Comic book adaptations are all the rage at the moment. Just look at all the films from the Marvel universe! Being a bit of a comic geek myself, I’m certainly not complaining about the numerous and often awesome adaptations gracing the small and silver screen, but some are certainly better than others.
There were two shows I was extremely excited for this autumn, one being Gotham and the other being NBC’s Constantine. I didn’t hate the 2005 film starring Keanu Reeves like so many fans of the comic books did. No, the film wasn’t perfect, but it did capture the spirit of the Hellblazer anti-hero in a way that left me feeling somewhat satisfied. Also, Tilda Swinton, but I digress. Point is, after that incarnation of John Constantine, I was excited to see a blond, Welsh actor take the lead role in the series version of the story, which seemed to promise a more traditional and true-to-source rendition.
The Hellblazer comics – which I discovered via Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman – are super dark, gritty and unapologetic, starring the ever so snarky, cynical and somewhat unlikable Constantine. Given the superficial aesthetics the show seemed to be getting right with the blond, British hero, I thought they’d be on track to deliver an equally accurate story world complete with all the ghastliness of the source material. However, I had my reservations when I discovered that NBC would not be portraying Constantine as bisexual. This was a big red flag. If the studio was prepared to alter this trait (and do I even want to know why they felt having a bisexual protagonist wasn’t okay for television?), what else might they be planning to change.
Episode one did not blow me away. If anything, it irritated the living daylights out of me because once again we were treated to the ‘my name is…’ voice over that needs to die a sudden and eternal death. Not only this, but Matt Ryan who takes on the titular role, didn’t seem settled in the shoes of his character, not sure whether to play this detective dark and brooding ala Keanu or go for a more tongue-in-cheek jaded antihero type. Consequently, his portrayal is a bit of a mess as it jaunts between the two a little erratically, throwing off the tone of the show. Does it want to pull the comedy card and follow in the footsteps of paranormal shows like Supernatural or Buffy, or does it want to be Gotham and go for the throat? The writers can’t seem to make up their minds.
Episode two was worse in that it set the stage for an episodic series structure I was not expecting. I don’t want another monster-a-week type show. Even Supernatural moved away from that in favour of larger, longer story ARCs and with the likes of Gotham and Game of Thrones now on screen as proof that a show doesn’t have to follow the episodic formula to gain viewership, I’m a little disappointed with Constantine. Also, I wanted this series to be jet-black, not a grimy shade of grey, and I’m getting a sort of off-white. Splashes of fake blood do not a series dark make! Perhaps this is simply my own fault for expecting something different from what the show has so far delivered.
Episode three was actually a bit better and enjoyed this week’s offering a lot more than either of the previous episodes. Hooray, no voice over! This immediately gained the show some extra points. It’s also in episode three that we first encounter Midnite and learn a little more of John’s musical history – something sadly lacking in the 2005 film version. That said, I’m still not clear on why this show is set in America other than to perhaps give the US audience that sense of security that comes with familiar settings, but I honestly think it would’ve been a far more atmospheric and interesting show if they’d stuck with the London setting.
Three episodes in and Constantine reminds me a whole lot of Supernatural without the awesomeness of the Winchesters. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine and crew traipse about the US hunting down nasty outbreaks of magic/demons/monsters/sorcery etc. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a complicated relationship with an angel. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a tubby bearded guy as his research guru who usually holds down the fort in their home full of strange artifacts. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine does not provide anywhere near the same amount of eye-candy or sex appeal. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine lacks a significant other with whom to trade barbs and witty banter and consequently much of the humour falls flat. I think Matt Ryan is trying his best, but he’s all alone behind the camera and isn’t quite able to carry the story on his narrow shoulders, especially given that he appears to be a character with nothing to lose, thus there’s a distinct lack of conflict and lack of stakes for this guy. So every bit of magic he performs shaves off a few days of his life, meh, he doesn’t seem to care so why should we? Also, any attempts at the silliness and parody Supernatural has got down to a fine art, merely induces eye-rolls in Constantine.
In short, Constantine did not live up to my expectations and certainly doesn’t deliver the kind of story or personality I wanted considering the source material. In the wake of an epic show like Supernatural that’s now in its tenth season, Constantine just doesn’t feel fresh and has yet to offer anything new to the paranormal/urban fantasy genre. Honestly, I’ve seen it all and done better on Supernatural. My constant thought while watching Constantine is ‘if only Sam and Dean were here to help,’ so… I will give Constantine a few more episodes to find its feet, but I am so far underwhelmed and strongly recommend watching Supernatural instead if you’re in need of werebeasties and pentagrams. Constantine gets 2/5 ink splats, saved by this third installment and my hope that it will continue to improve.