Some thoughts on NBC's Constantine trailer

Feature Seb Patrick 13 May 2014 - 07:00

Here's what Seb makes of the first trailer for NBC's forthcoming Hellblazer adaptation, Constantine...

Last time someone tried bringing John Constantine to the screen, in 2005's Constantine, Keanu Reeves took up the trenchcoat and Silk Cut for what was actually a pretty good film, but not in the slightest a good adaptation of the Hellblazer comic. The question of whether a successful screen take on comics' most charismatic chain-smoking demon-baiting bastard is even possible has therefore yet to be settled – but with the first trailer for NBC's upcoming Constantine TV series, we've been given our first glimpse of the latest attempt. Here, then, is a run through what we think the trailer below, consisting of clips from the recently-shot pilot, has taught us…

 

An Englishman Abroad

Well, this certainly isn't Keanu. Welshman Matt Ryan has the blond hair and the tan trenchcoat that were missing from the movie version of the character – but perhaps more notably, he's got the English accent. There's been a fair amount of discussion online about it sounding a bit weird, but that's often par for the course for British actors surrounded by American cast members (listen to Fitz and Simmons in Agents of SHIELD, for one thing) – and although Ryan's natural Welshness kicks in from time to time, it's clear that he is attempting a predominantly Scouse accent.

Which is a bit of a surprise, frankly – it would have been far more straightforward simply to make him a full-on Londoner (as he was originally intended by Moore – it was only under Jamie Delano's pen that he became a Liverpudlian, and since then only Garth Ennis and Mike Carey have really made much of it in the comics) but it shows a welcome commitment to the details of the comics. Although it's frustrating that in another clip that's made it online, his surname is pronounced as wrongly as it was in the film (it should be Constan-tine, not –teen).

That said, although Constantine himself is British, it's worth noting that the story is taking place in the US. Given that London is often such a significant "character" in the Hellblazer comics, it remains to be seen if planting John in an unfamiliar setting can actually work – many critics argue that Brian Azzarrello's Hellblazer run, which saw him first imprisoned and then on the run in America, was among the weakest the title ever had.

The Exorcist

If there's one element that does seem to have made it over from the movie adaptation, however, it's an increased focus on John's dabbling in exorcism. In the wider comics storylines, it's only really a minor part of his character – he does find himself in conversation with beings from heaven and hell quite a lot, but day-to-day he's more of a jobbing con-man and magic artist than someone who'd hawk himself out as an "exorcist for hire". Still, it's possibly a more recognisable hook on which to hang the series, and it could just be that it's used in the pilot to introduce the audience to the supernatural elements, before opening up the wider nuances of John's life.

Never Mind The…

Constantine will be airing on NBC, which means that it won't be able to contain as much in the way of swearing as a cable show. However, it's also an American show featuring a British lead character, meaning that our cousins across the pond apparently have no compunction about having him say the word "bollocks". Expect any or all of "bloody", "frigging", "sodding" and "wanker" to crop up at some point, too, which will create a nice headache for whichever UK channel ends up taking the series on.

There's also a notable lack of cigarettes in the footage and photos seen so far. Let's hope that being on network TV doesn't mean John has to be a non-smoker – as, if nothing else, that would preclude an adaptation of the immensely good Dangerous Habits storyline.

Taxi for Constantine

The presence of a bright yellow taxi in the trailer would seem to suggest that John's long-time, cab-driving friend Frank "Chas" Chandler will be making an appearance. IMDb lists an actor called Charles Halford as playing him, and while this suggests another Americanisation, fears of a repeat of Shia Laboeuf's "Chas Kramer" from the movie are somewhat allayed by the fact that he looks from photos to be a suitably tough and grizzled sort.

While we don't learn anything about Chas in the trailer, we do meet a couple of the series' other recurring supporting cast. The ever-excellent Harold Perrineau is playing a created-for-the-series character called Manny – apparently an angel who pops in every now and again to check up on Constantine. Expect an ambiguous relationship between the two – if there's one kind of person John can never trust, it's an angel, but Manny already looks to be a friendlier character than, say, the comics' Gabriel.

Meanwhile, Liv – played by British-born Lucy Griffiths but clearly an American character – looks to be a clear analogue for the movie's Angela (played by British-born Rachel Weisz but also an American character). And Perrinau's fellow Lost alumnus Jeremy Davies also makes an appearance, but we haven't yet been told who his character is.

Hellblazer vs Constantine

The prominent "Based on the comics" credit is interesting, as at present DC aren't actually publishing a comic called Hellblazer. That series was cancelled last year with issue #300, bringing to an end the nearly thirty-year, aging-in-real-time story of the original John Constantine – and replaced with a rebooted, younger-starring Constantine series that takes place in the (ostensibly) suitable-for-all-readers DC New 52 universe. Given the title of the show, and the look of Ryan, it would be easy to assume that NBC and Warners are pushing the "cleaner" version of Constantine, but directly citing the original comic as an influence shows that hopefully we'll get a fair amount of the original character mixed in.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the Newcastle incident – in which John inadvertently damned the soul of a young girl called Astra to the hellish torment of a demon called Nergal – seems to be an integral part of John's backstory, and it's impressive that the show looks set to tackle both that, and his resulting incarceration in the Ravenscar mental facility, in its first episode. Does this inspire hope that we'll see other famous Hellblazer storylines or characters on screen eventually?

Conclusions

It's hard to know exactly what to make of Constantine based on what we know so far, and while the trailer adds a little knowledge, it's still difficult to get a handle on. It feels rather clunky – although that could just be the editing of the trailer, as we'd expect that Neil The Descent Marshall would be capable of making it a slick, confident-looking thriller, and it's also worth remembering that the trailer is based solely on the original pilot, not on anything that might follow, as the series order was only confirmed last week.

It's also hard to shake the feeling that it's somewhat caught between two stools – that NBC want an accessible, audience-friendly show with a bit of grisliness about a bloke who fights demons (in other words, another Supernatural) in their portfolio, but that in Hellblazer they've picked a comic that actively resists that kind of adaptation. They've made all the right noises about its surface trappings, but whether anyone involved – either on the DC or the NBC side – actually understands the spirit of the series remains to be seen.

Constantine will air on NBC on Fridays at 10pm from this autumn in the the US.

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Is frigging a bad word in the UK?

I'm excited to see where this one goes, but annoyed that it airs on Fridays. I know it's gonna be a bunch of nerds watching this show, but we go out sometimes too! I definitely did get the Supernatural feel, which could be good or bad depending on which part of Supernatural we're talking about.

By God...it looks like the writers actually used the source material for more than a tonal perspective. This actually looks like a live-action Hellblazer comic....#Nerdgasm

Come on son...we're all gonna make the sacrifice and stay home and watch this show. How long have we actually been waiting on a Constantine movie or show done right...10 years now?

It means to indulge in solitary love.

I'm unhappy that it takes place in America and we have almost this fish out of water theme, it just lays more groundwork to stray away from the comics, as seen in the trailer with all these new characters! I'm not saying it has to be word for word as the comics but producers forget the reason the character is so famous is the storylines and their origins...I'm not holding out much hope.

Frigging "In the rigging" is onanism, but it's as acceptable as "Feck", "Twat", "Prick" and "Muddy Funster" for getting the point across rather than the actual curse.

I'm looking forward to this, but as with the forthcoming Preacher and Sandman adaptations, I'm probably going to end up watching it and thinking "Oh god, I wish HBO had taken this up..." ;)

Doesn't sound the slightest bit like a scouse accent to me, more like a touch of Irish.

It doesn't sound like a stereotypical, Harry Enfield-esque "ey ey calm down" type Scouse accent, but speaking as a Liverpudlian myself, I can definitely hear it in there.

(And the Scouse and Irish accents aren't a million miles from one-another anyway, as it goes. The one is heavily based on the other.)

Honestly? I don't care what accent he has as long as he has that irreverant tone sadly lacking from Keanus film (which I like becuase of the supporting characters and a plot that was pretty good). I think the other points you have picked up on are really minor details and it sounds as if you would be critical of any deviation from the comics. Lets face it we aren't going to get a lot of the storylines from the comics because they are so english centric, but if it has a good scripts, characters and story then I'm happy to forgive its deviations from Canon. By the look of the trailer I think its most of the way there. The "Petty Dabbler" line was perfect :)

I was wondering where I had seen and heard Matt Ryan before and then a quick IMDB search reveals that I've been controlling him on my PS4 for the last few months, as the lead in Assassins Creed Black Flag. "Cool Story Bro".

He's welsh

poetically put sir

Not really relevant but does anyone else snigger whenever someone on the news talks about 'Fracking'? Such a serious subject and all I can think about is Battlestar Galactica

Great article. Could read about Hellblazer all day long. I really hope they don't go too far down the New 52 style of zapping and chanting 'expelliamus.' The man needs to be taking to these big scary hellish demons like they're just any other bloke and he need to con his way around any situation. Hopefully the exorcism stuff if just an establishing hook. This mostly only ever happened in the one shots.

And I'm putting it out there. I loved the Azzerello run on Hellblazer. Sure the overall premise was a bit odd but the writing and the artwork was excellent

Right. I'm not a smoker myself but John Constatine IS a SMOKER! He's reknown for his chain smoking like Popeye is for eating spinach. Even the movie had him chain smoking. Maybe the rules on smoking on TV are different. But even so, if he ain't smoking, he aint Constantine.

Well, Constantine could become rather nasty in places given what NBC allows Hannibal to do on network TV.
Also, Goyer said that other DC characters wil make an appairence thoughout the series. What will that mean precisly?

As a fan of the comics I don't get all the hate for the Constantine film. If you can accept it as a different take (like Marvel's ultimate universe) in which John was born in the states, it's really quite good. There are some subtle references to the series and John is a chain smoking selfish bastard with a nagging conscience.

I doubt John will be smoking in the series. American TV and movies have moved away from that. 20th Century Fox even has an anti-smoking policy to limit their characters smoking.

I don't remember reading any Hellbazer story and thinking "this could never work in the US."

Well, anyone from the mystical/Dark corner of the DC universe could potentially pop up, such as Zatanna, Dr Fate, Etrigan, Dr Occult, Mister E, the Phantom Stranger, Deadman and Swamp Thing.

EXACTLY.

Really? What about the one with the skinheads football hooligans getting melded together. It would only have been more British if they were eating scones and singing roll out the barrel.

Indeed, but the big question is how or if this series will connect to the proposed Justice League Dark movie or even the DCCU as a whole. Man, I would seriously like WB/DC to come out with what is and what isn't connected. Seems they have a lot of threads at the moment and they are just considering to weave them together.

I suspect it won't connect at all, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I say let each do their own thing, be creative and diverge as their respective writers see fit. Unless, of course, the series and films are designed to be intertwined from the beginning.

We have skin heads in the US as well. Them being football hooligans isn't essential to the story, it was just more appropriate to the setting. They could have just as easily been any other brutal gang and the story wouldn't have been fundamentally altered.

Ok, i'll own up then ..... I did not know that was how you were supposed to pronounce his name. I feel horribly dirty and very ashamed at my loss of geek insight there. Ruined my day it has .... ruined it!

Please be good. Seriously. The world needs a well-done Hellblazer adaptation. Though Matt Ryan seems to fit the part well.

And we don't use any of those in the U.S.! Very interesting! I am trying to think of an equivalent but can't at the moment... I'd call it "jerking off," but that's not used as an exclamatory. We don't reference masturbation all that much, in my experience.

(Sorry for the tangent. I get super geeky about regional and national language differences.)

Ha, nice way of putting it! Around my parts, we use it as a nicer replacement for "fuck." My dad goes "FRIG!" all the time when he drops something or gets an extremely large bill in the mail.

That smoking thing is so bizarre. We've got murders, demons possessing people, and increasingly daring sex scenes but we can't have smoking?! I could walk down my street and see a guy smoking. Those other three I mentioned, I hopefully would not see while on a stroll around the block.

Yeah. On one hand I can see that it promotes smoking and culturally we seem to be trying to extinguish (no pun intended) that behavior. On the other hand, i think 'Are you $%^&ing kidding me?"

If he's not wielding a golden crucifix shaped shotgun I'm out!

ummm...DVR???

I didn't expect him to be like "Dose demons, de do doh don't dey doh?" I can hear Irish (a bit) and maybe West Yorkshire\Lancs a bit... I'm from Yorkshire, I understand accents but I just can't hear the scouse. Looks good though, I'll be watching.

"Choking" as in "Choking the Chicken" would be the US closest, I think.

[Language Nerd as well:
"Feck" is Irish for "stealing", but sounds similar to the word it replaces.
"Twat" references striking as well as female genetalia - "Nail" is similar in US.
"Frigging" is a 1920's euphemism - as is "Whacking" - (A lot of the early 20s/30s songs are filthy)

[Butcher Pete from the Fallout soundtrack is actually a song about multiple conquests - they couldn't say "have sex with" but could say "murdered".]

"Prick" is derived from "Puncture"/"Penetrate"

"Muddy Funster" is Engrish (Broken Japanese English) that was used to give the impression of American swearing.]

Generally, any word that's got a lot of guttural expression is used as a curse word. :)

I am poor. I don't have DVR.

Anyone else think the show makes it look like Matt Ryan's cosplaying? His outfit doesn't look lived in enough...

They could just have him start hacking up a lung every once in a while. =P

Dr. Fate and Deadman PLEASE! Actually Zatanna would be cool too, add her to the list, could always do with a great female character.

Do you know this much stuff about all words or just the naughty ones? XD

These are all very British-sounding to me. In my part of the U.S. we don't use any of these except prick. Unless we are intentionally adopting British-isms, which happens probably more often than you think. I have had friends go a whole day speaking in a fake accent for no apparent reason. (I have never tried this, mostly because I suck at it.)

I've never heard anyone actually use "choking" or "choking the chicken," either. Usually it is jerk off or jack off, if they talk about it at all (which isn't often). I wouldn't be surprised if you told me that guys talk about it a lot when us girls aren't around, though.

He doesn't have an English accent, he has a Welsh accent. It's a country in its own right. (sorry to be picky).As a scouser, to me it seems there's no trace of scouse in the accent at all. I'm sure the reason for this is that the scouse accent is one of the most difficult of English accents to do convincingly. I would rather he acted well in his own accent than do an awful scouse one. Can't wait to see this, looks great.

I am relieved to say I have never read the comics and can enjoy (or not) the show as it stands. Sometimes ignorance can be bliss.

I'm only talking as a Brit who's never had the chance to visit America - but finds the language difference fascinating. Britain has the interesting - but no means unique - phenomena of 10 or so British Languages within the size of Oregon. Before you even count all the non-British languages that make up our vocabulary.

"Jack off" sounds more distinctive US, but you couldn't really use it just as "Jack". Most of the Americanisms that broadcast where they're from use the distinctive (stereotype) accent - The Brooklyn "Nyeh", The Southern drawl or the Californian "WhaT-evah!"

I do enjoy the naughtier ones though - they're great notes of cultural identity and perception. Even made up languages save their great expressions for vulgarity. As you'd frelling expect for those mudbloods. :)

Having a quick think about words you can use in the States but not in the UK:
"Spaz" is US for mucked up(?) but means severely mentally disabled in the UK.
And the eponymous "'coonskin hat" has very nasty racial connotations in the UK. Not sure if I can explain fully but "African scalp" would be it's closest connotation.

Not having read the best bits of Hellblazer can never be counted as "bliss" ;-) Get yourself a copy of Dangerous Habits, you won't regret it.

It's barely 'English' - If he came from South Wales via Runcorn then maybe- He's Welsh.

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