This article contains major spoilers for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.
And just like that it’s over. After seven years and 22 movies the DC Animated Movie Universe has come to an end. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War has the unenviable task of wrapping up multiple threads and acting as a sort-of-sequel to some of the DC Animated Movie Universe’s biggest hits. The R-rated action romp succeeds at crafting a satisfying end and makes an unexpected hero out of one of the most famed anti-heroes in Hell and Earth, John Constantine. We chatted to Matt Ryan about his hero’s arc, the end of the DC Animated Movie Universe as we know it, and why John was the only one who could do what was needed.
Constantine might feel like an unlikely choice for the DC Animated Movie Universe’s final hero. Despite that fact, in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War the doomed demonologist gets a true hero’s arc. It was a choice that Ryan adored. “It’s great! I love the fact that when we start off with John he’s relatively content and that’s because of Zatanna. He’s there because of her. Then in typical John Constantine fashion, after the big, catastrophic event he turns to the bottle.”
It’s during his latest whiskey-soaked pity party that Constantine meets Superman… or should we say, the man who once was Superman. It’s this reunion that sets him and the DC Universe on an Earth-shattering path. “John is someone who needs a spur. If you leave John on his own, he’ll drink himself to death. But if you push against him–like Clark Kent, who is no longer Superman, pushes him into this journey. That’s what sets John on this path of redemption.”
Coming back from the mistakes of his past is something of a recurring feature for John. It’s been at the core of his journey in Legends of Tomorrow–where Ryan also plays the trench coat wearing master of the occult–and it’s his driving force here. “Redemption is a big theme for John Constantine,” he says. “And the thing is, no matter how many stories we see of him redeeming himself, there’s always something to redeem himself from again because he always fucks up, excuse my language. But that leads to this hero’s arc and becoming integral to saving the world.”
There’s something charming, unexpected, and ultimately moving about Constantine becoming the hero that the DC Universe needs. Not only does it herald one of the most simple and devastating scenes in the DC Animated Movie Universe, but Ryan was also clearly ecstatic about it. “What we really have is the accumulation of all these years worth of work that Warner Brothers animation has been doing over all these movies, which has been great,” he says. “There’s all these powerful, immense superheroes, but the person who they need is a working class, blue collar chain smoking magician. I love that! And though the end of the film does have Superman and his moment, John Constantine is an integral part of that.”
For Ryan, this thread is something that speaks to him about the DCU as a whole. “What I love about the universe as a whole is you have a character like Superman, who is a problematic character in so many ways because he’s so perfect,” he says. “Then you have a character like John Constantine, who’s problematic because he’s so imperfect. It takes Superman without his powers and John Constantine with a whole belly full of Glenn McGoogan to get things going. And I really love that they needed John to wrap this story up in the way that they have.”
Knowing that this is the final movie before DC reboots their animated universe with Superman: Man of Tomorrow doesn’t make the ending any less powerful. After Apokolips is defeated, the world is in disarray, innumerable dead, and the planet destroyed. Though no one wants to say it, only John knows what they have to do: reset the timeline and world with another Flashpoint. According to Ryan, Constantine was the only one who could have ever made the vital choice. “The others wouldn’t have had the foresight,” he says. “Also, what I love about it is that whatever the consequences for Flash, John is like, ‘Hey, you have to do it.’ He’s the one who sees it. And I love that. It gives me a little shiver down on the spine. I mean, everyone’s like, ‘Oh…’ and John’s the one who finally says, ‘You know what you have to do, son.'”
It’s a facet of John that draws Ryan to the character he’s played since 2014’s NBC series. “It’s the one thing I really love about John. He can see angles that other people don’t. He has a different lens and I love that. You need that character in this kind of superhero world. I think that’s what’s really great about DC, you have the ultimate superhuman being in Superman, and then all these other flawed human characters like Batman and Constantine.”
The actor also shared his thoughts on getting to play such an integral part in the sprawling world of the DC Universe. “I feel very lucky to be a part of it. Honestly, I really do.”
You can watch Justice League Dark: Apokolips War via all Video on Demand services now!