edition we get the added bonus of the In-Movie Experience, featuring picture-in-picture commentary as well as snippets from the original audio commentary. This viewing experience is most rewarding with its endless insight into the making of the movie. Among the extras are two commentaries; the first with director Franics Lawrence And Producer Akiva Goldsman, the second with screenwriters Kevin Brodbin And Frank Cappello. Also included are 18 minutes worth of Deleted Scenes including an Alternate Ending, and an array of behind the scenes featurettes including “Channeling Constantine”, “Conjuring Constantine”, “Collision With Evil”, “Holy Relics”, “Shotgun Shootout”, “Hellscape”, “Visualizing Vermin”, “Warrior Wings”, “Unholy Abduction”, “Constantine's Cosmology”, “Foresight: The Power Of Previsualization”, “Demon Fire” and “Writer's Vision”. Lastly, we have the music video for the song Passive by A Perfect Circle and Theatrical Trailers.
Also included is a second disc, which is a Digital Copy of the movie.
I called the DVD release of Constantine one for the history books. But nothing could’ve prepared me for how incredible the Blu-ray release. The astounding sound and video quality combined with the endless extras make this a must have release every step of the way!