The UnPopular Opinion: Constantine

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!


Comparatively, DC Comics have always had a darker and grittier edge than Marvel Comics. There is just something inherently dark about the DC characters that has put them into a specific tone and visual style on the big screen. But, even within DC, there is a darker string of tales released under their Vertigo imprint. From Sandman to Swamp Thing and the other characters of Justice League Dark, Vertigo Comics as always been home to the more adult side of the DC universe. One such character that has long been a fan favorite is John Constantine. In recent years, Constantine had his own short-lived NBC series and will be joining the crew of The CW's Legends of Tomorrow later this year, but before that came the 2005 feature film adaptation from director Francis Lawrence. Starring Keanu Reeves in the title role, the R-rated action-horror film CONSTANTINE was discarded by fans and critics unfairly and is actually one of the better adaptations of a DC property and should have launched an entire franchise rather than fizzling into obscurity.

There are always tales of films stuck in development hell before compromises are made to bring them to the big screen. With CONSTANTINE, there were several changes made to the source material in order to get the film greenlit, but none of these sacrifice the dark nature of the original comic books. After his atrocious British accent in BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, it should have come as no surprise that the title character of John Constantine was made to be American rather than English. Shifting the locale from London to Los Angeles also was a no brainer, a similar decision made to the TV series as well as the tangentally connected Lucifer. All together, CONSTANTINE is a faithful story that captures Alan Moore's original Hellblazer comic while putting a mainstream studio spin on it. Despite a $100 million budget, CONSTANTINE went on to earn $230 million globally and garnered disdain from critics like Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert.

The UnPopular Opinion, Horror, Science Fiction, Francis Lawrence, Constantine, Rachel Weisz, Peter Stormare, Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, Shia LaBeouf, DC Comics

CONSTANTINE was unfairly compared to Keanu Reeves more famous MATRIX franchise in which he also played a messianic character destined to save humanity from an apocalyptic villain. Both have heavy religious undertones and both sport extensive CGI effects. But, where THE MATRIX matched ambitious storytelling with ambitious special effects, fans and critics alike felt the scale of CONSTANTINE's narrative was never able to keep up with the large scale storytelling. For a film centered on the battleground between Heaven and Hell, I think CONSTANTINE does a damn fine job of realizing the Cold war between angels and demons as it seeps into our reality. From the opening exorcism to the final battle, Francis Lawrence does an excellent job of making sure that this looks and feels different than predecessors like END OF DAYS or STIGMATA. It also succeeds where the fan-beloved TV series failed and that was in taking the material seriously. Some could say that Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine a little too seriously, but the darkness and bite to his dialogue delivery helped pave the way for his role in the JOHN WICK series a decade later.

The supporting cast here is top notch as well including the always fantastic Rachel Weisz in the duel role of twin sisters, one of whom commits suicide while the other, a detective, becomes involved in the war between the worlds. Djimon Honsou, soon to appear in another DC film, SHAZAM!, is spot on as the voodoo priest Papa Midnite. Gavin Rossdale does a nice job as the demon Balthazar while Peter Stormare is the Lucifer Morningstar we never knew we always wanted. Then there is the amazing Tilda Swinton as the androgynous Gabriel, the angel with plans to take down God. You would be hard-pressed to find a role where Tilda Swinton is not amazing, but like her DOCTOR STRANGE character, Swinton takes what could have been a pulpy or cheesy character and turns it into an awards-worthy performance. There is also a young Shia LaBeouf in his first truly adult role. Trying to break free from the Disney Channel roots that made him famous, this is a role that LaBeouf should still be proud of. Like his comic counterpart, LaBeouf's Chas Kramer is equal parts sidekick and asskicker. Unfortunately, he doesn't get the time to shine that he deserved nor will we get the chance to see him back in the sequel.

For his feature film debut, Francis Lawrence had to take on a special effects heavy production which is always an arduous task for any filmmaker. Lawrence puts the CGI monsters to much better effect here than in his subsequent film, I AM LEGEND, where they ended up feeling like cartoons. Here, the effects may look somewhat dated, but they help maintain a balance between CONSTANTINE feeling like a straight horror film and a comic book adaptation. Still, the CGI works wonderfully in the imagery of Los Angeles and Hell, sometimes bridging the two locales to drive home the not so subtle comparison of the two. The make-up effects are also some of the best in recent years. But the top kudos has to go to Lawrence and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello who manage to encapsulate the long-running Hellblazer comic series into an effective feature film. The complicated narrative and countless supporting characters from the comic are boiled down into the key elements that make CONSTANTINE an excellent standalone story and a perfect introduction to what should have been a long-running series.

Like many Hollywood adaptations of comic books, CONSTANTINE had to sacrifice certain storylines and plot elements for the sake of mainstream audiences. Still, this is an R-rated film that doesn't shy away from blood and frightening images. Sure, maybe it could have used a little more sex (something the Hellblazer comics have never had an issue with) but that is a minor quibble as the movie puts Keanu Reeves' trademark laid back attitude to great effect. Reeves never looks disturbed by what he is seeing and approaches every scene in CONSTANTINE as if it were an average day at the office. This helps make the character feel like a veteran of this supernatural war rather than a newcomer like the audience or Rachel Weisz's Angela. Many complain that Reeves is a little too laid back, but in this film we see how that demeanor helps the overall story and allows all of the supporting characters to take deeper dives that border on hammy.

The UnPopular Opinion, Horror, Science Fiction, Francis Lawrence, Constantine, Rachel Weisz, Peter Stormare, Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, Shia LaBeouf, DC Comics

While I am sure Alan Moore disliked this adaptation as much as WATCHMEN or THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, CONSTANTINE is still a very underrated movie that can be appreciated in any number of genres. Not too gory but still scary enough for horror fans, gritty but still light enough for mainstream comic fans, and serious enough but with great action for everyone else. CONSTANTINE was far from a cinematic failure and ranks alongside HELLBOY as a comic book adaptation that should have been continued in sequels. Even watching the TV series take on the character, I could never help but feel like I wanted to see less smart-ass comments and more stoic ass-kicking. Maybe one day we can see Keanu Reeves convince David Leitch and Chad Stahelski to make a horror-tinged version of JOHN WICK and we can all pretend it is the worthy and deserving sequel to CONSTANTINE, the franchise that never was (but really should have been).

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!


About the Author

5933 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.