THE LESSER REWATCHABLES: Constantine

Based on the popular Ringer podcast series, The Rewatchables, Blusterhouse’s very own Morgan A. Colbert and Jericho Vilar break down the under the radar films that no one would ever consider a ‘rewatchable’ but they still can’t seem to stop watching anyway. 

Those who can, do. 

Those who can’t, podcast. 

Those who can’t podcast welcome you all to THE LESSER REWATCHABLES.


Jericho Vilar: In February 2005, Warner Bros Pictures released CONSTANTINE, the feature film debut of director Francis Lawrence based on the DC / Vertigo comic series Hellblazer. As an adaptation, it deviated wildly from the source material and, upon its release, was almost universally panned for its fangless depiction of a classic work of horror as well as for its less than substantial take on spirituality. 

Birthed in the no man’s land era of comic book movies, four months before the release of BATMAN BEGINS and three years before the advent of the MCU with 2008’s IRON MAN, CONSTANTINE was a film that no one was clamoring for, whose original creator distanced himself from its production and face planted spectacularly in the box office during its theatrical run. 

16 years and the comic book film’s complete takeover of the industry later, what is it about this film that resonated with you despite all of the red flags it was buried under? 

Morgan A. Colbert: I really wish I could remember when I first saw this beauty. It pains me that I haven’t marked this down on a calendar. It’s a holiday now, but when it came out I don’t think I was clamoring for it either. I have really no relationship with comic books, other than a short window of collecting X-Files comics when I was just a youth, but really even now I’m a fan of all those comic book films but am lacking the history. I admit, I’m in the band on the wagon, or banding up my wagons, whatever bandwagon means, you get the point. CONSTANTINE’s appearance seemed natural. It’s a part of my life. I even went so far as reading the film novelization. For me, there is only one Constantine, and he looks a lot like Keanu Reeves. But to be serious, the thing that has always stayed with me is the cast. What a cast! They gave Gavin Rossdale a part in a movie! They took Peter Stormare and Tilda Swinton and turned them into everything I wanted them to be. This movie just hits all of my happy spots and it does it so well.  

JV: To be completely honest with you, I never actually saw this in theatres. I saw CONSTANTINE for the very first time on DVD a few months after THE DARK KNIGHT came out primarily because of how its impact left the industry in its wake. THE DARK KNIGHT was a comic book movie that was getting a lot of real steam as an Oscar contender. I was shell shocked. I couldn’t believe that the comic book movie finally had an avatar that broke through all of the stereotypes that held it back from being considered a film with a capital F. After that first hit of THE DARK KNIGHT in the veins I was on the hunt for my next fix that was specifically a DC Comics film. Other than BATMAN BEGINS and SUPERMAN RETURNS, the next closest bag was CONSTANTINE.

The fact that it followed THE DARK KNIGHT and IRON MAN and I sincerely enjoyed it, I still consider to be a minor miracle. The standards I had held it up against was incredibly unfair on my part, but you’re right it was that stellar cast that floored me from the get go. It also probably helped that I was neck deep in my David Fincher phase at the time and CONSTANTINE definitely felt like it was channeling SE7EN but on an understandably lesser scale. 

I’m wondering if you felt any of that while watching the film?

MAC: It was really disconnected from the comic book world to me. I don’t even think I knew it was a DC story until years later. I know, it’s embarrassing. I saw it pretty soon after it came out, of that I’m sure, so for me, it would have been soon after X2: X-MEN UNITED as well as BATMAN BEGINS. Yet, I never would have connected any of these movies. John Constantine was a man in a short/long line of exorcists.  

Also, let’s remember that Constantine punched a child in the throat in the first ten minutes. Sure she was possessed, and so I’m allowed to laugh. They knew their audience there. 

JV: It’s funny you say that because as startling as it was to see John do that right off the bat what was more jarring was the fact that the film-makers chose not to depict the original comic book version of why Constantine was damned to Hell in the first place. In the comics (I already hate myself of being guy), Constantine’s soul damning sin was when a demon that he had summoned ended up killing a child, instead of thte film’s version of him committing suicide. 

The majority of the hate that the comic fans have for this film is because of how much it pulled back and away from the really messy parts of Constantine’s story as told in its original form in the comics (there I go again). While I understand that you aren’t as entrenched in the source material as I was, how do you think you would’ve reacted to the version of this film where John Constantine was blonde, British and bi-sexual (AKA the version that all of nerd-dom was expecting)?

MAC: I imagine if our film CONSTANTINE never existed and we only had one, more like the recent television show then I’m sure I would still enjoy it. It’s a good story, and I’m here for all of it, not just Keanu as Constantine. I mean, there’s a good chance I would be holding a major grudge if I was a member of this specific nerd-dom. I’m such a hater when it comes to changing source material. I boycott, I growl and I reply-guy when you change something I love, and so it’s wonderful I wasn’t a fan beforehand. I’m hoping not everyone felt that way though. I mean Keanu Reeves isn’t really someone you can pass over in a film. If you want to leave that trench coat at home and have this guy in his suit show up with the John Constantine name tag, what can you do? Still, I won’t hold it against the critics. Speaking from the hopes and dreams corner, if they do end up making a sequel, as is whispered around the water cooler, maybe they can try to make it for the fans. I would fully support a blonde Keanu this time around. 

JV: I’m glad you mentioned the Coke classic flavor of this character as portrayed by television’s blonder and significantly more British Matt Ryan in the short lived CONSTANTINE TV series. It’s a bit of a chicken and the eggs dilemma for me because the only way I’m able to properly articulate why I love this version of Constantine now is because I’ve experienced a decade plus of the MCU showing me that the film doesn’t (and most definitely SHOULDN’T) always have to be a direct parallel of what it’s adapting for it to be as (if not more) effective. If you asked me back then, I would’ve probably just said that I liked it better because I too was a chain smoking bastard that lived in LA. To this day, that’s still a pretty substantial part of why I connected to this Constantine more than its more comic canon-specific counterpart. 

Any other general thoughts on the film before we move on to the categories?

MAC: Bring on the categories!


MOST REWATCHABLE SCENE

JV: I don’t want to overstep my bounds but I think I know what your answer to this is going to be so I’m just going to offer my honorable mention before we get into what I think both of our most rewatchable scene is. 

Apologies also if it seems like I’m bending the rules a bit, but I have a couple of separate components for my honorable mention.

I love the scene in Isabel’s hospital room when John and Angela have that intense conversation ending with Angela breaking down and finding the clue her sister left behind with “light and breath.” This isn’t really the kind of film that’s conducive to scenes involving real pathos and gravity, but Rachel Weisz really went to a very specific place during her break down that was quite a sight to behold. After having only ever seen her in THE MUMMY films, it really wasn’t too much of a surprise to see Rachel Weisz win an Oscar just a year later for her role in THE CONSTANT GARDENER after my watching that scene specifically.   

The other part of my honorable mention isn’t a scene, it’s more of a moment, but that little bit when John traps a spider under a highball glass and fills it with a cloud of cigarette smoke says so much about his character with very little dialogue. A really spectacular piece of writing and performance.

MAC: Like you, I have two scenes I’m going to shine the light on as honorable mentions, because I’m really hoping you know what my A+ 100 favorite will be. One rewatchable scene that I’m always excited about catching is when we first meet Beeman at John’s apartment. It’s very much a demented Q and James Bond moment, where he opens up that bag and brings out the Dragon’s Breath as well as the matchbox with its Screech Beetle and in exchange he gives Beeman, a child’s toy that makes the sound of a cow. It’s so weird and I love it. You really get a wonderful look into more of what we’re dealing with, for those who don’t know the comic book, it’s a great introduction to more of this world. 

My second honorable mention is when we first get to meet Gabriel. John shows up at the church on a rainy night and on his heels is Angela. They have some nice rude banter, and while Angela goes to speak with the priest about her sister and the hopes of a catholic burial; John heads over to speak with the archangel themself. You get some grand CGI wings, and Tilda Swinton with that wave of blond hair cascading over glowing eyes and some nice pink socks. The two spar with one another perfectly, bitching about God, throwing bibles and ignoring the stares they get from the rest of the room. Just watching their blocking, how they dance around the fire. It is perfectly choreographed. It is a scene I look forward to immensely. 

So Jericho, what do you think the most rewatchable scene is? 

JV: Well, Morgan. Is it…

MAC: You are so right! This is the movie where I took full film stock in Peter Stormare. I mean I had appreciated him before in films like THE BIG LEBOWSKI and ARMAGEDDON. He’s a great actor, but I never imagined a Satan like that on screen and CONSTANTINE delivers. The white suit, the tattoos, the steaming oil dripping from his feet, our introduction to Satan is both charismatic and terrifying. There is so much discussion of the devil within this movie, and it could have easily been a big letdown when he was introduced but it wasn’t. The conversation between him and John, knowing that this means a painful end or more likely a terrible eternity for Constantine. I mean talk about stakes. 

I’m not sure where the scene ends for you JV, but for me it really goes through Satan’s confrontation with Gabriel, which just puts my two favorite characters in this movie on the screen together, talking about smiting and using sweet nicknames like “Most Unclean.” This does it for me. This is why I’m here. The most rewatchable scene might be one of the last scenes and I will happily watch a whole movie to get there. What about this scene is memorable for you? 

JV: Ohhhh boy, where do I begin? As much as I loved Gabriel’s introduction and as magnificently shot Tilda Swinton’s turning to face the camera as Gabriel’s angel wings unfurl was, Peter Stormare’s filthy, steaming oil covered feet descending from the top of the frame only to show that he’s wearing that immaculate white suit is one of the best character intros in the history of film. Having known him best from his hilarious pairing with Steve Buscemi in FARGO, Peter Stomare’s slithering, scenery engulfing performance as Lucifer was worth waiting practically the whole run time of the film to get to. 

Everything you said about this scene is spot on perfect. Having Lucifer portrayed in any other way (like, say, in a more comic canon-specific way) would’ve been a let down. Subverting all of the expectations of how Lucifer should be, act and look was an all-time genius move, a master stroke! 

Then, this motherfucker tops it off by adding little character moments like toying with Constantine while lighting his last cigarette and the one-off line that he nonchalantly delivers right before it (“Go right ahead. I got stock.”) was absolutely bullet proof. 

This scene was the winner, no doubt.


BEST QUOTE

MAC: I was a bit nervous about this to tell the truth. I was sitting around before I watched the movie thinking, what’s my favorite quote? What’s my favorite quote?  It was hard to pick one from memory, yet once I hit play the list grew pretty darn lengthy.  I think you know you’ve signed up for a good movie, when the exorcist likes to sign his work. Moments after the before mentioned throat chopping of that little girl, John flips a demon the bird, and declares, 

“This is Constantine, John Constantine, asshole.”

I’m brought back to all the watch parties with friends, where we decided to watch this movie. I happen to judge people by how much they love Keanu Reeves and even though five minutes before I started this film I couldn’t remember the line, five minutes after hearing it I was sure to text it, reminding many of my friends. 

JV: That’s awesome. Only the real ones know. I only have two for this category. Not that it’s much of a surprise but my favorite quote was Peter Stormare’s “Go right ahead. I got stock.”

My honorable mention is John’s line to Isabel’s cat right before he uses it to transport himself to Hell: “Cats are good. Half in, half out anyway.”

We are a four cat house. I know exactly where they lean in the heaven or hell discussion.

MAC: Good ole Duck, that was a good cat actor. 

I think my other favorite quote is, “You’re the one soul he’d come up here to collect.” This is the line we hear throughout the movie from all the major players. It’s almost a catchphrase and allows a bit of a chuckle when you hear it, but it’s the perfect planting of the seeds that helps lead to the moment when our dear friend “Little Horn” aka “Son of Perdition” rolls up to do just that. 


WHAT AGED THE BEST

JV: Considering everything that this film had going against it, I found that there are a ton of aspects of it that have aged beautifully. First and foremost (which you, Morgan, have already mentioned earlier) is the cast. 

The cast of this movie is fucking STACKED. 

Top lined by the immortal Keanu Reeves, who’s coming off of THE MATRIX trilogy two years prior, the cast includes Rachel Weisz (who wins an supporting actor Oscar the next year), a young Shia LeBeouf, character actors Pruitt Taylor Vince (absolutely going for it as Father Hennessy) and Max Baker (as Beeman). Rounding out the roster is a casting coup of epic proportions for a production of this level which includes the amazing Peter Stormare, Djimon Hounsou and, what became my introduction to, the brilliant Tilda Swinton. 

And as the cherry on top of the sundae, they got the frontman of one of the biggest band’s of my high school years to gnaw on some set dressings for two and a half scenes with BUSH’s Gavin Rossdale as the half breed demon Balthazar.

It doesn’t get much better when you have a scene where Neo from THE MATRIX shoots Mr. Gwen Stefani in the face with a gold holy shotgun after beating the shit out of him with a set of holy brass knuckles. 

Insert Michael Fassbender as Magento saying “Perfection” meme here.

MAC: You took the words right out of my mouth, JV. Every time I revisit this movie I am surprised at the fact that this whole cast is amazing. And to just compound on this for one very specific member of the cast, dear dear Keanu. In the years since CONSTANTINE, he’s given us one of the biggest, best, and most badass franchises with JOHN WICK. He’s always been action star gold when you think about those 90s classics like SPEED and POINT BREAK, but I think he’s invincible. I think he’s never slowing down. I can talk about the JOHN WICK films all day long, but for the sake of our CONSTANTINE chat; I just want to point out that our guy was Constantine first, long before the days when he was the Baba Yaga. 

JV: You hit it right on the head. Keanu did take a little bit of that hollow eyed hang dog stare from Constantine into his performance as John Wick. Your guy does have a type (dark suited guys named John with abandoned old church at midnight vibes, doesn’t he? 

A couple other things that aged the best for me. John’s apartment above the BOWL BOWL BOWL bowling alley was a gorgeous piece of production / set design. Fun fact: that same apartment (The Pan-Am Building in DTLA) was also used in BLADE RUNNER as the Yukon Hotel and (drum roll please) as the Sloth victim’s apartment in David Fincher’s SE7EN.

I lost my mind during the A PERFECT CIRCLE needle drop as John walked through Papa Midnite’s club for their meeting. Every piece of that scene actually served an amazing bit of world building. I would’ve definitely watched a short film (or a standalone episode of TV) on each one of those sets of club goers.

Last but not the least, CONSTANTINE was an early adopter of the post credits scene, a pioneer in the field if you ask me. Not a lot of MCU heads will fully appreciate this, but the real reason why your movie date curses your eternal soul to the fiery depths of Hell for making them wait in a dark theatre an extra seven or so minutes staring at the credits crawl isn’t Kevin Feige.

It’s Constantine, John Constantine, asshole.

What else aged the best for you?

MAC: I might be alone on this pick, but I’m always and forever a fan of the twin. It’s great if you actually have twins, as in the case of Linda Hamilton and her sister Leslie in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, or Cali and Noelle Sheldon, who played good and evil twins in Jordan Peele’s US; but it works even with one actor pulling double duty. I’m a diehard fan of both PARENT TRAPS, and a fan of Tom Hardy’s Kray brothers in LEGEND. Twins are my favorite. The creepier the better, and though Angela and Isabel might not be a straight good and evil twin package, they do share those paranormal gifts. The two carry the baggage of sibling guilt, of sisters once so close, but now separated. Isabel, who embraced her gift and suffered the ultimate price, and Angela, who hid her trauma and now is left to make good on a promise forged in the womb. 

Do you feel it? Twins, they give me goosebumps. 

JV: Whoa, I dig it.


WHAT AGED THE WORST

JV: I’ve only got a couple things that really stood out for me that really did not age well. The first one happened when Angela was first watching Isabel’s suicide video on her laptop. To show how charged with bad mojo her death was every phone, landline, cell phone, fax machine or otherwise started ringing off the hook. It was probably a fairly freaky thing to happen during the period of time when it was normal to have all of those devices in one’s house but nowadays all we really need is our smart phone and having just that one thing go off isn’t as disturbing. It’s more annoying, actually.

The scene that didn’t age well at all was ironically also one of the film’s most well executed in my opinion and that was the bathtub scene where Angela decides she wants to visit Hell and see her sister for herself. The concept of the scene was very chilling with John holding Angela down underwater for a longer than comforting amount of time that culminated in the look of shock in her face when she realized what really had to happen for her to cross over. After rewatching the movie in preparation for this, that scene creeped me out in such a specifically disgusting to my being a father to daughters way that I definitely wouldn’t have minded it being done a different way.  

MAC: It was definitely hard to watch and gave me a bad look for our guy moment. John was the focus of my scenes as well. The first being done to him, and the next two with his own hands. It’s always a tough hang to see folks being “treated” with shock therapy. I’m not a medical doctor, but I can’t imagine shocking a child is the answer to their problems. You have to wonder, what if John Constantine’s parents believed him! Helped him, instead of institutionalizing him, but I guess so in lies the story.

And you know, torturing children might help lead them on a difficult path down the line, and though I know it’s one of your favorite scenes JV, for as long as I remember, I hate when he traps that spider and fills the glass up with smoke. Yes, it’s a spider. Yes, I am being that person, and maybe if earlier in the day, I was attacked on the street by a demon completely made up of bugs, crabs, snakes and centipedes I might not trust the random house spider, but I still find myself cheering when Angela releases the poor guy. Team Spider here. 

Finally, I just have to say, it’s always so weird these days to see so much smoking in movies. As a past life smoker, I’m mostly just jealous, and annoyed everytime John puts out a cigarette he just lit minutes ago. Oh so wasteful. I spend a lot of the movie thinking, well this is what you get! A little bit of lung cancer, a little bit of extra long dramatic coughs that in the time of Covid set me right on edge. Shoot, maybe this is the movie that made people stop smoking! Jericho, does smoking in movies seem weird to you in 2021?

JV: I can’t believe that I didn’t have that in any of my notes. John’s smoking in this film is definitely in both the aged the worst and aged the best categories. Best in the sense that Keanu is clearly a smoker and nothing destroys the suspension of disbelief for me in films more than when an actor who isn’t a smoker has to smoke on camera. The one most important aspect of the John Constantine character is that fact that smoking was the one demon that could never kick and also that it’s the only thing in this world that poses an actual threat to his life. Whoever plays Constantine has to (HAS TO) know how to smoke and Keanu Reeves made it look so fucking cool in this film. For the majority of both 2005 and 2006, I mimicked how John fired up his zippo to light my cigarettes and, let me tell you, it was a super duper pretentious way to get my fix in. 

Worst in the sense that the anti-cigarette messaging in the movie was just so obvious that it was cringe worthy. A little too heavy handed and a little too neat and tidy when John started chewing Nicorette at the end. Also who fucking packs nicotine gum?!

Sorry, I got lost in a tangent there but, to answer your question, seeing people smoke in movies in this day and age only makes me feel nostalgic. I’m sure you know firsthand that there’s not a lot of things better in this world than walking out of seeing a movie that you really liked with a group of friends and firing up that first smoke before launching into the group discussion of why that flick did or didn’t rule.


THE DION WAITERS HEAT CHECK AWARD

MAC: Keeping it short and sweet, for me, there is only one. Oh Lucifer, oh Lucifer, I know I said it before, but to name drop the devil throughout the film. Was there ever a bigger big bad? CONSTANTINE’s hell might have been a complex CGI LA, but our Satan was simple and brought all the heat. Peter Stormare, beautiful, terrible. He’s my choice. What do you got JV?

JV: Why Peter Stormare takes this in a walk off.

HE DID ALL THAT.

IN. 

JUST.

ONE.

SCENE.


THE VINCENT HANNA “GIVE ME ALL YOU GOT!” AWARD FOR OVERACTING

JV: All respect to Pruitt Taylor Vince throwing everything and the kitchen sink into his death scene at the liquor store, but this award was a one horse race for me. 

Gavin Rossdale put everything he learned from those two books on acting his improv instructor told him to skim through the night before call time into action as the bespoke suited sleazelord Balthazar. Even though my favorite part of his performance was when he silently walked through the liquor store watching the aforementioned Pruitt Taylor Vince drink himself to death while taking a sip off an ice cold Fiji water, I do appreciate the other parts when actual words came out of his mouth. 

Thank goodness, too. If the producers of this film hadn’t taken a shot on this young and hungry whipper snapper, who knows what would’ve become of him.

MAC: I have my own honorable mention for this category in the great actor Djimon Hounsou, whom I love in almost every film he makes, and he’s perfect here as Papa Midnite. He isn’t a man to be messed with and when Constantine comes into his bar, punching out his Doorman. (Who’s a rat in a dress now, huh, bitch?) He makes sure to make his displeasure known; burning up hundred dollar shirts because let’s face it, no one in the smoking and exorcism business should own a hundred dollar shirt. Papa is may I say, giving it all he’s got. It works though, it makes me and everyone else know not to mess with Papa Midnite.  

Yet, I gotta say, Jericho you’re right. Ole Gavin Rossdale with the delivery of  such lines as, “finger lickin’ good.” A line that should never come out of a British demon’s mouth. Words spoken in the scene of his introduction, where he is so well dressed and swimming in Midnite’s maroon leather office. It just makes a snapshot. This man in this movie is a time capsule of my youth, and whatever devil he made his deal with, it was worth it. 


WHO WON THE MOVIE?

JV: Usually a category called Apex Mountain would precede our talking out who ultimately won this movie, but to be perfectly honest this really isn’t the kind of film that propagates the highest of the highs. As much as we love CONSTANTINE, it was always going to be a sort of transitional phase for everyone involved, at best. Keanu Reeves, at the time, had already reached one of his many apexes as the star of THE MATRIX franchise. If anything, his involvement with CONSTANTINE would be more appropriately defined as a heat check. Already part of one huge franchise, might as well take a relatively unknown DC Comics property and start another one. Rachel Weisz used this film as a stopover between THE MUMMY franchise and winning an Oscar for her very next role, so not the apex for her either. 

The film’s director Francis Lawrence wouldn’t reach his apex for another eight years when he helmed the last three HUNGER GAMES movies from 2013 to 2015.

And on and on and on, down the whole IMDB list of cast and crew.

Me trying to figure out who “won” the movie is a little bit of a struggle as well, to be honest. On a strictly performance based curve, I think Peter Stormare’s take on Lucifer was the most memorable and breathtaking aspect of the film but that’s not enough for me to tab him as the winner of this film. It’s definitely not the DC Comics extended universe of films released in 2005, unless all of the sudden the title of this magically changed to BATMAN BEGINS. 

I assure you that I’m not trying to play cute here, but I honestly believe that I won the movie.

Morgan won the movie. 

Anyone who loved this film enough to carry its flame through the coming years of MCU dominance up until today when it can sincerely be called a cult favorite, all of those people won the movie. 

The beauty of film is that it doesn’t always have to be a stone cold classic or a paradigm shifter or the gold standard of excellence to be remembered and thought of fondly. All it has to do is affect one person in a genuine way and that film will endure. 

And, damnit, this little bastard of a film did that for me. I’m probably not articulating this in any sort of profound way, but maybe I just needed to see Keanue Reeves, dead from a second suicide, giving the devil the middle finger as he floats away to Heaven to feel seen myself. Who knows? 

If I ever did need to get a taste of that feeling, at least I’ll know where to look.     


You can find Morgan A. Colbert and Jericho Vilar on LETTERBOXD for more of their pinkies up film criticisms.


Image by Google & Blusterhouse Illustration

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Morgan A. Colbert, is a half robot/half werewolf, anti-grammar, pro-villain story enthusiast. The writer of seven+ unpublished novels and watcher of seven+ feature films.

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Jericho Vilar is an illustrator currently based in Santa Ana, CA. He's been known to drop the occasional heat rock.

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