When Constantine first arrived in theaters back in 2005, I was both stupid excited and extremely worried to finally see one of my favorite characters and stories appear on the big screen.
As a fan of Alan Moore (who created the titular character in his Swamp Thing series) and Hellblazer/John Constantine , I was also exceedingly worried that this was going to turn into a travesty, like much of Moore’s work when translated into film.
In fact, the film had quite the opposite impact – not just on me, but on the entire Hellblazer fandom itself. Although it’s not quite a “John Constantine” film, the story takes a different approach to the character and makes some bold decisions on how to bring this iconic English comic book hero into the messy zeitgeist that is American pop culture.
It’s a really great story, and I love the living hell out of it. Easily of my favorite horror-action-fantasy films, Constantine boasts an insanely talented cast of Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Shia LeBeouf, and Tilda Swinton. This movie arguably brought new life to the world of Hellblazer and the character of Constantine.
The movie brought a lot more attention to the comic book series and created interest among fans due to it being mainstream. This eventually was recognized by creatives and executives when the comic book industry took over in film, resulting in the fantastic Constantine TV series that came out in 2014, starring Matt Ryan, as well as a few animated movies about the character.
Directed by Francis Lawrence and produced by Akiva Goldsman, this DC film adaptation became an instant hit with Hellblazer fans, mainly because the character didn’t really exist outside the comic book world and the fact that it is a genuinely good story, with solid performances from both Reeves and Weisz.
Although not accurate to the comic book, Hellblazer fans generally taking a liking to film as it is loosely based on Garth Ennis’ run on Hellblazer, specifically issues #41-46 within the Original Sins tradeback, and included characters from the series such as Chaz (played by LeBeouf) and Papa Midnight (played by Djimon Hounsou). It was even later adopted into DC canon through a Hellblazer in 2019.
For this year’s stay at home convention, San Diego Comic-Con brought us a look back at Constantine, with a panel moderated by Collider’s editor-in-chief, Steven Weintraub.
During the panel, Reeves, Goldsman, and Lawrence discussed their experiences with pre-production and setting up the film. Lawrence and Goldsman provided an interesting insight into their pre-production, and how they built up to making the movie.
Lawrence divulged how he looked at the film not as a comic book movie, but more as a film noir, bringing up his influences (such as The Maltese Falcon and Bladerunner). He also stated that his main focus was mainly on creating a good story with good characterization, which is what he succeed within his first-ever feature-length.
Throughout the panel there was substantial discussion on production also, where Lawrence, Goldsman and Reeves discussed cinematography, the importance of geography (specifically LA) within the film, and the R rating process they had with the MPAA.
The discussion is delightful throughout the panel, with Reeves discussing his work on the role as well as his experiences with his castmates, the panel is mainly an introspection of the making of the movie. This is great for just focusing on the movie solely, especially since the 2005 film isn’t usually in the spotlight.
If you haven’t seen the movie – or missed the panel – here are a few observations that really stuck with me through the panel (which I will definitely be chatting about with my friends later today).
Six Takeaways from the Constantine 15th Anniversary Panel
- No sequel is in the plans. This one was a bit of a heartbreaker. According to Goldsman, he and Lawrence tried pitching a hard R rated sequel to the film to studios in various ways but was not successful. He mentioned that the film’s “oddness, what’s really beautiful about it, is that it gets it harder and harder to make [as a sequel]. Lawrence reiterated that a potential sequel was talked about more among themselves than the actual studio. The director mentioned that it wasn’t a huge critical and financial success, implying that it is probably a factor in studios deciding whether they would want to pursue a Constantine sequel.
- Nicholas Cage was originally intended to play the role of Constantine. According to Lawrence, during the early stages of pre-production, he and the scriptwriters were shopping the story around with Nicholas Cage. Ultimately, movie preparation stopped for a while. Lawrence mentioned that “slowly but surely the idea was durable enough to outlive struggles it had” before restarting again and picking up Keanu Reeves as the lead, just after he was finished filming the Matrix trilogy. Imagine….a Hellblazer versus a bunch of bees.
- Michelle Monaghan filmed an entire subplot for the film which was completely scrapped. If you have a good eye, you can notice that Michelle Monaghan was briefly in Constantine. This is because she filmed an entire subplot for a movie in which her character was in a relationship with John Constantine. Late during the production, Lawrence and Goldsman made a decision to remove her as the character of his girlfriend and even got Monaghan to come back and reshoot scenes to try and keep her character in the film, which eventually was cut out again due to it not serving the story well. This resulted in her briefly appearing in the Holy Water and Hospital in a scene (uncredited). Some of the alternate and deleted scenes of her role can be seen on the DVD features and online.
- This movie got Rotten Tomatoes to apologize to them. This one is impressive. Over time, Constantine built a large fan base around the movie to the point that adopted into DC canon in 2019 with a brief appearance in The Sandman Universe Presents Hellblazer #1; as well as the novelization of Hellblazer: War Lord by Joan Shirly a few years earlier, where comic book prime Constantine talks about the existence and film adventures of Keanu Constantine! Due to this, many people have relooked at the film again, and Lawrence points out that “Rotten Tomatoes apologized to Constantine for their initial review.“
- There is a second Holy Shotgun. During the panel, Lawrence pulled out the Holy Shotgun that Constantine used in the film and mentioned that Keanu Reeves had the prop guy make the director a second one as a gift. All three then speculated what happened to the original Holy Shotgun with Lawrence joking that it is locked up in the Raiders of the Lost Ark Museum of Hollywood studios. This leads to the final take away of the panel that….
- Keanu Reeves enjoyed his role and is still super sweet! The whole time Keanu was very modest, especially when complimented by the director and producer, and kept giving shoutouts to all the crew that was working on the film, even naming a few of them in the panel. He talked a lot about how much fun he had in the film with the entire cast and crew “I enjoyed working with Francis Lawrence’s vision, Akiva Goldsman’s story sense, humor, and experience, and the whole crew and cast. Playing the role, I get to have these great movements with actors such as Peter Stromare (who played the devil) and getting choked out by Tilda Swinton. The dialogue is so juicy, and the scenes are mysterious!” Even though he said he didn’t know much about the character of Constantine prior to the film, he very much enjoyed the process of researching the character and bringing it to life. Reeves mentioned that “I had to reconcile that he wasn’t blonde and British. I looked at the base of the character, a humanitarian cynic, who’s tired, weary… tired of all the rules, morals, ethics, and demons. I loved his sense of humor. I love the film and the character. It was cool to play role and jump into it.”
Overall, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a sequel announced during the panel, but it was incredibly fun and nostalgic to see Reeves, Goldsman, and Lawrence ruminate about the film and their experiences during the production. It’s good to see that it was a fun process for all the creatives, as the care and reverence they had for their work definitely shows in the final product of the movie.
As a big fan of the Constantine world, especially the movie, this is a definitive must-watch panel that is suited for any Constantine fan. It’s filled with fun stories and informative discussions of film techniques that are worth checking out!
What did you think of the movie? Do you want to see a Constantine sequel? What are your thoughts on the Constantine world overall and how it’s currently headed? Let me know what you think in the comment below! (Maybe I’ll respond)