When 2005’s Constantine came out, finding a positive critic review was like finding a needle in a haystack. Still, the film was popular with supernatural and fantasy fans and grew a bit of a cult following in the time since its launch. While it may not have been a perfectly faithful adaptation of the comics, the film offered the start of a trend that captivates audiences today — the antihero and his reluctant journey to save the world. What’s more, the scorn for the film seemed centered around Keanu Reeves, who the industry appeared to hate (for no good reason) until recently.
Now, 17 years after its release, the film is on HBO Max, and a whole new audience of fans is learning about the gem with the bad press. Even Rotten Tomatoes took it upon itself to apologize and point out how the cult favorite film is actually pretty great. In its notes about Constantine, Rotten Tomatoes points out several of the unique features that attracted its fan base nearly two decades ago. If new fans aren’t sure about the movie because of those old negative reviews, the update from Rotten Tomatoes provides a fresher, more enlightened look into the film.
What Rotten Tomatoes Really Thought of 2005’s Constantine
While superhero films like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are nearly guaranteed hits nowadays, there was a time when making a hero movie was a giant risk. Hot off the heels of the disastrous Catwoman film, Constantine was the director’s debut and a unique twist on the character who was wildly different from his comic book counterpart. Francis Lawrence and the scriptwriters decided to embrace a noir-thriller vibe in the film, all about demons, hell and one very problematic angel.
The gritty, almost-detective story showcases a slew of noir favorites, including Reeves’ blunt, chain-smoking titular character, and paints the war between light and dark as a mystery where one side is close to the finish line. The over-arching plot that gets Constantine moving feels much like a search for the MacGuffin, and audiences even see his exorcist stand in for a private dick meeting the classic, gorgeous woman in need of his help. That slow-burn storytelling may have turned off some viewers, but it holds up well and actually lends a breath of fresh air to the save-the-cat storyline.
Constantine’s Cast Is Great
As Rotten Tomatoes points out. Reeves’ Constantine is almost John Wick. It’s the beginning of that type of character for the actor, and as it does now, it looks good on him. Constantine is done with it all but has to step up and do his job despite his apparent hatred. He’s salty, flawed and still quite the badass with the number of clever tricks he pulls on demons, angels and even the Devil himself. With the recent resurgence of Reeves’ popularity, newer fans will enjoy checking out the film for his performance that evokes so much of the character they love today.
And speaking of those otherworldly beings, between Rachel Weisz’s naive detective, Djimon Hounsou and Tilda Swinton, the supporting cast is fabulous. Weisz is as charming as ever, and Swinton’s Gabriel is both oddly enchanting and unsettling. Coincidentally enough, all three performers have done other superhero films, and fans have also loved those performances. The film’s Devil truly stands out the most. Peter Stormare’s Satan is smooth yet jerky, subtle but undeniably creepy, and the choice to put him and Gabriel’s twisted form in white shakes up the classic black means bad convention. Plus, Shia LaBeouf is actually quite charming, and his sudden death hits viewers hard.
The Demonic Is Wholly Unique in Constantine
Between the howling winds and burning skies, Hell in 2005’s Constantine is different from many versions audiences have seen in the past. The director specifically chose to make the evil place look parallel to the real world and described it as a nuclear blast site in a perpetual state of almost exploding. The fact that it features familiar buildings and streets horrendously destroyed and crawling with demons makes the evil of the place feel grounded and hits closer to home.
The demons themselves are a terrible sight, and their brainless heads showcase how the creatures are feral and act only on their instinct to harm and kill. The scenes where they pile up in numbers are early precursors to today’s zombie scenes where they attack helpless humans like a virus. Overall, Constantine isn’t terrible. Of course, it differs quite a bit from the source material, but it does so as an interesting alternate-universe take instead of a disrespectful departure. It is also well worth a watch or another viewing with unbiased eyes.