Constantine is the latest offering from Warner Bros TV set in the DC Comics Universe, this time revolving around John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics. Constantine takes place in the supernatural side of the DC Universe dealing with demons, spirits and angels rather than metahumans and super-villains, and the show joins the likes of the Gotham, The Flash and Arrow already staking their superhero claims on the television airwaves.
Constantine (Matt Ryan), the “petty dabbler” in the dark arts, is the sarcastic Brit that has found himself unwillingly pulled back into the world of exorcisms and the dead. He has been dealing with the loss of a young girl to damnation by checking himself into an asylum to try and sort out the metaphorical demons in his head. But after one of the real demons shows up in his facility and he encounters the angel Manny (Harold Perrineau), who claims to have been tasked to watch over him, Constantine finds himself back up to his old tricks.
The pilot episode of Constantine feels like a mixed bag of “been there, done that” with many of its themes already being heavily explored on other popular shows like Supernatural and Sleepy Hollow. There’s not much of anything fresh to really suck the viewer into this world, and the episode further suffers by providing a large amount of screen time to the drab Liv Aberdeen (Lucy Griffiths), a character that has since been written out of the rest of the show. Much of their relationship is also retread from the 2005 film Constantine, which starred Keanu Reeves as the character. Griffiths even looks remarkably like Rachel Weisz, who played a similar role in that film, but didn’t share the same character name.
Matt Ryan’s portrayal of Constantine is one of the shining points of the episode and has all the snark and attitude (as well as a striking resemblance to the character) that fans could want. While a point of contention with fans will certainly be brought up about the lack of the character’s trademark smoking habit, it didn’t take that much away onscreen for me.
The visuals of the episode are fairly good, with some cool creature designs and better-than-expected CG effects that bring some of the creep factor to the episode. One scene in particular involving Manny and Constantine in which time is frozen is particularly impressive, resulting in a pilot that certainly doesn’t look cheap, even though it’s low on substance.
Constantine is definitely lacking any strong direction in its first episode, but word behind the scenes at NBC is that the show gets a massive re-tooling after the pilot with new characters and plots being introduced. There’s even some really fun DC easter eggs in this episode that tease some of the fun sides of DC’s supernatural or “dark” universe that could potentially become part of the show, and give hope that this is just a messy pilot that can be fixed. When I first viewed the episode at San Diego Comic-Con, one particular appearance got the biggest reaction from the audience, but I won’t spoil it here.
While Constantine certainly stumbles out of the gate, it’s not a complete disaster, and the extremely fun portrayal of the lead character by Matt Ryan certainly brings potential if the showrunners can right the ship. If you can get past the the all-too-familiar plot of the first episode and just enjoy the scares and action, it could be worth your time, especially if the show gets the opportunity to blossom its potential into the scary, cool universe in which John Constantine stories should be told.