Written by: Kevin Brodbin & Frank Cappello
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince
As much as we like to believe we have control of our own faculties and our destiny, many believe a higher being ultimately has a plan for us all. Constantine takes this idea and runs with it in a fun and inventive way while adding loads of action. It posits what would occur if instead of having a loving God, they’re involved in a game of how well they convince you to not go with the devil. An evil game and one where our protagonist finds himself trying to help.
Living out his days as essentially a demon hunter, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) attempts to buy his way into heaven by exorcising and deporting demons back to hell. After being approached by detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) following her sister’s death, Constantine learns about a new plot as demons begin to get braver about showing themselves on Earth.
As someone raised Catholic since childhood, I find the world established in Constantine to be utterly fascinating because of the way it plays with the theology and how it manages to have some fun with it. Sure, not everything runs perfectly with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but this story is pure fantasy considering you have a man running around with holy water to throw at demons. I think we can expand our imagination here, but what I found most interesting is the battle of free will between God and Lucifer in this story. Free will remains a fundamental value and something people from most religious beliefs agree upon, but this film sets up humanity as a chessboard between God and Lucifer wagering for our souls. They cannot make humans do anything other than just whispering in their ear to tempt them to do what they believe. God, of course, wants people to do well and follow the commandments, while Lucifer would prefer the vices of life. Right in the middle is where we find the protagonist of this feature.
John Constantine smokes like a chimney and knows he does not have long for this world, with the terminal lung cancer he has developed, but he knows he’s on his way to hell for reasons explained in the film. His attempt to fight off these demons comes from a sense of obligation but also in hopes of gaining favor with God to enter heaven. He has his own tools and gets portrayed by Keanu Reeves, so what else could you want? In his pursuits is where the plot truly kicks off, as he begins to interact with Angela Dodson. It appears her sister committed suicide, which she does not believe for a minute because of the implications that would mean for her admittance into heaven. For those who do not know, in the Catholic faith, if one were to kill themselves, they would immediately go to hell because of it being a mortal sin with no chance for repentance. Even with all of the evidence pointing towards a suicide, Angela refuses to believe this would be her sister’s fate. From there we learn more about the death and the abilities these twin sisters might have had from the very beginning.
Without revealing much more of the plot, the story certainly takes its turns in trying to figure out who may be behind all of these demons suddenly being braver out in public and what it has to do with Angela and her sister. This giant conspiracy further builds out this world where God and Lucifer play their game but everyone else on Earth plays it in their own way as well. We get introduced to Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), who owns a neutral club where fraternization can occur and no fighting can happen between demons, angels, and any other weird beings. This further builds the different characters involved in this game overall and who has the opportunity to gain the most whenever a soul gets sent to heaven or hell. The film constantly speaks on the balance necessary with humanity where influence remains the only proper source of control, and it’s only when demons possess humans is where they cross the line and Constantine jumps in to deport them. With all the different people involved in this world, it would make for a nice exploration of all the ways they further interact in this landscape. It definitely opens itself up for a series of some sort, as this film rightfully did not have the time to dig in more on this mythology.
As with many fantasy films from the 2000s, the visual effects in this movie look incredibly aged as the demons appear to be monsters you would see in a video game. Several moments left me laughing because of the way these four-legged demons navigate and look when fighting Constantine. I’ll forgive it, of course, because of its time but it still looks as silly as the performance by Keanu Reeves.
The world of Constantine introduces a dangerous game with demons and angels messing about while God and Lucifer try to win the influence of humanity. Constantine stands out as someone currying the favor of God and someone the devil would come all the way to Earth just to snatch his soul. At times, the film definitely gets silly, but overall it proves to be such a fun story with an intriguing premise.