The Daily Stream: Constantine Proves Accuracy Isn't Everything When It Comes To Adaptation

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Constantine"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is a private detective and master of the occult. He banishes demons back to hell for a living, but the one thing he can't fight is a terminal case of lung cancer, caused by his decades of heavy smoking. He also notices that there's been an uptick in demons trying to cross over, and calls upon his friend/apprentice Chas (Shia LeBeouf) and his old comrade in the supernatural, the witch doctor Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou). No one quite believes Constantine, but he's going to follow his gut and figure out what the hell is going on.

Meanwhile, Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) is investigating the death of her twin sister, Isabel. She doesn't believe that her sister, a devout Catholic, would have taken her own life, as that's a mortal sin that would condemn her to eternal damnation. Angela asks Constantine to help her in her search, and Constantine obliges after they are attacked by winged demons. With all of Angela's detective skills and John's unique talents, can they unravel the mystery behind Isabel's death before the forces of hell overtake the earth?

"Constantine" is based on the Vertigo comic series "Hellblazer," and the character of John Constantine created by Alan Moore in "Swamp Thing." While the movie diverges from its source material in many ways, it still manages to be an entertaining take all of its own. Much like there are multiverses in comic books, both movie Constantine and comic book Constantine can be great, even if they're wildly different. 

Why It's Essential Viewing

Reeves' career is as bulletproof as Neo at this point, but once upon a time his movies weren't guaranteed successes. "Constantine" came out in 2005 and was denounced by critics and fans alike. The former found the movie too silly for something with such a self-serious tone, while the latter were furious about how different this Constantine was from the beloved Johnny boy of the comics. In the years since its release, however, "Constantine" has become something of a hidden gem, revered by people who like their superhero stories full of religious imagery and existential angst. Constantine might not look or act like your average superhero, but he does occasionally find himself as a part of Justice League Dark in the comics, so to call him one isn't a stretch. 

The biggest hurdle with "Constantine" is suspension of disbelief. If you're analyzing every detail, the fact that Constantine is from Liverpool but speaks with Reeves' SoCal chill alone is going to drive you insane. But if you give it the same level of disbelief you do "Thor" or "Batman vs. Superman," you might be surprised at how much more fun you have. Yes, I know they got Chas' age wrong. Yes, I know Keanu is supposed to look like Sting. But how can you care about those things when Tilda Swinton is flying around with angel wings as the half-angel Gabriel and Peter Stormare shows up as Lucifer, his feet dripping with tar? "Constantine" doesn't directly replicate its source material, but it still uses all of the same brushstrokes. The themes of guilt, loss, and redemption that weave through the pages of "Hellblazer" are all here, they just have a slightly different look and feel. 

Constantine is Accurate Where it Counts

Reeves' Constantine might not quite look or sound the part, but he's still got the core essence of the world's greatest demon-fighting occult detective down pat. He's a bitter man who tries to do the right thing out of a sense of guilt and obligation instead of any genuine ambition for good. The comic book world of "Hellblazer" comes to life under Francis Lawrence's direction, and some shots feel like panels of the comic book have blurred over into reality. The heartbreaking truths of "Hellblazer" are still at the center of "Constantine," where even happy endings aren't all they're cracked up to be. Lawrence and Reeves have both said they're game to return for a sequel, so maybe it's time fans give "Constantine" a second chance. 

While Matt Ryan's Constantine looks and (sorta) sounds the part, he's missing the grim gravitas Reeves brought to his version of the morose master magician. Maybe DC will join in on the multiverse movie trend and we can see Reeves and Ryan go head-to-head in a face-off for the ages. Until then, we can watch "Constantine" on HBO Max and dream of a world where Brian Azzarello's run of "Hellblazer" gets its properly dark due. Where's the devil when you need to make a deal?