Constantine is a 2005 American superhero horror film directed by Francis Lawrence, in his feature-length directorial debut, and starring Keanu Reeves as John Constantine. Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, and Peter Stormare co-star. With a screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, the film is based on DC Comics' Hellblazer comic book, with plot elements taken from the "Dangerous Habits" story arc (issues #41–46) and the "Original Sins" story arc. The film portrays John Constantine as a cynic with the ability to perceive and communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true form. He seeks salvation from eternal damnation in Hell for a suicide attempt in his youth. Constantine exorcises demons back to Hell to earn favor with Heaven but has become weary over time. With terminal lung cancer, he helps a troubled police detective learn the truth about her twin sister's death while simultaneously unraveling a much larger and darker plot.
The character of John Constantine was introduced by comic book writer/creator Alan Moore while writing the Swamp Thing, first appearing there in June 1985. In 1988, the character of John Constantine was given his own comic book title, Hellblazer, published by DC Comics. The "Dangerous Habits" story arc was written by Garth Ennis in 1991.
Constantine was theatrically released in the United States on February 18, 2005. It grossed $230.9 million worldwide against a production budget between $75–100 million.
In the Mexican countryside, a scavenger named Manuel finds a spearhead wrapped in a Nazi flag at the ruins of an old church. The spearhead is later revealed as the Spear of Destiny. Manuel becomes possessed and travels to the United States.
In Los Angeles, occult detective John Constantine exorcises a girl possessed by a demon trying to break through to Earth, which should not be possible under the rules of a standing wager between God and Lucifer for mankind's souls. Constantine's driver and apprentice Chas Kramer waits in the car as Constantine doesn't think he's ready to exorcise demons. Constantine later meets with the androgynous half-angel being Gabriel. He asks Gabriel for a reprieve from his impending death from lung cancer caused by prolonged smoking. Gabriel declines, telling Constantine that he exorcises demons for selfish reasons and cannot buy his way into Heaven.
After being assaulted by another demon, Constantine goes to Papa Midnite, a reputed witch doctor who runs a club serving as neutral ground where half-breeds do not have to conceal themselves. Constantine is admitted into the club, but the bouncer tells Chas to leave, as he can not pass the psychic entry test. Midnite does not believe Constantine's claim of demons crossing over. Constantine leaves, after exchanging hostile words with half-demon Balthazar.
Elsewhere, a woman named Isabel Dodson commits suicide in a psychiatric hospital. Her twin sister, Detective Angela Dodson, refuses to believe that Isabel, a devout Catholic, would kill herself. Watching security footage of Isabel's suicide, Angela hears her say Constantine's name. Angela finds Constantine and asks him to help investigate. After they are attacked by winged demons, which Constantine believes were targeting Angela, he agrees to help.
Constantine briefly transports himself to Hell through the possession of a familiar and sees Isabel damned to eternally relive her suicide. Constantine explains to Angela that he can see the true nature of the half-breeds. He committed suicide to escape his visions as a teenager and his soul was sent to Hell, but he was revived by paramedics two minutes later; for the sin of taking his own life, his soul is still condemned to go to Hell once he dies. The two examine Isabel's room in the hospital and find a clue pointing to a prophecy in the Satanic Bible that Lucifer's son, Mammon, will attempt to claim Earth as his own kingdom. To do so, Mammon requires both a powerful psychic and assistance from God.
Angela tells Constantine that Isabel, a clairvoyant and a psychic, was committed by their parents. Angela had the same gift but suppressed it, and now feels guilty that she didn't corroborate Isabel's visions, having feared the treatments Isabel was made to go through. At Angela's insistence, Constantine reawakens her psychic ability through a near-death experience. She immediately finds a clue pinpointing Balthazar as an accomplice to the plot; Constantine interrogates Balthazar, who reveals that Mammon has the Spear, stained with the blood of Christ—the assistance from God. Angela, now the psychic in place of Isabel, is abducted by an invisible entity.
Constantine convinces Midnite that the demons are breaking the wager's rules. With Midnite's help, Constantine finds out how the Spear emerged and Angela's location. Constantine arms himself and goes to the hospital, reluctantly bringing Chas along. The two fight their way through an army of half-demons to exorcise Angela. Chas is apparently killed by the invisible entity, which turns out to be Gabriel. Resenting God's favoritism towards humans, Gabriel plans to unleash Hell on Earth to weed out those deemed "unworthy" of God's love. Gabriel casts Constantine from the room and prepares to use the Spear to cut Mammon free from Angela.
Out of options, Constantine slits his wrists. As he bleeds out, Lucifer arrives to personally collect his soul. Constantine tells Lucifer of Mammon's plan to usurp him. Confronted by Lucifer, Gabriel threatens to 'smite' him in God's honor; however, the attack against Lucifer comes up short, revealing to both Gabriel and Lucifer that Gabriel no longer has divine protection. Lucifer proceeds to burn Gabriel's wings, making Gabriel mortal. Lucifer banishes Mammon back to Hell and grants Constantine a wish out of gratitude; Constantine asks that Isabel be released to Heaven. Lucifer complies but realizes too late that he cannot take Constantine to Hell as a consequence; by selflessly sacrificing himself, Constantine is granted entry to Heaven. Infuriated, Lucifer intervenes before Constantine can be fully taken by healing Constantine's injuries and cures him of his lung cancer by pulling out the tumors in his lungs, hoping he will eventually damn himself again. Angela and Constantine depart, leaving the now human Gabriel. Sometime later, Constantine, now making an effort to quit smoking, entrusts the Spear to Angela and in a post-credits scene visits Chas's grave, where Chas appears in an angelic form.
- Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, a chain-smoking cynic with the ability to perceive the true visage of half-angels and half-demons on the human plane. John is damned to Hell for attempting suicide—a mortal sin—and has terminal lung cancer.
- Rachel Weisz as Angela Dodson, a troubled Los Angeles Police Department Detective investigating the suicide of her twin sister, Isabel (also portrayed by Weisz). Weisz also plays Mammon, the son of Lucifer who has no patience for his father's rule of Hell and uses Angela's body as a means of escaping Hell to rule over Earth himself.
- Shia LaBeouf as Chas Kramer, John Constantine's driver and student. Chas has a strong interest in the occult and helps John whenever possible in order to gain knowledge and experience from him.
- Tilda Swinton as the Archangel Gabriel, a "half-breed" angel, depicted as looking androgynous, with a disdain for humanity who plots to set Mammon free from Hell to unleash demon kind on the Earth.
- Pruitt Taylor Vince as Father Hennessy, an insomniac, alcoholic priest with the ability to communicate with the dead. He constantly drinks in order to "keep the voices out".
- Djimon Hounsou as Papa Midnite, a former witch-doctor who once fought against Hell. After swearing an oath of neutrality—unless one side should tip the balance of power—he opened a nightclub to serve as neutral meeting ground for both sides of the war between Heaven and Hell.
- Gavin Rossdale as Balthazar, a "half-breed" demon with a special penchant for, and personal history with, John Constantine.
- Peter Stormare as Lucifer Morningstar, a fallen Archangel who is in a proxy war with God for the souls of all mankind. Lucifer loathes John Constantine with such vigor that his soul is the only one he would ever come to personally collect.
- Max Baker as Beeman, a friend of John Constantine's with a liking for exotic materials and insects. He serves as both a supplier of holy objects and relayer of information to John.
- Jesse Ramirez as Manuel, a scavenger and treasure hunter who finds the Spear in a church ruin and enters into a trance-like state which resurrects him after getting hit by a car.
Producer Lauren Shuler Donner had developed the film as far back as 1997. In 1999, Paul Hunter was attached to direct, followed by Tarsem Singh in 2001. Warner Bros. hoped Singh could begin filming in 2002 with Nicolas Cage attached to star in the lead role but Singh ended up dropping out, a move that inspired dueling lawsuits from Tarsem and Warners. Keanu Reeves became attached in 2002. Alan Moore, original creator of John Constantine, had been disappointed by the previous adaptations of his other comics From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, refused credit for the film and asked that his royalties be distributed among the other creators.
Constantine was written using some elements from Garth Ennis's "Dangerous Habits" story arc (issues #41–46) and others, such as the inclusion of Papa Midnite, from the Original Sins trade paperback. The film changed several aspects of the source material, including a number of cosmetic changes to the lead character's appearance, e.g., Reeves played the role with his natural accent and hair color whilst the original character was intentionally drawn to resemble English musician Sting and originally came from Liverpool. The film was also set in Los Angeles; the director pointed out that the comic book was not exclusively set in London either.
Other differences to the character were made, such as giving him the psychic ability to see "half-breeds" as they truly are. That ability, in the film, is what caused him to attempt suicide and which led to his damnation rather than his role in summoning a demon that killed a young girl. The resolution of the lung cancer plotline in the film was also amended; Lucifer saves the redeemed Constantine to give him a second chance at falling rather than being tricked into doing so as was seen in the comic book. Scenes with actress Michelle Monaghan as Constantine's lover, a half-breed demon named Ellie based on the succubus Ellie in the Hellblazer comics, were cut from the film to make Constantine more of a lonely character.
The film's title was changed from Hellblazer to Constantine to avoid confusion with the Clive Barker Hellraiser films. The comics series itself was originally to be titled Hellraiser but was also retitled to avoid confusion with the film, released the previous year.
Director Lawrence decided to base the idea of Hell "on the geography of what's around us now." He further explained:
- That was actually a combination of me and the visual effects supervisor and the production designer sitting down and sort of coming up with the biological growth that's growing all over the cars and what that looks like and the color palette. And we started to look at the nuclear test films from the 1940s of the nuclear blasts and just decided that it would be great if the landscape was not only violent with these creatures, but also the atmosphere. So we decided that it was kind of an eternal nuclear blast except nothing ever really gets obliterated because it's eternal and it's constantly going.
Constantine: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is a 2005 soundtrack album from the film of the same title. The soundtrack is an orchestral compilation of songs in the film, performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony & The Hollywood Film Chorale and composed by Brian Tyler, composer for films such as Eagle Eye and Fast & Furious, and Klaus Badelt.
The songs "Passive" by A Perfect Circle (released in conjunction with the film and heard in the walkthrough Midnite's bar) and "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet (heard on a record played by Constantine) were not included. The soundtrack was panned by Allmusic, who referred to it as "clichéd and religiously formulaic."
The original announced release date was September 17, 2004, before it was pushed back.
Constantine opened theatrically on February 18, 2005, in 3,006 venues, earning $29.8 million in its opening weekend and ranking second behind Hitch's second weekend. The film ended its run on June 16, 2005, having grossed $76 million in the United States and Canada, and $154.9 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $230.9 million against a production budget between $75–100 million.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 46% based on the reviews of 224 critics and an average rating of 5.4/10. The site's consensus states: "Despite solid production values and an intriguing premise, Constantine lacks the focus of another spiritual shoot-em-up, The Matrix." On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average, the film holds a score of 50 out of 100 based on the reviews of 41 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Richard Corliss of Time magazine called it "a one-of-a-kind hybrid: a theological noir action film". In crediting the actors, he specifically cited Keanu Reeves' ability to "retain his charisma in [a] weird-silly moment" in addition to the performances of Tilda Swinton whom he referred to as "immaculately decadent". He also praised Francis Lawrence's usage of a significant number of camera locations and angles. He was, however, critical of the movie's climax, referring to it as "irrevocably goofy".
Ella Taylor of LA Weekly wrote, "Constantine, which opts in the end for what I can only describe as a kind of supernatural humanism, is not without its spiritual satisfactions." Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Keanu Reeves has no peer when it comes to playing these sort of messianic roles—he infuses them with a Zen blankness and serenity that somehow gets him through even the unlikeliest scenes with a quiet, unassuming dignity."
Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat gave the film three stars out of five, stating that "the film (barely) succeeds, thanks to impressive visuals, the idea of an uncaring God wagering with Satan for souls, and two immensely enjoyable scenes (one with Weisz, one with Stormare) in which Reeves actually plays his character as the cynical asshole he really is."
Jack Matthews of the New York Daily News gave the film a 2.5 out of 5, stating, "For all its spiritual angst, Constantine is about as silly as fantasies get." Michael Sragow of The Baltimore Sun also gave the film a 2 out of 5, stating, "It all comes off as a case of filmmakers wanting to have their communion wafer and eat it, too." Desson Thomson, a writer for The Washington Post, had similar sentiments of the film, specifically panning the film's distancing from the comic book upon which it is based:
- If you are a fan of the Hellblazer comic book series, on which this movie is based, you'll definitely need a distraction. The relation between Constantine and its source material is, at best, superfluous. The disparity starts with the original John Constantine (Reeves's character) being from Liverpool, England. Reeves from the city of John and Paul? As if.
Leonard Maltin's annual publication Movie Guide gives the film a BOMB rating, describing it as "dreary, to put it mildly". Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars, panning the depiction of Hell ("a post-nuclear Los Angeles created by animators with a hangover"), the premise of the film itself ("You would think that God would be the New England Patriots of this contest, but apparently there is a chance that Satan could win."), plot holes, inconsistencies, and general actions depicted throughout the film. He was not particularly critical of the film's acting, only mentioning it by stating, "Reeves has a deliberately morose energy level in the movie, as befits one who has seen Hell, walks among half-demons, and is dying. He keeps on smoking." He added it to his list of "most hated" films.
The film was released on VHS and DVD in 2005. Warner Home Video announced that the film was to be released on HD DVD on March 28, 2006. It would be one of the earliest titles to be released on that media format. However, following delays to the launch of the HD DVD format (which pushed back the release of many of the initially announced titles), Constantine eventually made its debut on HD DVD on June 6, 2006. Warner Home Video released a Blu-ray Disc version of the film on October 14, 2008.
Novelization and video game
To tie into the film's release, a novelization by John Shirley and a video game adaption of the film was also produced.
The novelization further describes Hell's setting in that the buildings are lined with blood instead of mortar, and built with the souls of the damned rather than brick.
In a 2011, director Francis Lawrence stated regarding a sequel:
- It's interesting that over the years, Constantine seems like it's become ... like it has this sort of cult following, which has been great. It's been embraced. It would be great to figure out a sequel, and if we did, and we've been trying to figure one out, it would be great to do the really dark, scary version. We got caught in that weird PG-13–R no man's land, and we should do the hard-R scary version, which I would love to do.
In November 2012 it was announced that Guillermo del Toro had signed on as writer and director for a Justice League Dark film centered around DC Comics' supernatural characters, with John Constantine featuring as a main character.
By May 2019, Reeves stated that he is open to reprising the role in the future.
By July 2020, it was reported that a new film centered around the titular character was in development with J.J. Abrams serving as producer. The project is said to be a joint-production between DC Films, Warner Bros. Pictures, and Bad Robot Productions. The film is said to be similar in tone the filmmaker's other upcoming DC projects, including an HBO Max exclusive Justice League Dark television series, as well as a film centered around Zatanna Zatara.
In November 2020, Stormare announced on an Instagram post that a sequel was "in the works." Representatives for Warner Brothers and Reeves did not immediately respond to a request to comment.