Martin Carr reviews the first episode of Constantine…
John Constantine. Professional exorcist, demonologist and petty dabbler in the dark arts is strapped to a gurney. As electric current causes his body to spasm for a moment those bad memories disappear, because ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’. Unfortunately there will be no sanctuary here, not for Constantine, not today…..
So opens NBC’s pilot which promises to take Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer series and turn it into entertainment for prime time Middle America. Originally created by Alan Moore, the character is defined by withering sarcasm in a time of political upheaval. Delano’s Hellblazer brought backstory to the table, giving Constantine substance beyond the beige trench coat, off hand manner and nicotine addiction. Combine that with a near sociopathic disregard for others and an intriguing character begins to emerge. Disregarding the Keanu Reeves film which you must, it was clear that NBC had much to make up for if this was to be successful. Thankfully I am pleased to say that signs are promising.
In casting Welsh actor Matt Ryan they have solved the largest problem; namely that it needed to be a British actor. Ultimately Constantine is so ingrained in the psyche of fans, that casting anyone other than a ‘wide’ boy with blond hair, wire frame and non-verbal sarcasm would have been fatal. In little more than forty minutes Ryan is able to convey a world weary self-assurance, which translates directly from the comics. However in terms of remaining faithful, Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer have made some other questionable decisions. Primarily narrative and motivational choices which will upset some, while numerous ‘Easter eggs’ are peppered throughout to appease any rancour these decisions may promote.
However central themes remain intact despite these changes and Constantine remains mainly true to its source material. Performances from both Jeremy Davies and Lucy Griffiths play well off of Ryan, yet Griffiths as Liv Aberdine sometimes feels like a token female despite any comic back history. Davies who was instantly recognisable from Stephen Soderbergh’s Solaris, instils the same nervous energy to Richie Simpson he gifted ‘Snow’ in that film. Charles Halford as Chas Chandler, who as a character has been around since the inception of Constantine, is a constant companion and also shares an easy chemistry with Ryan.
What Goyer and Cerone seem to have achieved here is a mainstream show which retains the darker elements necessary to make Hellblazer work for television. Even the smoking, which is banned by the FCC for any television actor has been neatly sidestepped. Although we never see him smoking, Ryan does stub out a cigarette at the end implying rather than showing a heavy addiction. There will be naysayers, purists and those who squeeze on the bandwagon to destroy this show; there always are. Problem is this time they are wrong. I am neither one of those and my knowledge is not a bottomless pit. All I bring to the table is my research and no preconceptions. On the strength of this pilot NBC may have a winner.