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Review: CONSTANTINE S1E1 “Pilot” (2014)

                                                           
                                                         MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
John Constantine is one of comics most
memorable and popular characters, for 30 years he has consistently
entertained and enthralled readers since his first appearance in the
pages of Swamp Thing in the early 80’s. A complex individual,
Constantine has walked a fine line between heroic magician and self
serving charlatan. All at once he is a hero, fool, idealist and
hypocrite and perpetually bad luck for anybody that has the dubious
honor of calling him friend. It was only a matter of time before
Hollywood came calling and adapted our Liverpudlian trouble maker to
the big screen, and we got our first taste of a cinematic Constantine
in the Keanu Reeves movie of the same name. While in no ways a
faithful adaptation of the character from the page, the movie itself
was faithful to the essence of the comic book and derived much of
it’s plot from famous arcs from the comics including ‘Dangerous
Habits’. It was a entertaining movie but wasn’t the Constantine the
fans had come to grow to love over the decades. Die hard fans long
awaited a more faithful interpretation of the deceitful magician and
finally after a long wait we have it in NBC’s ‘Constantine’.
Directed by Neil Marshall, of Dog
Soldiers and the Decent fame, the Pilot episode deftly captures the
character of John Constantine, here played by Welsh actor Matt Ryan,
who looks and carries himself much akin to his 2d counterpart, even
if the nature of network television strips him of one of his more
iconic habits. Ryan portrays Constantine’s trade mark sarcasm and
cynicism without coming across as a complete ass which is what the
character would have become in the hands of a less able actor.
British, blonde and garbed in the iconic trench coat this Constantine
separates himself from the Hollywood adaption that played very loose
with the character’s origins, but that’s not to say that the pilot
doesn’t take a few elements from the film, including a
Constantine/female sidekick/damsel in distress dynamic that feels
somewhat generic here.
The plot combines many elements of the
comic, John’s incarceration in Ravenscar & the ‘Newcastle’
Incident, and borrows from the film adap in places, Chas being
American & his chauffeur but thankfully isn’t a young apprentice
but of similar age to John. Liv, played by Lucy Griffiths, is a the
damsel in distress and daughter of an old ally of John’s who is being
tracked by a ravenous demon. Constantine, after a receiving a cryptic
message from a possessed Ravenscar patient, comes to her aid. It’s a
pretty simple conceit that get’s the series off to a start if cliche
and unremarkable as far as plots go.
While the story and set up is simple
the production values are nowhere near simple. The Pilot has a Gothic
sheen that compliments the subject matter. Their is an air of the
unreal in the scenery and it helps set the mood. The demon effects
are understated but well done, no gratuitous horned monsters abound
save for a minor flashback and the final demonic showdown on a
Atlanta car park rooftop is well realized. Overall the Pilot looks
amazing.
As for the talent on screen, everyone
is quality if some get more screen time than others. Ryan is perfect
as Constantine and by the end of the Pilot really owns the role.
Griffiths, unfortunately, is saddled with a pretty thankless role as
a plot device and does little more than look confused by proceedings
and instigate exposition. The insult to injury is that her role is
very suddenly written out and therefore in the scale of things
amounted to little more than set up. Harold Perrineau pops up as the
Angel Manny, who knows a lot more than he’s letting on. He doesn’t do
much in the Pilot but hint at things to come but Harold’s sinister
grin and amber eyes do keep you interested when he’s on screen. I
doubt an actor of Perrineau’s caliber is just going to pop up as a
cameo so I see big things to come from Heaven’s representative in the
story. Chas, True Detectives Charles Halford, pops up but his impact
is minimal except to raises more questions. Jeremy Davies appears as
Ritchie, and old associate of John’s, who is connected to the
‘Newcastle’ Incident and assists the magician in the final showdown.
The secondary characters aren’t really fleshed out much as the Pilot
is all about Constantine, but they are set up well if nothing else.
The only gripes I had with the Pilot
was the fast pacing, there isn’t much time to stop and absorb the
story as everything happens so quick. The focus on Constantine
relegates the supporting characters to the background and no one but
the lead get’s much in the way of fleshing out or personality.
But the faithfulness to the character
more than makes up for the flaws and Ryan is a great foundation for
the series and I look forward to seeing more of the working class
warlock.
For longtime fans of the comics there
are Easter eggs galore and set up for what I believe will be a
quality TV show.

A fun, fast paced romp through the
occult. 8.5/10

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