While DC Comics has brought many of its legendary characters to the big screen in the last decade, with varying degrees of success as Variety reported, one of the comic book publisher’s lesser-known characters was at the center of one of the lesser-known DC Comics films. But the 2005 release Constantine has just received a new life, hitting the streaming service Netflix on August 1, setting off a re-evaluation of the supernatural noir thriller starring Keanu Reeves.
GQ Magazine writer Lincoln Michel greeted the arrival of Constantine on Netflix by deeming it, “the most underrated DC Comics movie,” explaining, that the movie “had the bad luck of coming out in the superhero film lull of the early aughts (it was released around the time of Catwoman, Elektra, and Fantastic Four), a few years before critics and audiences fully embraced the genre with the 2008 releases of The Dark Knight and Iron Man.”
But the film was always controversial among comics fans for making major alterations to the original comic book series, titled Hellblazer and published at the time by DC’s “mature readers” imprint, Vertigo Comics. In the comic, as Vulture.com recounted, John Constantine, created by legendary British comic book writer Alan Moore and later perfected by another British writer, Jamie Delano, was a distinctly English, working class, and blonde-headed practitioner of the supernatural.
The film, however, was set in the United States, with the title character portrayed by a very American, jet-black-haired Keanu Reeves. That change, and others, led the science fiction site Tor.com, writing on the 10th anniversary of the Constantine in 2015, to deem the film, “a terrible Hellblazer adaption, but a damned good modern noir.”
“On re-watching 2005’s Constantine, I found it works—for all the reasons it shouldn’t,” wrote Tor.com critic Leah Schnelbach. “The biggest way Constantine works is by using Hellblazer as a jumping-off point, rather than a stone-carved outline to be slavishly followed. In doing so, it creates a moody piece of modern, metaphysical noir.”
The Slash Film site, in a roundup of Netflix releases last week, rated Constantine at the top of its list of “best movies streaming right now.”
“By all accounts, this 2005 totally botches the source material it’s adapting,” wrote Slash Film scribe Chris Evangelista. “If that’s true, fans have my sympathy. Yet at the same time, I don’t really care, because this movie is a blast.”
The film marked the Hollywood feature debut for director Francis Lawrence, who went on to direct three entries in the Hunger Games series, as IMDB states, as well as the recent Jennifer Lawrence-starring spy thriller Red Sparrow. But earlier this year, Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) revealed that if he could make the movie again, he would stick more closely to the Hellblazer comic book source material.
“I would definitely give it more levity, things like that. It’s tricky because if I’m starting from scratch I would have had him, like in the material, be blonde and English. Right?” he told Screen Rant. “If I’d known we were getting an R I would have really made an R-rated movie. We followed all the PG-13 rules, but still got an R so it’s not really an R. That’s what I would suggest.”