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Review: ‘Constantine’ Premiere Gives Us Monsters, Angels, and Gore

Before even watching an episode, Constantine has a lot of baggage. He’s a wildly popular comic book character that has already been royally screwed up by being made into a Keanu Reeves movie. Not many movies made after 2000 can boast surviving that curse. Also, most nuggets about the show’s content have been controversial/questionable. Many important facets of his character will be missing: Constantine won’t be seen smoking, he’s not bisexual like he is in the comics, and the main heroine in the pilot, Liv Aberdine (True Blood’s Lucy Griffiths), has already been written out of the show. Hokay now.

After watching the debut episode, I’ve decided none of that matters. While I think Griffiths is quite appealing/ravishing and a worthy character for the show (and her abrupt ending feels like exactly that), these guys clearly know what they’re doing.

This is basically Sleepy Hollow with a more serious tone, but instead with a sarcastic British comic book character in the lead (non-Revolutionary war edition) role. That would be John Constantine, with Matt Ryan exemplifying him perfectly. He’s an early favorite for breakout actor in the fall.

We open on him in Northern England at an insane asylum, where he’s volunteering for shock therapy in order “to forget.” He’s been torturing himself for 3 months, trying not to believe in demons and the occult any longer, even putting himself through sessions with a psychiatrist. He’s trying to heal from a past misdeed, when he damned Astra, an adorable girl, to Hell. He can’t live with himself and wants out of the game.

Thankfully, that doesn’t last long. In group, he follows cockroaches skittering across the floors to a crazy woman with blank white eyes, finger painting with blood on the walls. That doesn’t sound like anything too unique, but trust me, Constantine has some freaky, gruesome and impressively ghoulish visuals in this episode (wait till Liv sees Nana, her dead G-Ma), one of the more exciting elements of the fun, fast-paced pilot. John wastes little time in committing a crazy/awesome exorcism. Afterwards, he’s left with a message in blood on the wall: “Liv Die.” That’s not very nice.

Then we meet said Liv, in Atlanta, where she works at a rental car place. She wants adventure, but her life refuses to give in. You know how I know your life is lame? Even your fortune cookies are blank (in bed). Then, the chance for ALL THE ADVENTURES happens in the parking lot. That or imminent death, as her car almost backs up into her, when she goes out to investigate the phantom object detected by her car’s senses (I knew not to trust those).

A crater/explosion almost takes Liv out, when she meets John, riding in an old school taxi cab. He gives her his card (demonologist, master of the occult, etc.), really only succeeding in creeping her out. Then John investigates the hole and meets an angel by the name of Madon, AKA Michael from Lost (Harold Perrinau), who’s trying to persuade John to help them, suggesting that perhaps his soul isn’t damned permanently.

Once home, Liv gets in really sexy clothes and eats another fortune cookie. This time the innards tell her to “Trust Him.” The manufacturers presumably don’t mean God; they mean Constantine! A few hours later, her neighbor/friend Talia has been killed in her stead, because Constantine’s taxi driver protected Liv’s door. I feel like Liv should be madder by the fact that Talia was murdered because Constantine and Interesting Taxi Driver only protected her door, dooming her friend (dick move, guys). Of course, she’s alive, so I guess she can’t really complain.

Chas is John’s taxi driver (and old friend) of few words, and mysterious abilities. He also apparently can cook lamb, so he’s automatically the best supporting character in the narrative thus far.

We learn that Liv is the daughter of (the now dead) Jasper Winters, a powerful mystic of some sort, and she’s wanted dead by Furcifer, a dangerous demon with power of electricity. Liv has her father’s ability to see the dead, and to Scrye, or to map out supernatural events before they happen. They also can kick it in Jasper’s demon-hunting den, with books, Dr. Fate’s helmet and other goodies, which is pretty helpful/easy.

It’s a lot to take in, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s breezy, also familiar, and I like that the show jumps through exposition. We get it; show us monsters and angels and gore. And that’s what Constantine does, as John, Liv and Chas fend off evil, John rejoining the fight against it to atone for the Astra debacle.

One other reason this show will rule that I haven’t mentioned is because of Ritchie Simpson, played by jittery and brilliant Jeremy Davies. He was with Constantine in Newcastle, when Constantine had his whoopsie with Astra. The result has left Ritchie disillusioned/pissed at Constantine, and a drug addict. So yay. But he can also shut down Atlanta’s power grid with a click of the button, so I’d put some serious dough that he’s gonna be useful against a demon that manipulates electricity.

How the show cuts Liv feels empty and forced, but it sounds like the showrunners are hoping to move the plot forward even faster, gifting Constantine with a female partner with more experience with the supernatural. If that means we’re getting the crazy faster, then I’m onboard. Plus, there’s nothing stopping Liv from returning in the future.

Overall, Constantine has clever quips, great and creepy FX, and a fun concept. While Atlanta has seen its share of monsters on The Walking Dead, I’m ready for another Hellmouth to open up in Georgia, and more than happy to follow John Constantine jump head first into the carnage.

GRADE: A-

Article originally posted at Seven Inches of Your Time