Culture of Pop

‘Constantine’ Review: ‘Non Est Asylum’

Note: I haven’t read any Hellblazer stories. I plan to for context as I follow the show, but for now I’m going in cold.

Constantine‘s premiere was a bit underwhelming. It opens with a promising setup: John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is consumed with the fact that a woman named Astra was dragged to hell and he believes he could’ve prevented her damnation. I can see a good character forming here but wasn’t completely sold after just one episode.

The show begs us to think John Constantine is cool rather than really delivering an immediately compelling character. For example, at one point someone actually says that he deflects emotions with humor a lot. This is not a subtle introduction. Then after they insist he’s always withholding emotional talk, he delivers a fairly standard backstory monologue on how his mother died giving birth to him and his abusive father blamed him for it. That’s the kind of context heroes often have and I don’t see enough evidence for what it will mean for this character and this story. If they stop trying to sell the character in such an obvious way and write him with more nuance, there’s definitely potential here. He’s got a good vibe of being tired and worn down but still trying to do his job. The acting is similarly so-so, with just enough potential to make me think that maybe I’ll grow to love the cast as it goes along.

After meeting Constantine, Liv Aberdeen (Lucy Griffiths) starts having visions of demons and ghost trains. Constantine explains that she has her father’s gift to see beyond the plane of reality. She asks him if he and her father were close and he says, “… we’ll talk later.” I wonder if we’ll get this emotional backstory without Liv being a character on the show. He explains to her that her father’s power can help you “find trouble” and she has the ability to know when something dangerous is going to happen somewhere. This seems like a good device for future episodes although, again, Liv won’t be a main character for the rest of the series.

In his most interesting moment, Constantine almost frees a demon who convinced him that Astra would be released if he did. Constantine ends up doing the right thing and destroying the demon even though it means watching Astra (whether real or fake, the visual is vivid for Constantine) get damned again. This to me is when the character and the story really become compelling. The series also grabs my attention more when Manny gets angry at Constantine for telling Liv the risks involved in helping him. Manny says, “Liv’s power is valuable.” Constantine reminds him, “So is her life.”

The first episode of Constantine gets off to a very slow start but by the end it has just enough to make me curious about what’s in store for next week.

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