(Editors Note: This is a leaked version of the pilot, while it is complete with full effects there is still plenty of time for the network to go back and change things.)
Based on the acclaimed DC comic series Hellblazer, Constantine follows the adventures of one John Constantine, the English, chain smoking master of the occult (or petty dabbler, he has business cards stating either). On paper the TV show sounds awesome; demons, magic and mystery alongside a narcissistic protagonist that makes questionable calls in his fight to save humanity but more importantly his own soul. In practice however, Constantine comes off as a Supernatural knock-off (yes, I know Supernatural is Hellblazer lite) that lacks the charm and character of its inspiration. Character motivation is nowhere to be found, detail is annoyingly vague and the supporting cast is lackluster. While I’m not condemning the show to TV hell just yet Constantine stumbles in its attempt to introduce this rich universe.
“John Constantine is a man waging war against the forces of darkness -from both within himself and the outside world. An irreverent, working-class con man and occult expert, he’s an experienced exorcist and demonologist with an extensive list of supernatural contacts, each with their own paranormal talents and abilities. Following the aftermath of a tragic incident, Constantine has voluntarily checked himself into an asylum and sworn off investigating matters of the supernatural, but when a cryptic message calls him out to reluctantly resume his old life, he finds himself saving the life of a young woman whom he’s never met but is connected to in a very important way. With dark forces gathering power in the world, Constantine allies himself with Manny, a rogue warrior angel, and his giant childhood protector, Chas-the only friend who’s managed to stay alive.”
In order to fully understand the events of the pilot episode reading the above synopsis is recommended. Without it audiences are thrown into the middle of a story with little detail causing immediate confusion resulting in a muddled mess of a first impression. The show begins with John opting to electrocute himself in order to forget something. We aren’t told what that something is until the final 2 minutes of the pilot. While that doesn’t inherently make it confusing it does make the events proceeding his odd decision hard to follow. Why is he electrocuting himself? What does he want to forget? Why is he such an ass? Most of these questions should be good things, giving us something to latch onto for further episodes and creating a sense of intrigue around the world and its inhabitants. Instead, with the way the material was handled, it comes off as if we are expected to know the answers already and to accept what John and the rest of the characters are up to.
Take, for example, the first set piece; John checks into a mental hospital so he can convince himself that demons and spirits are make believe. when in the psychiatrists office he refuses any help from the poor man and yells at him for doing his job. Next wee see John in the middle of group therapy where a man with OCD talks about breaking routines and how it leads to horrible things. This inevitably segues into horrible things (John following a bunch of roaches to a possessed patient scribbling on the walls). He initially refuses to help the woman, but after a second of hindsight decides that he should do the right thing. He says a few magic words, she wiggles around in the air and all is well again (minus the LIV DIE message written on the gymnasium wall). With the poor effects only adding to my lack of interest, I had no idea what was going on. The scene wasn’t particularly intriguing in its own right to hook my attention and without context it felt all the more superfluous. The pilot episode is chock full of these jarringly disjointed moments that lack any back story leaving all but the most devout Hellblazer readers out of the loop. By the end of the episode some of these issues are remedied but its a case of too little too late.
Taking a break for the negative for a moment, Matt Ryan as John Constantine is a total win in my opinion. He pulls off the devil may cry attitude with aplomb and has the wit to keep the character interesting even when everything around him fails to land. Some may take issue with his accent but when the only experience you have with a character is off of a comic book page just hearing the character is a plus. The blond hair and the tan overcoat is present in all their glory, it really is like the producers lifted him out of the books and put him on the small screen. He is by and large the best performer out of the ensemble, unfortunately he is not enough to make up for the rest of the cast.
The female lead of Constantine goes by the name of Liv (played by Lucy Griffiths). The daughter of one of John’s late friends, she finds herself being hunted by demons and becomes reluctant allies with Constantine to ward off the threats to her own life as well as those of others. As of now her character is being written out of the show, and I think that’s for the best. Griffiths failed to make any lasting impression on me and only added to the amount of randomness of the pilot. Her bland delivery depreciates the stock of a character who wasn’t interesting to begin with. Liv’s defining characteristic as of the pilot is a pendant that enables her to see demons. With no abilities of her own and no personality outside of girly screams of terror (even those could use some work) Liv is dead weight straight from the get go, at least Griffiths is pretty.
Faring a bit better than Liv is rogue angel Manny, played by Lost alum Harold Perrineau. Assigned to watch over Constantine, Manny controls the bodies of others (not unlike a demon…) and has a plethora of other abilities which include the ability to stop time. The one instance of time control is the highlight of the show in terms of effects. The way the rain stopped mid fall and moved with a single touch was quite impressive, especially considering some of the other effects shots were very underwhelming. Perrineau’s Manny comes off as commanding and manipulative, interesting traits for an angel and one of the better characters to come out of the pilot. His intro is a bit out of nowhere but he certainly has potential. Looking forward he is one of the most likely to stand out in future episodes.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by one-off and one-note characters that really don’t add anything to the proceedings but luckily don’t detract anything either. Chas, played by Charles Harford, is Constantine’s life long friend and he doesn’t say or do much of anything (except die… which was cool). His vague resurrection could lead to some cool things later on but as of now we’ll just go with it.
The only other character of note is Jeremy Davies’ eclectic computer nerd. Much like everyone else in the episode, his presence is unexplained and not worth much. He is employed by Constantine to turn off the electricity in order to kill a demon (because this demon is apparently afraid of the dark… or something). His delivery is spot on but for such a one note character that will most likely remain that way, its a wasted opportunity. If he does appear in further episodes he will be a welcome sight. His hinted at history with Constantine was interesting and definitely worth looking into.
Poor character development and random/vague plot points aside there are a few elements that keep Constantine afloat. For the comic fan there are plenty of nice nods to the source material to be found here. Most blatant of them, and probably the most intriguing, is the appearance of Dr. Fate’s helmet. Whether or not it amounts to anything remains to be seen but it was definitely cool to get a glimpse of it in live action and the possibility of a full on reveal is always looming. We also get a couple of nods to Swamp Thing and Zatanna in there but only the most astute of viewers may be able to find those Easter eggs. There are plenty more, making the hunt for them one of the most entertaining aspects of the show. Whether or not its reliance on media outside of its own mythology is a good thing is up to personal preference (in my not so professional opinion it probably isn’t).
There are also a couple of cool effects shots outside of the ones I discussed above. Constantine’s flaming hand trick (as seen in the trailers) was cool but comes at a peculiar moment and is really only there to prove that John has skills other than mythical chanting and pointing. It isn’t the most visually stimulating of shows out there but it does have it’s moments.
Constantine is chock full of subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the comic book lore, but for all of those there are twice as many flaws that bring down the overall package. Matt Ryan as Constantine is dynamite but even with all his charisma the character is too unrefined at this point to be the only drawing point for audiences. The supporting cast needs to be fleshed out as soon as possible, with the departure of Lucy Griffiths and subsequent entrance of Angelica Celaya as Zed (Hellblazer series staple) hopefully the cast gets that much needed boost. With a touch more exposition and more personality Constantine could be a real hit, but as of now it only has potential. The pilot failed to properly introduce a number of its key players and the overall direction the series is headed in. There were definite hints of greatness (the story surrounding the greater demon Nergal and Astra for instance) but the mess of other elements denied them from shining through.
Being the pilot, Constantine has plenty of time to find its legs. An intriguing premise and source material are a good start, now here’s to getting all of the other aspects into place.
Overall I give this episode 6/10