“Constantine” Lights Up NBC

DC Comics originally came up with John Constantine for the Hellblazer series, and since its first issue in 1988, both the series and character have been iconic in the comic book industry. Constantine, known for his trench coat, skinny red tie, and near-constant smoking, made his way to the big screen in 2005, as portrayed by Keanu Reeves. However, the comic series ended in 2013, being replaced with the Constantine comic series that features the New 52 John Constantine, who is both younger and was the leader of Justice League Dark, a version of the Justice League that focuses on the supernatural heroes/heroines and their otherworldly foe.

While the newer run of Constantine’s comic legacy has been met with criticism, this reviewer feels the jump to television was a great move. Premiering Oct. 24 at 10 pm, the show, so far, features the iconic characters, chilling special effects, and a sense of disturbance and dread without the need for jump scares and other cheap tricks.

Beginning in the Ravenscar Mental Asylum, the pilot episode shows Constantine encouraging the nurses to give him electroshock therapy, saying, “Some days, you need to forget. Others, you can’t,” giving a hint at the personal demons that plague him. He doesn’t stay locked up for long, because after an argument with a psychologist who tries and fails to convince him that demons aren’t real, Constantine follows a trail of cockroaches to a possessed woman painting on a wall. After exorcising it, he sees the message was for him: “Liv Die.”

This is a not a misspelling—Liv Aberdine, the only daughter of his late friend and mentor, is being targeted by an ‘inner circle’ demon and is going to die without his help. His dark past starts to get in the way at times, as he is forced to recollect the events that led to him checking himself into Ravenscar during a car accident.

The viewers learn, through flashbacks and comments from those who were there with him, that he was involved with an exorcism a few months prior to the show’s opening. Instead of just sending the demon back to Hell, he summoned a more powerful demon, expecting to be able to command it to do his bidding and drag the lesser demon off. Instead, it dragged a nine-year-old girl named Astra to Hell.

Not only did he spiral into a terrible depression, as seen in the opening, but his friends are now wary of him, saying that he’s arrogant, over-confident, and generally implying that to be around him is to risk eternal damnation. Whether this is from a demon dragging their souls off or from him screwing up again, they do not say.

While I don’t want to give too much away, I’ll say the writing is pretty solid. Constantine is a pretty funny character, delivering both legitimate jokes and dry one-liners at a moment’s notice, but Matt Ryan gives him more than just a comic appearance. It’s apparent from the beginning that his humor is a mask to hide a far darker, more brooding mentality, serving as a sort of mental crutch for him to deal with his unusual life and the dire outcomes his actions can have.

He is also visited by Manny, an angel assigned to ease his soul into damnation. When Astra was taken, the angels decided Constantine, too, should be sent to Hell upon his death so he can make up for his actions. When Constantine asks why he should bother fighting demons if he’s going to go to Hell anyway, Manny hints that his soul can be redeemed, but doesn’t say how, opening a lot of avenues for future episodes and plot lines.

The writing aside, this show still holds its own among the other late-night show slots. A subtle but stylish soundtrack lends great ambience and is often very fitting to the characters on scene. There are a few tracks I’d like on my iPod for sure. The visual effects, as mentioned before, are, for the most part, impressive, especially the bug scene in the beginning. Other moments, like the ground cracking open and leaving a random crater in a parking lot, are less creepy, but still action-packed and impactful.

Concerning the creatures, this episode only showed ghosts, possessed people, and angels, but all were done with an eerie grace, especially Manny. His first appearance has him look like a regular man, but then he unfurls his wings, which are feathery but dirty, more like bird wings than the iconic pure-white wings seen in religious art. This speaks a lot to the gritty nature of the show, and I’m excited to see what the demons really look like.

One was on screen very briefly, and though interesting, there wasn’t a lot of time to get acquainted with its image. The demon he fights throughout takes on the appearance of other people, so no help there either.

Overall, this was a fantastic pilot that does homage to its origins while still adapting it well for a screen appearance. Though others gave it more mixed reviews, I had a great time watching and look forward to episode two. If you’re thinking of checking it out but are worried about what you missed, don’t worry—the cast for the next episode is changing dramatically, and they’ll likely explain the backstory again. Whether you saw the premiere or not, I recommend checking out Constantine, Friday nights at 10 pm, on NBC.