John Constantine (Reeves) has a gift – or is it a curse? From a kid he’s been able to spot the demons that hide in human shape. And now he’s a dark crusader sending them back to hell with an arsenal of holy gadgets. Only, Constantine ain’t no saint. Cynical, world-weary and killing himself with a chain-smoking habit, he’s heading straight to hell too. Why? For committing suicide to escape his gift. Revived after only a few minutes, he’s now damned - unless he can save enough souls to buy himself a place in Heaven. And when he meets faith-shaken cop Rachel Weisz, Constantine sees a chance to tip the scales. All hell’s about to break loose, you see, and Constantine isn’t going to pass that one up.
Sound like a turkey? Well, amazingly it isn’t. Against all the odds its actually pretty darn good. Clever, witty and chock-full of scares and thrills, Constantine is a slickly directed movie that delivers on almost every level. It’s even funny – mostly deliberately. How else could it get away with having an angel called Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), a hissably horrid Satan (Peter Stormare) and a slickly-suited uber-devil without our rolling our eyes heavenward? Grabbing you from the start, Constantine sucks you into its own preposterousness – thanks to some excellent special effects and some genuinely spooky Exorcist-style shocks and jumps.
While it plays fast and loose with Christian theology and the Bible (nothing new there), it’s still an intelligent thriller, dealing head-on with forgiveness, salvation, heaven and hell. Shock-horror, a popcorn movie that makes you think! And that’s not all that separates this sheep from the goats of other comic book capers. Unlike the Spidermans, Hellboys and X-Mens, glutted on computer images, Constantine uses them sparingly but to mostly stunning effect. The early-on capture of a devil in a mirror is a cracker and the depictions of hell and its minions (always a tough one) stay the scary side of cliché. And music-vid director Francis Lawrence lends proceedings a visual panache the material almost doesn’t deserve - his camera gliding like an angel and prowling like the devil. It makes you want to forgive the occasional incoherence of the plot.
Reeves gives a knowing and well-judged performance as the haggard anti-hero. More tooled up than toned up, Constantine is no Neo-style Matrix saviour – more a Clint Eastwood avenger with sharp one-liners. Rachel Weisz too makes the most of her twin roles – as the cop and her ill-fated sister.
Constantine achieves its scares and thrills with the minimum of gore and is surprisingly chaste too. Which just goes to show how different this one is. Recommended.