The dawn of the televised comic book/graphic novel adaption is upon us. As of last year, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow were the only heroes to grace the screen. Not only do we have shows like Marvel’s Agent Carter, Marvel’s Daredevil, and Preacher coming up, but all of a sudden, shows like Fox’s Gotham, The CW’s The Flash, and NBC’s Constantine have come on air.
Let’s get a bit of history on the latter of these three, Constantine. It’s based on the DC Comics’ gritty graphic novel series Hellblazer and the character of John Constantine, the wise-cracking, chain-smoking, profanity-spouting British occult detective created by Alan Moore. If you don’t recognize the name John Constantine, it is probably because he is not the most publicly recognized DC character. However, if you are a fan of the beloved graphic novels, you know him and probably love him… at least on page. After Keanu Reeves stepped into the role of John Constantine in the 2005 film, Constantine, the reaction was the same as most of Reeves’s post- Matrix film roles: slammed by most and enjoyed by few. Fans had a problem with the lack of faithfulness to the mythology and story created in the graphic novels and by Reeves’s bland performance. When NBC announced that it had picked up a pilot order for Constantine, I am sure fans rejoiced… until they realized that he cannot curse (which makes sense) or smoke (which is stupid) because NBC is a major network. The lack of smoking by the character has generated a lot of heat from fans, seeing as it is one of Constantine’s biggest character traits. Coupled with the fact NBC placed the show on Friday nights at 10/9c (the death slot), things looked bad.
I bought the first installment of the Hellblazer series a couple months ago in hopes that I could get a taste for the character before the show began. Sadly, life has gotten in the way and I have yet to read it. Although I hope to be able to read it before this season (depending on whether it is picked up or cancelled by NBC) reaches its end, I had to go into the series dry and un-biased. With the lukewarm early reviews online and my own sinking expectations, I watched the pilot episode. Frankly, I am surprised. The pilot of Constantine is a lot of fun.
The audience is introduced to John Constantine as he is writhing around during shock treatment (which he requested) at an insane asylum (of which he checked himself into). Although we are not told why, Constantine has checked himself in to try and forget his last case and to try to escape from his profession for a while. A wake-up call comes in the form of a patient possessed by a demon, and Constantine decides that he must get back to work. The episode revolves around Constatine protecting Liv, the daughter of an old friend of his, from demons who will not stop until she is dead. In the grand scheme of things (the show itself), the episode deals with Constantine beginning to unravel the threat of a resurgence of demons and hell-spawn on Earth.
Starting with acting, Matt Ryan is perfect. He mixes his sarcastic sense of humor with his inner demons (joke intended) in a realistic manner. He does not bounce from snarky to depressive to happy snarky. Even while delivering humor, you can see Ryan’s wariness. For a performance many called “annoying,” I think Ryan could be a lot of fun to watch in the future. Characters such as Harold Perrineau’s sly “guardian” angel, Manny, sent to assist Constantine, and Charles Halford as Constantine’s seemingly immortal companion, Chas, are fun to watch. Those three characters in particular succeed because the actors are invested. For some odd reason, fans of the graphic novels have been freaking out about how much they dislike actress Lucy Griffith’s portrayal of Liv Aberdeen, and they need to relax. She isn’t great in the role, that is for sure, but she plays it convincingly enough and is only set to be in one episode, so does it really matter?
The special effects and make-up are excellent. Nothing like the lazy CGI seen on other network shows. The pilot still feels distinctly like a television episode, but the special effects are a nice surprise. Although there are no real scares in the pilot, the makeup for many of the ghoulish creatures encountered is wonderfully detailed and cool to look at.
Another thing this pilot gets mostly right is its pacing. Shows like these tend to be either far too slow or far too quick. Constantine finds a middle ground. It moves along at a brisk pace, keeping the viewer interested. It feels like director Neil Marshall, who has directed several episodes of Game of Thrones, understood what this pilot was supposed to be… unlike the dreary pilot for Gotham. You happy! I got it out of the way. I didn’t like the pilot for Gotham. Sue me! Anyway… the pilot has its flaws, but it at least feels like it knows what it wants to be – light yet still creepy. Fun yet still somewhat serious. The episode tries to scare the audience a few times, but it comes across as a bit forced. As with these scares, the obvious humor (jokes/one-liners) feel a bit forced as well, yet with this being said, the show does not take itself completely seriously, and this along with Constantine’s character give the pilot a refreshingly humorous element in contrast to the action. I really hope the show finds humor in its tone rather than writing, because oftentimes the more engaging and clever humor is of a subtle nature.
On a different note, the plotting for the pilot is something that is not great. The episode tries to stuff a lot of information in without putting in any actual information. It tries to give you a lot of exposition on Constantine himself without really telling you much about him in retrospect, along with trying to fit in a lot of themes regarding the demon uprising and Constatine’s relationship with God, too. However, this did not bother me that much. For a pilot, it does most things pretty well. This cannot be said for every pilot. I would also wager that because this is the pilot, much more information will be introduced as the show goes along.
Although I feel as though NBC may be trying to groom this show to be too network friendly, the odd themes in the show promise creativity as it progresses. I watch virtually zero network television, opting for channels like FX, IFC, and HBO, which give more creative control to their programming. Hopefully, Constantine will be a show that takes advantage of its source material to make something interesting. I even saw Constantine flicking around a lighter from time to time on the show. Maybe this is a sign that the writers are moving around NBC’s wishes. Maybe I am making too much of this. It is up to you to decide.
Overview: Constantine may not be outstanding, but it is very entertaining, and I would definitely say I have a desire to see what happens next week. So check it out if you have the time.