Constantine ★★★★

2005 Ranked

Angels and demons battle it out on Earth, but consistently seek to keep the balance between the light and the dark. However, when the Spear of Destiny is discovered in Mexico, it sets into motion a series of events that sees the son of Lucifer, Mammon, be summoned back to Earth. The only thing standing in the way of Mammon and any other half-breed demons that seek to try and possess humans is John Constantine (Keanu Reeves). A demon slayer armed with crucifixes, a gold-plated gun in the shape of a cross, and copious amounts of holy water, Constantine is an impure soul. With a soul long ago claimed by Lucifer (Peter Stormare) for his suicide attempt as a young boy, he consistently seeks retribution by deporting demons back to hell in the name of God. With a soul in hell and a spirit in heaven, Constantine is the perfect man to enforce the balance between heaven and hell on Earth that demons consistently test.

Found by Angie (Rachel Weisz) after the suicide of her psychic twin sister, Constantine is tasked with restoring the balance between good and evil no matter the costs to himself or others. In waging this holy war against those that wish to sink humanity into the pits of hell, Constantine naturally hopes to seek favor from God in order to make amends for his mortal sin. Yet, in learning from the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) that he is damned and will remain damned, Constantine continues his spiral of self-destruction. Killing himself by smoking cigarettes that have led to terminal lung cancer, Constantine is the quintessential noir protagonist. Cynical, chain smoking, and cooly charismatic, Reeves both damns the world around him in his language, is deeply jaded, and knows how to deliver random bursts of wit with the requisite zip to make the dialogue pop and feel natural. He is the perfect man for this role with the natural charisma to make him appealing, but the dour demeanor that makes his overwhelming cynicism come off authentically.

Yet, it is Peter Stormare who steals the show in this film. Appearing for a brief moment towards the end as Lucifer, Stormare's menacing, sadistic, and devilishly terrifying turn as the very embodiment of evil is the highlight of this film. However, it largely becomes the highlight because of Francis Lawrence's smart and strong direction up to that point. While he allows Stormare's Lucifer to command the screen at the end, until the climax we never actually see him. Instead, his presence is allowed to be felt and linger in the actions of the demons and wicked in the world, creating an omnipresent darkness that descends upon the screen throughout the film. By the time we see him, Stormare is practically set up to disappoint with how ominous the film feels in anticipation of seeing Lucifer for the first time. Yet, through his true embodiment of the fallen angel, Stormare is a sinister and truly demonic presence that chews up the scenery and more than lives up to the hype. How good is Stormare? At one point, he touches Constantine's hand and I jumped back as if he were reaching for me.

As a sinner battling for his own soul, Constantine's battle with Lucifer and the demons of the world is most certainly spiritually significant for anybody watching the film. Paralleling and bringing to life the very real battle waged daily by every person alive to ensure that their soul goes to heaven, the film brings to life the demons that stalk the world and sinister dark arts that surround us all. Waging war through religion, putting himself on the line for others, and leaning on the power of God for extra strength are all actions undertaken by John Constantine as he does battle with Mammon, the sinister Gabriel, and Lucifer. By turning to God and using both His word and His promise to humanity as his source of strength, Constantine is able to overcome all evil he encounters, even if it is the natural evil that resides within himself and urges him to sin. He is able to stamp down this temptation and put God first in his heart and mind. Yet, his struggle until the climax highlights the struggle we all face. Being righteous seeking reward through a spot in God's home is not righteous. It is hollow righteous in the name of self-gratification. It is only when he sacrifices himself and opens up his soul to be finally claimed by Lucifer to save another person from hell does he actually receive the forgiveness he had fought for all these years. Through selfless and second nature self-sacrifice, he is able to receive the absolution he has long fought for, but not until then.

One of the star features of this film is certainly its special effects, which for 2005 are rather good. Its design of hell, depiction of hell, and the world that governs the balance of good and evil, are all incredible. The brief depiction of heaven is equally as impressive, if a bit predictable. Yet, as with any film where a man battles demons and sends them back to hell, the main focus of attention is hell. With Angie's sister Isabel (also Rachel Weisz) trapped in hell after killing herself and Constantine having to constantly travel there, hell gets a lot of screentime. With winds whipping, demons running everywhere waiting to tear apart the recently damned, and fire adorning every inch of the territory, the red emblazoned hell landscape is one that instills terror immediately. The scope and horror of this world and is easily communicated by the horror of how it looks. The film's excellent production design continues through the strong design of Constantine's weapons and the consistent and subtly placed crosses throughout the set that are never in-your-face, but always lurking around every corner, no matter how dark that corner may appear initially.

Thrilling, unique, and an action-packed battle for the possession of the state of the world, perhaps the most compelling part of the film comes at the climax when Lucifer is introduced by Constantine at the moment when Mammon is set to arrive. Chilling, exciting, and thoroughly unpredictable in that moment and throughout, it is hard not to get swept up in the horror-based action undertaken by the film. The recipient of mixed reviews upon release, it is only a matter of time before Francis Lawrence's Constantine receives the critical reassessment it so richly deserves.

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