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.
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?
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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