I’ve just spent a few days watching Constantine’s first (and only?) series. Over the years, I have dipped in and out of the comics, so I know the basics. I must also confess that I am one of those people who liked the Keanu Reeves’ Constantine film, but then, I’ve never been one to get upset over something like a character’s hair colour – I’ll judge my adaptations on their own merits.
The basic premise is unchanged from the comics, with English con man, magician and git, John Constantine drawn into various supernatural situations. I understand that a lot of these episodes are drawn from early adventures in Hellblazer, the comic that starred Constantine for 300 issues. (It was recently rebooted, as with all the DC titles, with John being de-aged and reinserted into the primary DC universe.)
With Hellblazer the majority of the issues I have read are from Warren Ellis’ brief run and Brian Azzarello’s extended run. This has two main benefits. Firstly, Azzarello, who I believe was the first American writer on Hellblazer, had John Constantine travelling the US, so I don’t mind, as many did with the film, that John’s not in the UK. Secondly, it means that the episodes which have adapted stories are not familiar to me, which helps avoid any fan-boyish judgement.
For the most part, I really enjoyed the series and would be happy to see it return. The only major flaw was that in many ways there was a feeling that we’ve seen a lot of it before. Especially as I am a fan of Supernatural. The Constantine episode ‘The Devil’s Vinyl’, for example, had a lot in common with the Supernatural episode, ‘Crossroad Blues’. I won’t hold this too strongly against Constantine, as a lot of the original stories are close to 30 years old and it’s in no way surprising to think that it was an influence on Supernatural and similar themed TV and movies, making some elements seem overly familiar. ( I think Guillermo del Toro’s attempts at making a film based on Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ is a good example of this, with the director himself saying that the film’s chances of being made have been reduced by films such as ‘Prometheus’ covering very similar ground.)
Despite some episodes feeling familiar there are enough strong episodes, there were only one or two weak episodes, with at least three (‘A Feast of Friends’, ‘The Saint of Last Resorts’ and ‘Waiting for the Man’) being really strong. The best episodes are those that feature John’s past most prominently.
As we learn in the pilot, an enjoyable episode, which suffered slightly from having to do a lot in 42 minutes, John’s haunted by his past, especially an incident in Newcastle, an event which I believe will be familiar to readers of the earlier Constantine comics. In most of the stronger episodes these events are brought to the fore, usually by the return of one of John’s long-suffering friends. In the lead role as Constantine, Matt Ryan, who I only know as the lead in Assassin’s Creed 4, excels. He’s great as the damaged John, the con man who leaves a trail of pissed off and dead friends behind him. He’ll do what others can’t, despite the cost. Here he is charming and often an arse, but he’s slightly less of a bastard than his comic book counterpart. And for fans of the details, he manages to get round TV regulations and smoke on a pretty regular basis. The supporting cast, Zed, Manny and Chas are all good, but suffer slightly for taking episodes off for poorly-explained reasons. (I’m assuming they were contracted as reoccurring, not regular cast.)
All in all, I like this. If something like Supernatural is your thing, this will be right up your street. I’ve seen shows that have turned out great that have not started as well as this, so I have confidence that, if it returns, the show will be worth watching. And, if you’ve been thinking about watching but are not sure, I’d like to point out that while most plot points are unresolved at this point, there is not a massive cliffhanger at the end of episode 13 – the episode leaves you wanting more, but if it’s the end, then you can enjoy these episodes on their own.