Comic Con: Review of the Constantine pilot!
As created by Alan Moore, John Constantine is a character that's just a tough sell for network television. (Forget his lack of smoking; they can't even give him the correct "Hellblazer" title.) This was a property that needed to be on HBO or even FX to be done properly. So I wasn't expecting much going in to the pilot screening and sadly my expectations were met.
Perhaps it was having watched the energetic and fun first episode of THE FLASH right beforehand, but the CONSTANTINE pilot just felt like a drag by comparison. None of it was particularly engaging or fresh and it just seemed to plod along scene to scene for 42 minutes, without any of them leaving much of an impact. The tone also felt off, unsure of whether it should be overly serious or awkwardly funny. And save for one random jump scare, there wasn't much in the way of excitement. While I don't think any of the actors are particularly strong, all the major problems stem from the script by writer/producer David Goyer, which feels like a rushed draft rather than a polished platform to launch a new series. The show also isn't helped by the flat direction and uneven visuals, which is why I was utterly shocked to see Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT, Game of Thrones) credited as director and not Goyer himself.
The pilot opens at a mental institution where the title character is being tied up in a straightjacket and receiving electric shock therapy. John Constantine is a self-proclaimed exorcist, demonologist, and "master of the dark arts," but he's checked himself in to an insane asylum due to some past trauma. None of this prologue is explained particularly well (his motivations, like the script, are sloppy); however, it doesn't really matter anyways, because another patient becomes possessed by a demon and writes a message to Constantine in blood on the wall, so he decides to leave.
We then meet Liv, an unassuming rental car clerk who has unknowingly become the target of a particularly nasty demon. We see her being haunted in a parking lot, first by her possessed car and then more noticeably when a giant pit opens up in the ground and threatens to swallow her up. Despite being in England in the previous scene, Constantine comes out of nowhere to offer his services, but she turns him down—ignoring the giant hellhole and other odd phenomena attacking her. Only when she stops for Chinese food, goes home and opens a fortune cookie that says "Trust him" does she begin to trust him.
The rest of the pilot follows Constantine as he tries to keep Liv alive. It turns in to a FINAL DESTINATION movie for a bit as the demon, who can control electricity, keeps using various devices to try and murder her. There's also a subplot where Liv discovers that her long deceased father actually died recently and had a similar gift that allowed him to see "beyond our world" i.e. demons and stuff. The two visit his secret lair at one point, which gave audiences a random glimpse at Doctor Fate's helmet—the only part of the pilot that elicited any sort of response from the Comic Con audience.
There are some okay ideas and recognizable elements of the comic at work, but the execution is unfocused and often times hokey. (I actually rolled my eyes when Social Distortion's "Ring of Fire" came on the radio.) There was more than one serious moment that was met with laughter in the audience, either due to the confused tone or the unconvincing performances. Along those lines, I don't think they got the title character right, at least as presented in this first episode. John Constantine is supposed to be morally ambiguous and a con man, but the script and Matt Ryan's performance doesn't balance that fine line properly. There's being an anti-hero and there's being unlikable, but Constantine just comes off as uninteresting on top of that. Ryan plays him as a standard tortured hero, making him exactly like so many grumpy, reluctant protagonists on other TV shows.
The pilot also features Lost's Harold Perrineau (wearing hilariously goofy contact lenses) as an angel with shady motivations that keeps pushing his heavenly agenda on Constantine. Jeremy Davies, another Lost alum, also makes an appearance as Constantine's friend. And when I say friend I mean, a former colleague already suffering from PTSD that Constantine threatens to frame for murder if he doesn't agree to help him.
My biggest gripe through all of this, however, is how they handled Liv, played by Lucy Griffiths. Her character is essentially the focal point of the pilot. The whole thing is about Constantine protecting her, revealing her true self, and guiding her to get in touch with her special abilities as a demon hunter. However, after filming on the first episode was completed, Goyer and Co. decided they didn't like Liv and no longer needed the character. Instead of reshooting the pilot or taking the time to retool things properly, they simply inserted a scene at the end where Constantine's sidekick comes in and tells him that Liv got scared and decided to move away and we'll never see her again. The lack of finesse is actually hilarious and the Comic Con crowd kind of looked around, like "Is this really happening?"
So pretty much the entire CONSTANTINE pilot is a waste of time and story. Alan Moore would be completely justified in hating it.