On The Side Of The Angels?
♦ Tripwire’s senior writer Andrew Colman takes a look at the latest Warner Animated movie, Constantine: City Of Demons…
Constantine: City of Demons
Director: Doug Murphy
Writer: JM DeMatteis
Voice Talents: Matt Ryan, Damian O’Hare, Laura Bailey, Emily O’Brien, Rachel Kimsey
John Constantine has seen many iterations throughout his extended career as comics’ most louche, amoral rogue, yet has rarely been served well when it comes to all things screen. First there was Keanu Reeves’s cop-out non-starter, showcasing a Hellblazer only tangentially connected to Delano and Ridgeway’s original vision – an odd little pot-boiler undermined by compromise, neutering and some rather dodgy acting.
Thanks to Legends of Tomorrow and his earlier efforts in the Constantine series on Fox, Matt Ryan has certainly become synonymous with our favourite occult detective, and this amusing if slight bit of fluff continues his tenure while cementing his pitch. However this film follows on from the also animated Justice League Dark rather than the television version.
Closely based on the graphic novel All His Engines, J.M. DeMatteis uses most of the plot points of the source material for this project, the chief thrust of the story being about a demon, based in L.A., who is keen to turn Hell into a franchised corporate entity, enticing our non-hero over to the City of Angels by trapping the soul of his best mate Chas’s daughter. The action does differ somewhat to give the ingénue viewer some backstory, notably Constantine’s “origin” as a flawed mage from the Newcastle issue of Hellblazer. Not to mention that the demon in question isn’t Beroul, as it was in the book, but our old friend, the reptilian horror and series mainstay that is Nergal.
This animated feature is a rum, occasionally mawkish affair (the audience in New York, where this film premiered, found John and Chas’s accents a tad too dated and comical) but does echo the baroque feel of the original Hellblazer series – the unbridled, salacious evil and gallery of grotesques that are the stock in trade of the comic are all present and correct, if rather too melodramatic (they work better on the page). The animation however never rises above the serviceable – and while it’s not Saturday Morning chaff from the 1960s, it is reminiscent of primitive, analogue cartoons from the 1970s that eschew irony or nuance. Admittedly the animation is more polished, yet it obviously doesn’t match All His Engines artist Leonard Manco’s superlatively ghoulish, detailed pencils, and at times does take you out of the action (there’s far too much repetition involved, which does remind you of Hanna Barbera).
Nevertheless, this is probably the best effort committed to film so far for the franchise (well, it might develop into one) that may lead to more of the same, only with a hopefully bigger budget. And, with any luck, it’ll be in colour. As a primer for those who aren’t dedicated fans like myself, this is a good a place to start as any. If anything, at least the Constantine onscreen this time looks like the one fandom is used to, all shabbiness, chiselled features, cigarette stubs and surly, world-weary sarcasm. And that mackintosh. Perhaps it’s best that all prospective viewers or readers of this benighted corner of the DC universe start their journey into Johnny’s world right here.
Constantine: City Of Demons is out now on DVD and Blu ray.