Plot: John Constantine (Reeves) fights a battle most humans are totally unaware of. He knows that Heaven and Hell are waging a battle - he is able to see behind the normal, and sees the combatants hiding behind their falseness - and they see him. Now, he's dying - but before he finally goes, he must help a woman (Weisz) who may, unknowingly, be at the center of an evil attempt to take over the world.
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- ... isn't the great follow-up to The Matrix that people were expecting from Keanu Reeves - but it's not the ghastly mess most people have been saying it is.
Occasionally, a film comes along that all the big reviewers tend to agree on. It happened with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), it happened with Spider-Man (2002), it happened (negatively) for Elektra (2005), and now it’s happened again (negatively) for Constantine.
As you may know, I tend to disagree with most of the reviewers most of the time (in the examples above, I didn’t care for the acclaimed The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) or Spider-Man (2002), and I actually thought Elektra (2005) wasn’t all that bad), so when I heard they all hated Constantine, it leaped to the front of my must-see list. Keanu in another god-like role after his stint in The Matrix (1999) role? Sure, it probably wouldn’t live up to the greatness of those films, but it couldn’t really be that bad – could it?
Keanu has had to live with the goofy persona he played in the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) films years back, and has usually not been able to get viewers past that. Sure, he’s done it a few times (with Speed (1994) and The Matrix (1999) trilogy), but for the most part he doesn’t seem to be able to. Maybe it’s his innocent look, but whatever it may be, his career has suffered because of it. His acting is decent enough, although he doesn’t get consistently involved with the characters he portrays enough to keep the viewer involved through the film.
The Matrix (1999) showed he could keep his character involving throughout the film, but that seems to be another exception that proves the rule. His acting in Constantine varies greatly from pathetic to pretty good, with almost no rhyme or reason.
Rachel Weisz, on the other hand, has done a pretty good job in most of the films she has been in up to this point, portraying her characters with enough heart that she looked ready to really impress later in her career. Unfortunately, Constantine seems to be a bit of backtrack for her, as her acting suffers somewhat throughout the whole film. She just doesn’t really seem to be behind her character, and it shows through in her acting.
Constantine‘s plot revolves around a battle that takes place on Earth between Heaven and Hell. Sounds exciting and involving, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the director seems to think that the plot is just filler between action sequences (or maybe he knows his actors aren’t really into their characters), so gives little emphasis on the plot, focusing more on getting the viewer from one spectacular special-effects filled sequence to another. These do keep the viewer entertained, but also distance the viewer from the characters, since the characters don’t really do much to draw the viewer in.
The special effects sequences of Constantine are the real stars of this film. From a horde of flying beasts to a living swarm of insects to Hell itself, the special effects are impressive from the start. They are able to make the extraordinary believable, and yet don’t let the viewer lose sight of the characters within them. Every detail has gone into planning these sequences, and they show it with their impressive displays.
Unfortunately, Constantine isn’t the great follow-up to The Matrix (1999) that people were expecting from Keanu Reeves – but it’s not the ghastly mess most people have been saying it is. True, the acting is a bit lackluster, and true, most of the energy of the film is concentrated on special effects – but can’t the same be said for most popcorn flicks? It is unfortunate, but that’s the way Hollywood usually works. It seems to be a case of people expecting more than they got.
Most likely, the comparison to the The Matrix (1999) trilogy is Constantine‘s true downfall. If it had come out prior to that series, would the reviews have been the same? Probably not. Constantine is just a victim of timing.