I’m not a comic book reader, I hadn’t heard of John Constantine (not even as portrayed by Keanu Reeves). But watching the trailers for this show, I knew this was for me – I had enjoyed Reaper a few years ago – was I one of the four people who did?. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series is one of my absolute favorites. I reviewed and enjoyed Dominion this summer. And, not completely relevant, but always worth mentioning, I love Ghostbusters. So, in Constantine, what’s not to like?
Well, apparently, there was nothing I didn’t like! Looking at pictures from the long-running comic series, it’s obvious that Matt Ryan is John Constantine. Blond, world-weary, he has that big man swagger and “don’t touch me” attitude (even though Matt Ryan is not a big man). If I’m ever inhabited by a demon, don’t call Bill Murray, please – call John Constantine. And let’s hope you don’t get his voice mail. For real, call this number!
Some time after a demon disaster, where his miscalculation resulted in not only the death of Astra, a 9-year-old girl, but caused her soul to be lost to the Devil, Constantine has checked himself into the Ravenscar mental hospital – Ravenscar is in Yorkshire, England – and seems nearly gleeful about the electroshock therapy he’s about to endure. But since he’s not really mentally ill, just gifted in the dark arts, the shock does nothing to improve his psychic health. And in fact, he’s reluctantly called back to work when a demon takes over one of the patients, summons every bug in northern England, and makes a large mess of the art therapy room. “She did it,” he tells the astonished doctors and patients as he walks out, after sending that demon back where it belongs.
Friends are important to Constantine – friends and not-quite-friends – although he’d deny it. Chas (Charles Halford) is Constantine’s “oldest mate,” probably due to his not-quite-human nature – apparently, Chas can’t die. Richie Simpson (Jeremy Davies), twitchy and drug-dependent after the Astra incident, would like to be anywhere except in Constantine’s universe, but is still drawn in to help. And Harold Perrineau, as the “morally ambiguous” angel Manny (what kind of name is that for an angel, anyway?) needs John to help him fight the evil that is coming. They meet when John checks out the huge sinkhole created by a demon attack. “Whoever you are, I’m a nasty piece of work – ask anyone!” John shouts to the beings he thinks are in the hole. And instead of demons, he gets Manny, who may or may not be offering a way for John to redeem his already-Hell-consigned soul.
John travels to Atlanta to take care of a favor for Jasper Winters, a dead friend – to watch over his daughter Liv (Lucy Griffiths). He and Chas keep her from being killed by the demon Furcifer, who draws strength from electricity – “he commands lightning and tempests,” John reads from Jasper’s book in his ultra-creepy home. Lights flicker, the sign from Liv’s work flickers and dies (but the DE and V from Endeavor linger), and a power line under Furcifer’s control goes right through Chas’ chest. John gives her Jasper’s pendant, which allows her to see souls – including her dead grandmother (not sure I would have liked her as my grandma). He shows her the “parallel planes of existence” where trapped souls exist – he can’t see them, but she has her father’s gifts. John takes Liv to her unknown father’s aforesaid ultra creepy house, where she continues to be creeped out – by the mirror that is stuck in time, the maps that use her blood to show where trouble – and lots of it – will happen, and by John bringing in groceries.
John can help Liv – but only by using her as bait for Furcifer. He taps Richie for his hacking skills, bribes a night watchman to let him on the roof of a building, paints a complex sigil on the roof, and summons the demon – only to be confronted by a view of himself once his own soul has gone to Hell. And Liv is able to convince him that what he’s seeing isn’t real – not the demon-John, and certainly not the vision of Astra begging for help – and as Richie cuts the power to the entire city, Furcifer is once again pulled back where he belongs.
(Writer/producers David Goyer and Daniel Cerone talked about Liv’s role in future episodes during ComicCon – apparently she had been slated to be John’s companion throughout the series, but was seen as too innocent or sweet to be able to handle Constantine’s darkness, so the pilot was retooled, Liv goes off to try to find normality in California – good luck – and episode 2 will introduce a new female character, Zed [Angelica Celaya].)
Constantine’s mix of legend, angels and demons, wit, and action is truly attractive. Welsh actor Matt Ryan is terrific, and looks just like the comic-book character. (For more info on where this version of Constantine fits into the comic-book lore, check out this article from ComicBook.com.)
There’s been a bit of a controversy over one aspect of Constantine that wasn’t translated from the book to the screen – apparently, John is a chain-smoker. The TV writers decided to tone this down, but still keep some remnants of his nasty habit – in the final scene, John drains the lighter fluid from his cigarette lighter, pours it over his hands, and lights them to ward off a large group of troubled street people. I do have to say that I appreciate this – devotion to a story is one thing, but I can do without watching even fictional characters puff away.
What’s coming? Something big. And Constantine’s the man.
My name is John Constantine. I’m the one that steps from the shadows, all trench coat and arrogance. I’ll drive demons away, kick ’em in the bollocks, and spit on ’em when they’re down. Leave ’em with only a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone, because, let’s be honest, who would be crazy enough to walk it with me?
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