Tuesday, December 16, 2014

[Constantine] "The Saint of the Last Resorts" Review



I'm going to level with all of you: I'm slowly slipping into my 'holiday hermit' mode by now (considering I'm only going to be at my workplace until Thursday this week as well) so when I saw that there was a new Constantine episode last Friday, I actually rolled my eyes in all lukewarm dismissiveness and didn't get to watch it until earlier on the car ride to work. That was two hours ago and now I'm finally typing a coherent review for it. Like I said, I was not in the mood to watch some Constantine due to my default lethargy for the yuletide season, so this episode as a midseason finale totally went past me at first the entire time I was watching it. After finding out that it was a midseason finale, I felt even better with what was offered since the climactic plot threads that were explored definitely hold a weight of promise for next year's roster.

I read a news article somewhere that Constantine's ratings just went up, most probably due to the threat of cancellation and the fans who want to keep it on air (good for y'all).  Now it's still possible that we might either get more episodes order for the first season (NBC only approved 13 to be released so far), or we get a second season instead of more episodes for the first one. Either way, it's a win-win. Personally I would rather have 22 episodes for a full season one just to see if this show deserves a second life. The truth of the matter is that I like Constantine as a show based on a comic book series but I'm not sure I love it. There are parts that I can enjoy and I'm down for and there are some things that sometimes peeve me off every now and then. I think it's fair to say that the good outweighs the bad, much like with Gotham, another DC comics-based show that I've been reviewing alongside this. For the most part, I think Constantine hits the right notes every time the writers craft their own spin on things, but they also tend to miss out on delivering a more resonant piece once they did lift off a storyline straight from the source material (I'm talking about A Feast of Friends which still remains as the season's best). 


That said, the midseason finale The Saint of Last Resorts leaves a lot to be desired in the best way possible. We pick up some more of the Rising Darkness major arc after the previous episode's revelation regarding fallen angels being able to cross the threshold that divides earth and hell. This time around we get the sister of Eve/goddess of hell Lamashtu who has been working with a  powerful warlock coven from Chile called the Brujería by abducting babies from a specific lineage for a dark purpose yet to be revealed. She's in cahoots with them because said coven has found a way to unite earth and hell together which meant demons like her can expand territorial lines. These are all connected then to the Rising Darkness. In a lesser extent, another contender in the sidelines makes way; this episode marks the first mention of the Resurrection Crusade (well, they were just named 'the crusade' but it's close), a religious zealot cult tied to Zed's past. Zed's real name has also been revealed at last (Mary). This is all comic-book stuff and I'm interested to see how this show's take on R.C and Zed as Mary will play out next year because this was a storyline that I was never a fan of in the first place. Angelica Celaya's Zed, however, was likable enough but I've always perceived her character as a plot device and it looks like that aspect of her character is getting its due. I sure hope it's a hit rather than a miss for Constantine.

The episode was a two-fold exploration which worked superbly since John was able to work on a case while Zed stays behind, allowing both characters to be the central figures of their own respective pieces. Zed's abduction was inevitable so I wasn't surprised when it happened. It really was just a matter of when. As for John whose past will always have a long reach clawing for his throat anytime it can, he once again meets a former mate from the Newscastle clusterfuck who is understandably antagonistic towards him at first until the complex elements of their past relationship was later unravelled quite poignantly. Now, Anne-Marie in the comics was nothing special; she was this timid and obese psychic who pined for John while he was dating/shagging some other bird (Judith) so she joins him in Newscastle as a groupie who never gets noticed unless John needs her for a spell or something. I was then pleased that they revised her character in the show in a more dignified manner while still able to keep the nun part intact. So, for this episode, Anne-Marie is characterized as the older woman who seems to be John's first love, and the one who got him addicted in the occult scene. She was also his surrogate-mother in a lot of ways and she later revealed in the episode that her entering the convent was a penance not just for Astra's damnation in Newcastle but for initiating John into the dangerous lifestyle. She blamed herself for corrupting him and the lives he put in harm's way because of it. I really enjoyed their scenes and interactions together because they were rife with meaning and purpose for the viewers' benefit and for the overall plot.


Matt Ryan and guest co-star Claire van der Boom for the Anne-Marie role have a great set-up together, able to highlight their characters' history with each other and eventual fall-out believably enough so that very last scene with Anne-Marie shooting him to draw out the Invunche with his blood while she runs off with the baby had some gravity to it.

As a midseason finale, The Saint of Last Resorts had been grand. It ended with cliffhangers for both John and Zed's fates which are yet to be sealed, at least until the second part is aired next year. It definitely left me excited and optimistic for what the show will focus on which hopefully would be less on the formulaic case-of-the-week and more on the grittier paranormal drama aspects that made Hellblazer such a beloved series in the first place.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10
 
* Yet another episode infused with compelling character conflict and dramatic confrontations that also serve to emphasize a grander scheme taking place which will test our titular hero in the future. This was the promising first part of a two-parter story which will continue once the show comes back.

Monday, December 8, 2014

[Constantine] "Blessed are the Damned" Review



Constantine has been evolving steadily as a paranormal adventure that's mostly independent from its source material, and though there have been small moments where I feel like it lagged behind or didn't accomplish anything substantial in an episode or two, I still think that it's on the right track for the most part, as long as it doesn't forget putting its strengths in the spotlight and improving its flaws. This latest installment entitled Blessed are the Damned has been a little bit of both. It was a necessary episode because it was definitely about a plot progression concerning the main arc, the "Rising Darkness" which clearly earns its time on the limelight by now, seeing as this season only has 13 episodes in its package so this should pressure and challenge the writers to deliver us something compelling and worthwhile by the time the finale hits. I'm personally looking forward to the season ender by the time 2015 rolls around. 

What is it an enjoyable episode? That really depends if you can get on board with its crucial factors. This isn't nearly as entertaining as The Devil's Vinyl or Danse Vaudou were especially when this episode aimed to tackle some serious issues pertaining religion and faith (which, if you're a CW Supernatural fan, might be done-to-death for you). The most essential part has to be about the role of the angels and (shall we say in?) the Rising Darkness, while the other part examines characters' perspectives about the concept of God or a higher power in the universe, particularly John Constantine and Zed's own belief systems (if not an entire lack of it). Let's discuss the finer points below:

  • I thought that Zed, who has been largely underdeveloped since her appearance in the second episode, was finally able to get some significant and revealing dialogue and interaction. It's safe to say that they will follow the backstory of her comic book counterpart but the delivery and execution of her role later on might differ. I still think that she has something to do with the Rising Darkness herself and based on the last scene of the episode (where a man wearing a silver cross and the nude model from Zed's art class /turned spy are plotting to abduct her when the time comes), there are people who have been looking for her and may use her for evil means. I still cannot warm up to TV-Zed no matter how much I want to (but it makes sense because I only started to love her character in the comics after she and Constantine part ways and she really came to her own as soon as that happened), but I did find her arc for this episode to be compelling, most notably how she views zealous faith ("People are so hungry to believe in something") and the fact that this episode finally sheds some light to her own religious upbringing (trust me, this is important). She herself wants to believe her powers come from a place of goodness, and her excitement to find out that there are celestial beings known as angels was palpable, almost heartbreakingly so, especially later on when Manny uses her body to rip out the consecrated heart of evil from a fallen angel and she just stands there looking down at her own bloody hand, rattled and a little devastated.
  • John Constantine's role here has been just as insightful as Zed's. He gets to quip about the pointlessness of religion which I found myself stupefied with because I don't think Constantine from the comics would be this dismissive, considering most of his dark arts comes from many forms of religious practices in a culturally diverse manner, I may add. But perhaps it's really more about organized religions that he takes an issue with, and not really whether or not God exists. Aside from his snarky and cynical remarks about the preacher and his believers, John also only has contributed half of the plot's resolution. However, on the plus side, he and Manny seem to be on the right page at last. John's dislike of Manny's kind has been touched upon numerous times but this is the episode that really drove it home. Just like with anybody who has faith in a higher power and therefore surrenders their own free will in accordance to that power's wishes, John sees angels as yet another instrument of blind subservience and this irks him because he sees himself as a man of his own agency who uses powers of a divine scope to serve his needs and others who may require his help. For John, that's that. He doesn't want to be a part of some grander scheme between angels and demons. He's an existentialist and an individualist; a man who had been close enough to both heaven and hell in a lot of ways and yet still refuses to believe their impact on his life.
  • The introduction of the female fallen angel for this episode brings us closer to THE FIRST OF THE FALLEN which excites me so much! I also liked that small discussion between Manny and this angel, which shows that they actually agree on something; and that's no other than the fact that the puny and negligent human race has wasted God's gifts, and that the angels should take back this mortal plane from ours because we don't deserve it. As a Supernatural fan, it's hard not to notice the similarities in their interpretation of angels and, er, celestial politics, but I'm still willing to give this show a chance to define and develop its own mythology. I can only hope that they utilize Manny more on the show as well, especially now that John has slightly warmed up to his company and looks as if he can put aside his own negative bias against angels to work with him in stopping the Rising Darkness from escalating. Also, I hope we get Chas Chandler back again next episode.


OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

* This episode finally gives us a better glimpse of the griever implications of the Rising Darkness while certain other key players are revealed. John Constantine now has to examine and figure out the role he has to play in all of this whereas Zed may not even have the same privilege.

Monday, December 1, 2014

[Constantine] "Rage of the Caliban" Review



This is going to sound like a cop-out but I don't think this post will be a review of last week's episode, Rage of the Caliban, at least not completely. I read online that this was originally supposed to be the second episode of the show which explains why Zed wasn't around yet since the actress for the role wasn't casted and Lucy Griffiths as Liv Aberline had just left the story so this is where this episode picks up from which would explain the slower momentum. Given the revelation about the Rising Darkness in Danse Vaudou, one would think that the sense of urgency that episode left us with will be fully realized by the next one but this wasn't the case at all. That's not to say Rage of the Caliban wasn't fun to watch; it was a fairly decent, straightforward, case-of-the-week where we get more of Chas and less of Zed (which, to no one's surprise, is already an added bonus), and some exposition regarding Manny the angel and this Big Bad he and John Constantine are supposed to be united against. The case itself was fairly interesting--the concept of  a vengeful soul having the ability to temporarily separate from a living vessel so it could go on a killing spree would have been convoluted but the performances of the actors kept whatever silliness that cit ould produce downplayed just right. I liked this episode though it wasn't as strong as the last two before it.

On the constant plus side, Matt Ryan continues to excel in the titular role, most notably because he has embodied what Constantine is about; this tormented not-so-quite-hero with a ready snark remark against dark forces, be it to either buy himself some time to come up with a  solution, or to disguise the agony and hurt of his guilt over past actions. In any case, Matt Ryan is what I wanted in a John Constantine although I have yet to see him in stories that will challenge viewers and make them question his intentions and role as the protagonist of the show which is what happened to me a lot of times while I was reading Jamie Delano's run of Hellblazer. This brings to mind the best episode of the series so far: A Feast of Friends which came from the comic book pages itself, but the message and the resolution are entirely different from the source material which was an oddity itself but something I could live with, although I definitely would have preferred they stuck to the original ending which was more memorable and poignantly tinged with moral ambiguity. The reason I mention that specific episode is because that I believe is the standard the show as a whole should aim for. Sure, A Feast of Friends changed gears, ending-wise, going for something more optimistic than that of its comic book counterpart, but the tonality and characterization that episode brought forth were exhilaratingly complex. I look forward to the next episodes operating on the same vein because Constantine can offer that kind of serving if the writers themselves would allow it.

This makes me wonder how they plan on executing the Newcastle-Astra storyline once we get down that road (in this season, I'm hoping). They've buried the lead on that one by the pilot which is a decision I was never completely onboard with only because it deliberately missed an opportunity to shock the non-comic book viewers with its revelation. Everyone knows that the little girl Astra is John's exorcism-mishap from the past and that the demon who took her to Hell was named Negral (again, the name shouldn't be revealed just yet because it's a significant turning point in the plot back in the comics! Ugh, just talking about this shit again is making me nerd-rage so I will shut up about it now).

Now, as I've said at the beginning of this post, this won't be a review solely focused on Rage of the Caliban but it will also serve as my collective thoughts in general for the first six episodes of the series so far. It was announced last week or so that the show won't be getting a full 22-episode order which is the standard format for most American network television shows. This means we are only getting 13 episodes for the first season and a lot of fans of the show weren't happy about it so the hashtag #SaveConstantine has been trending in Twitter lately. Personally, I was fine that the first season is only getting 13 episodes because, quite frankly, based on my reviews and insights concerning the execution and overall quality of its episodes so far, I don't think Constantine deserves more quantity. Perhaps a shorter scope of this season will even allow the writers to deliver something more cohesive and succinct because we're almost halfway now and the level of the stories being told are still fluctuating, mostly closer to average than superb. I only gave two episodes a solid 8-star rating out of six so it's understandable why I'm very lukewarm about this show right now, let alone concerning its future installment. But fret not, Constantine could still get a second season. I'm becoming a fan of Matt Ryan in the role so of course I want to see him more as John Constantine because he was such a perfect casting choice! Still, the show could use more inventive ways when it comes to its storytelling. Visual execution-wise, the direction and cinematography have been exciting particularly when the show lends itself to some bizarre sequences concerning the paranormal (that séance scene while John and a shaman have taken a psychedelic drug will remain a personal favorite of mine).

On that department, I think Constantine has actually been consistent. The horror elements are fundamental and the trivia-like introductions of some rituals and practices are much appreciated. Still, the show needs to really step up its game and Rage of the Caliban, considering it was initially a sophomore episode, has sort of dropped the ball on the momentum and plot development, but thankfully only slightly. Next episode should feature back Zed again, and hopefully more on the implications of the Rising Darkness and why Manny the angel wants John Constantine along for the ride in the first place, other than he was a desperation move/last resort. Also, when will we ever get an explanation as to why Chas Chandler keeps coming from the dead or recover quickly after a serious injury? Does he have Wolverine's healing ability, or is the explanation going to be magic-ky? I look forward to that as much as I want more John/Chas moments. Also, I'm still sticking to the theory that Zed is indirectly associated with the Rising Darkness, given her comic book counterpart's background.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

* The show takes an unexpected step backward with this installment which was not meant to be a direct follow-up to Dance Vaudau from last week in the first place, and therefore it also sacrificed the supposedly more urgent momentum that the show must tread upon now, given that it's halfway through its season already. Still, this was a mildly entertaining case-of-the-week

Monday, November 24, 2014

[Constantine] "Danse Vaudou" Review



The previous episode A Feast of Friends based on a Jamie Delano two-part story from the Hellblazer comic book itself  remains the strongest installment of the show so far. Things have definitely picked up for Constantine afterwards, especially with this episode which had a decent case-of-the-week, managing to introduce a new character from DC comics while making the most of the roles its chief characters played throughout the story.  It's not exactly a great follow-up to what A Feast of Friends represented but it was personally a nice break for me, even if what I got is another formulaic plot. Besides, I had a great time with everyone's performance (Matt Ryan IS John Constantine. I'm sorry but Keannu Reeves' film version is a knock-off I only tolerated back in the day because I never thought I was ever going to get a better one). To keep things short and sweet as possible, this will be another bullet-point review post. I think character-driven episodes like A Feast of Friends will be longer since they usually warrant in-depth discussions while fun plot-centered episodes such as Danse Vaudou will get bullets to condense the highlights and my observations in a very accessible format.

But before we head onto the bullets--HOLY SHIT DID JOHN JUST SMOKE? Doth my eyes deceive me? Look at that shit!


John Constantine: Poster boy for "smokin' hot"

I mentioned before that the writers had no plans to show Johnny actually smoke on-screen due to NBC regulations but this episode solidified my hope further that we will be getting Dangerous Habits story arc adapted soon, if not next season. There is, after all, the Rising Darkness plot that must be the major focus for this season right now. Personally, I don't care yet and I hope the writers can fix that up soon. I sincerely believe Zed has something to do with but I will not bore you with comic book canon especially when I'm not even sure if the writers will adapt the entirety of Zed's character story in the show although it was nice that they clued in the viewers that Zed is running away from something and there's a pretty good reason why she changed her name (again, I know why, and I'm just letting this thread unravel by itself so for now I'm not going to talk about it, not when I'm being purposefully vague. I don't want to be that asshole).

So, bullet points, let's go!
  • I thought that this week's plot was entertaining because as oppose to tracking down and expelling one monster/spirit, we're now dealing with three, and their haunting is connected with voodoo magic. Two of these ghosts are killing people but only one is doing it on purpose. The last one is unintentionally sucking the life out of a loved one. I enjoyed how the story unfolded because with multiple ghosts at work, every character has something to contribute to the resolution of the plot. The episode was a good, old-fashioned supernatural investigative work while the rest featured revealing interactions between John and Papa Midnite, and Jim Corrigan and Zed.
  • As far as resolutions go, Danse Vaudou did not shy away from making it personal. We later find out that while Papa Midnite communicated with these ghosts through voodoo magic, it was ultimately the people who grieve them  and couldn't let go who brought them back to the mortal plane. "Guilt" is a resonant theme in Hellblazer's earlier issues because this is John Constantine's greatest burden--he could never forgive himself for what happened to Astra in Newcastle. The secondary characters of this week's case share that same burden, unwilling and afraid to absolve themselves from the demise of their loved ones. After all, a ghost haunting could easily be a metaphor and symbolic representation of the things from our pasts that weigh us down and this episode did a good job showing us the potent power of unresolved issues can have over our lives. From these secondary characters to John and Midnite themselves (and with Zed to a certain extent), everyone is haunted.
  • Interesting factoid: the ghost woman in the surgical mask who murders people using scissors (after asking them if she's "pretty") is actually based from a popularized Japanese urban legend called a "Kuchisake-onna". I remember watching a film adaptation about it called Carved. The show acknowledged the source material by having the character as a former fashion model of mixed race (she has a Japanese name) before she became a ghost.
  • Chas Chandler cooks for John, FINALLY drives that badass yellow cab, gets stabbed and comes back to life, and then holds up pretty well by his second encounter with the scissors-wielding insecure ghost. For fuck's sake, keep him around for the next episodes. I also hope his resurrection ability will be addressed and explained soon. 
  • The best aspect of this episode stems from the fact that EVERYONE IS DOING SOMETHING. While Chas is busy with the scissor-ghost, Zed and Jim Corrigan pick up a teenage hitchhiker ghost and try to put some sense into him to prevent him from further harming people via vehicular accident. On the other end of the spectrum, we have John and Papa Midnite combining their mystical specialties, bickering about each other's techniques, and begrudgingly getting along long enough to put the spirits back to rest. These scenes were well-balanced and filled with revealing character moments, particularly with Jim and Zed, and John and Midnite.
  • ON ZED AND JIM: Both characters know a thing or two about each other that no one else does. Zed saw a portion of Jim's childhood memory and a premonition regarding his eventual death. Meanwhile, Jim knows Zed's background; that she's basically a runaway who changed her name because she's escaping something (it's a pretty good one too, non-comic book viewers). I thought that their small conversation concerning faith and the paranormal is a telling piece of who they are supposed to be and become in the future (Jim Corrigan is the future Spectre, a DC comics character who is the closest thing to a god in DCU; while Zed is...I will say is almost in close association as with what happens with Jim. Uh-oh, we're nearing spoiler territory so let's move on).
  • ON JOHN AND MIDNITE: So far, I think their relationship is the most compelling part of the show. They're both heavily prejudiced against each other and have definitely expressed it here in this episode. Midnite sees John as disrespectful, practicing magic for his own gain, and ignoring fundamental rules of wielding such powers. John sees Midnite's practice as vitally flawed because he uses it for profit which to John is just a gross misrepresentation of the trade (which he upholds should not be used for finance and currency). Both are hypocrites who can never see eye to eye because their own faults are highlighted by the other. It's a great dynamic and I definitely look forward for the next opportunities for a begrudging yet mutually beneficial partnership or another clash.


 
RECOMMENDED: 8/10
 
* With enough excitement, spook, and meaningful character interactions, Danse Vaudou was a decent episode with yet another promising step forward to hopefully more character-based conflicts as we follow the natural progression of the main plot.

Monday, November 17, 2014

[Constantine]: "A Feast of Friends" Review



Two days have passed since I watched last week's installment and I still don't know how to begin or proceed with this review regardless of the fact that I've also prepared in advance an outline of the points that need to be discussed. I'm also VERY DISTRACTED right now with another comic book-related fandom (or, rather, a reality show at AMC about certain comic book proprietors). But I digress. Writing a review for this episode is just as important, considering that I was actually waiting for the show to FINALLY feature a storyline straight from the Hellblazer comics, and it's Jamie Delano's first two issues Hunger and the titular namesake of this episode, A Feast Of Friends. Before viewing this episode, I read the wiki summary first and was absolutely pleased that I was finally getting what I want. They couldn't have chosen a better story to adapt on screen first. It is, after all, the very first issue of the comic book series. Not only that, but it was to me a storyline that delved right into the damaged psyche of John Constantine in relation to the destructive role he often--though unintentionally--inflicts on his relationships. As soon as I finished this story (which ended differently from the show's more positive interpretation), I already have a very unflattering opinion of John from the very start, though he began to intrigue me no less.

I'll be discussing the crucial aspects of the episode in length for this review, but I will feature spoilers from the source material later. I'll indicate which parts so you can decide whether or not you want to read them anyway.

JUNKIES AND DEMONS
 

 
SMALL SPOILERS FROM THE COMICS ENSUE BELOW (nothing that crucial):

Originally, Hunger and A Feast of Friends were set in New York City as oppose to Atlanta. The location was important in the comics because there was a page in the second issue where the hunger demon Mnemoth had an inner monologue pertaining to the many delicacies the city that never sleeps can offer to him. However, the show writers did not make Mnemoth self-aware in the episode (I think the shaman Nommo pointed out that it was a drone) so the change of setting was excusable since the basics of how the hunger demon operates (invading a human body, using it as host as the person it possessed starts to gouge him/herself food then tragically dies) were still intact. Speaking of which, one of my favorite moments in the episode is that drug-induced trance between Constantine and the shaman Nommo which was also from the comics though the set-up was a bit different (again, John actually had to travel to a different country to meet the shaman). I enjoyed the bizarreness of the scene as well as the needed exposition concerning Mnemoth's origin in Sudan, Africa. The adaptation of that flashback vision was superbly executed and definitely delivered what the comic book pages intended to show.

Gary Lester's characterization and role were adapted impressively well too, although most would argue that the actor chosen was too 'handsome' to portray a supposedly destructive junkie who keeps falling off the wagon. In fact, his comic book counterpart is so much more filthy-looking and a lot more neurotic and incomprehensible in manner and speech. Personally, the casting didn't bother me because the writing for the character was acceptable because it all boils down to the ending and its message (which are, I repeat yet again, vastly different from what Jamie Delano intended in the comics).

The exclusion of Papa Midnite was also understandable. In the comics, the second issue introduces Midnite for the first time and his complicated though beneficial relationship with John. In the show, we already had him appear last episode so I guess the writers wanted to give viewers some break before they bring him back again which I thought was a wise decision. I must hint though, however, that Midnite's exclusion in the episode has also something to do with the fact that the message and execution of the final scenes were different which arguably is something you are either okay with as a comic book reader or you can't help but find unsettling, as many of the comments I encountered online from fans of the original story complained about.  It is sort of a massive deal breaker. Now I would consider myself a little bit of both, and I'm going to explain that much later on. I should warn you now that it's going to contain major spoilers.


ALL TWISTED STEEL AND GRIM APPEAL
 

"What was so captivating about John as the titular hero is not because he is a decent human being with noble intentions to save people and fight evil.  He is an extremely flawed person who had committed foul mistakes against his own loved ones and often only survive brutal encounters with the paranormal because of his shrewdness and gift for deception. He's a con artist who lives in the fringes of polite society, occasionally concerned about those who are suffering terrible fates and is willing to help them, but more or less has "callous and cynical" as his default personality. But it's his worst qualities that often make him oddly endearing to his readers because they reflect our own darker inclinations when faced by situations beyond our control. John Constantine is a self-preservationist and it has cost the lives of the people closest to him. It's been a thematic aspect of his character; that anyone who gets close enough to love him will suffer a gruesome fate. And yet, poignantly and shockingly so, over the course of the comics he is revealed, after all, to be a decent human being with noble intentions to save people and fight evil. It just takes readers a while to unearth that beautiful core because the outer layers around it are corroded and have so much grime and blood in them that it's almost impossible to believe that he still is, on all accounts, a character you will root for to win against his demons (including the literal ones) and find happiness...It's his evolution in Hellblazer that made this character so unforgettable and timeless. I only hope that the show writers keep that in mind and devote their time and commitment to deliver that fragile, complex characterization on screen. The stories themselves are only consequential to John Constantine's journey towards becoming the hero that I steadily and eventually fell in love with."

These are the thoughts I've expressed not long ago in my review of the pilot episode concerning the core character of John's quasi-tragic characterization.  I also claimed that I was afraid that he's going to be white washed by the show writers (and, quite frankly, this episode's ending did just that--but I'm getting ahead of myself). The main defining trait for John Constantine is that he's an 'antihero' and this episode has crucially emphasized this role, as it introduces us one of John's old friends, Gary Lester who served as a way for the viewers to understand how most of John's relationships start and end. During a conversation with Zed, Gary enlightened us with stories from the past concerning the way John can often beguile potentials friends (and lovers) with his charm and enigma to join him in his occult practices. Gary even remarks that though a few of these people are genuinely interested in the occult, most of them just want to hang around John because they like him and are enthralled by him. There is definitely 'hero worship' in Gary's part too, especially the way their relationship on screen played out. (I'll get back to this on the last part of this review because my deeper analysis of this relationship falls under the major spoilers territory which include details from the source material from the comics.)

Meanwhile, I was pleased with the fact that Gary Lester also provides a cautionary tale for Zed herself who had been following John around for a couple of episodes now and has yet to realize and see for herself what being near John would entail, especially the consequences that would cost her if she still chooses to stick around. I enjoyed her participation in the episode which was minimal and on hindsight and that for me is sufficient enough because she's not supposed to be the focal point of the story but rather a viewer herself who has to watch the things unfold and react to it. I surely hope that Zed will begin to question her decision to stay with John now, and that we viewers will get to see it in the next episode. John had been adamant from the beginning that he will endanger her life sooner or later. He's not just saying it to be the cool, bad boy. He means it literally and Zed is about to see how much of potential threats will come to past later on.

 
AN IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE
 



The episode does a great job to tie in the Newcastle storyline again which we last heard of from the pilot. Gary Lester was also present during the events concerning the damnation of the girl named Astra which John himself feels responsible for while Gary feels like an accomplice to such a heinous deed. At the end of this episode, he and John  reconciled and had a heartfelt conversation where John absolves him from this guilt, and offers Gary a way to redeem himself by offering his body as a host to contain Mnemoth so the hunger demon will not spread throughout the country. There was no other way, considering the demon is far to powerful for any blessed or marked container, and only a living vessel can imprison it. Gary tearfully yet willingly volunteers himself, seeing it as an opportunity to make up for his past sins since Newcastle.

United one last time, John performs the ritual on Gary in a vey poignant scene where they stood on stage together as if this was all just make-believe. The mood was appropriately Shakespearean and I thought, in a cinematic perspective, that the choice of setting was highly symbolic. The last scene features John sitting beside Gary's bed, holding his hand, as his friend convulses and thrashes around in agony and suffering. The angel Manny makes an appearance and we thankfully did not get any closing voiceover (which can be rather cheesy). Manny just stares down at John, almost pitifully, and then he leans in front of Gary on the bed, and the scene cuts to black. Viewers can only assume that the celestial being was there to either take the spirit away or impart strength for the corporal vessel that inhabits it--or moral support for John. We'll never really know for sure what happens after, but that final scene with the three of them manages to be both unsettling and comforting, depending on how you wish to interpret it.

MAJOR SPOILERS FROM THE COMICS ENSUE BELOW:

Quite a touching display of friendship and sacrifice, you might say, after watching the episode which is probably why you liked it and why a lot reviews online applaud it. This was definitely the strongest episode of Constantine yet, which was why the different interpretation did not bother me though it ultimately warrants a discussion concerning the stark contrast with the original source material and writer Jamie Delano's less uplifting ending but one that is remarkably most shocking and unique, which then defined the rest of his writing for Hellblazer during his run. 

One missing ingredient to this story that the show hasn't used (and I'm not sure if they ever have any plans to) is the presence of John's literal ghosts; souls of dead friends who have been haunting him nonstop. We later find out as the issues progress that these people are part of the crew who assisted him in Newcastle (and something is killing them off). Their role in terrorizing John with guilt is where the A Feast of Friends title comes from, actually.

I was reading a review of this episode from a site when I decided to scroll down to the comments section. A user there explained why this episode bugged him/her and this statement stood out for me because this is definitely the significant change that I was talking about since beginning this review: "The original story wasn't that Gary sacrificed himself for the world, it's that JOHN sacrificed him without consent."

Now here is the clincher from the source material. The next paragraphs you will read below are taken directly from my review and analysis of the second issue itself. I highlighted the statements that are the most important:

The bottom line is that John Constantine doesn't hesitate to make hard decisions and that is what makes him a compelling hero to read. He may have doubts. He may have reservations. But Constantine is always able to look at the big picture and decide for the greater good's sake, knowing inaction will only screw him quick so he better get ahead then. Having said that, the shocker for this issue is the fact that Constantine sacrifices his own friend Gary Lester to ensure the city's safety.
He did so by choosing Gary as the host he will entrap Mnemoth in. He justifies this by saying that Gary is already a lost cause (given his addiction) and that Mnemoth was drawn to him in the first place which meant that binding him back to Gary's body will be easier. Another crucial reason is that he simply does not have time to look for a viable host especially with the restricted time they have to perform the ritual. In all pragmatic sense, Gary is the perfect, if not the only, candidate. Of course, Gary does not volunteer himself wholeheartedly. Constantine had to coax him, using the friendship and trust between them to lure Gary into giving up control of his body. 
We can look at it in two ways. A popular perspective is that Constantine is a sociopathic jerk for not at least attempting to save both his friend and the city. A noble hero would go down fighting for both causes and not make a choice which one should be prioritized over the other. The other perspective which is I think what made the writing for this issue so extraordinarily cut-dry and honest is that Constantine knows he doesn't have the luxury to hit two birds with one stone. It needs to be a choice between one life against a million others. He does not dwell on whether or not he's a bad or good person for letting one his best friends become bait for a demon. He just does it. One notable scene is when four of his friends who passed away (including his ex Emma) started appearing in his bedroom the night before the ritual just so they could haunt him, as if to discourage him from sacrificing Gary Lester. Constantine shuts them out. 
Now I believe that both perspectives are justifiable. Constantine was kind of a dick for doing that to his friend, given that readers were also able to see that he had a history of losing his friends whether through his own actions or because he placed them in harm's way unintentionally. I would like to point out that Constantine did stay with Gary to the bitter end. He spent hours sitting outside Gary's jail cell, listening to him adjust to the pain of the demon inside him. Constantine could have easily called it a day after the ritual and go some place to clear his mind. But no, he chose to drink himself into stupor while listening to Gary's torturous screams for the rest of the night.
*

I've asserted earlier in this review that the show's version did not bother me because it was a redemptive look at the relationship between John and Gary. However, the intention to further portray John as a mercurial man driven by his pragmatism and latent guilt did not come across in the episode because the show writers decided to go the other way and, in a sense, it only seemed to "white-wash" his character. Again, I would not grit my teeth an whine about this anymore because I would like to see how this could play out in the next episode, particularly how it can impact his relationship with Zed which badly needs development and progress at this point. Personally, if they went with the comic book ending, it would have been AWESOME beyond words. It was daring and chilling, and Zed's proclamation, "He loved you and you betrayed him" would have more gravitas if John did trick Gary because Gary was not a willing host in the first place.

He practically violated Gary in the comics by literally allowing a demon to trespass him AND THEN he had his mummified body BRICKED UP in a cellar somewhere in Papa Midnite's establishment. That is really fucked up but a very John Constantine thing to do. That's a crucial device too in his redemption story. We need to portray John as a deeply flawed and often destructive force of nature that is mostly amoral and self-serving in order for us to eventually admire and root for him once he began to show growth and change in the course of the stories. But the show is evolving for the best at this point, and I do hope they continue to apply more stories from the source material. Matt Ryan's performance for this installment was a great pleasure to watch on screen. You're getting there, NBC's Constantine.

On a side note, I decided to upload copies of the first two issues of Hellblazer so any interested party can download them. You're going to need to download a software that reads the .cbr extension file format though. I use ComicRack, personally.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10
 
* Infused with compelling character conflict and dramatic confrontations that serve to emphasized the titular hero's darker inclinations, the show's take on A Feast of Friends, a story about making impossible choices, leaves more room for discussion among fans who either loved or hated the interpretation on screen. Nevertheless, it's also a step towards the right direction.

Monday, November 10, 2014

[Constantine] "The Devil's Vinyl" Review



I almost didn't want to write a review for this week's episode. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. Just like the last one about coal miners and a Romani housewife-witch, I liked this one too and it's even an improvement in comparison. The reason why I don't feel like writing a review is because I'm trying to catch up with posting new ones for New 52 Batman comics books for my other blog, and I feel that this one is getting in my way somehow to accomplish just that this week. But then again, I thought that this wasn't going to be a lengthy review in the first place because there is not a lot to discuss here so I can deliver my insights as succinctly as I could and then get back to more important things. Like Batman. Sorry, Constantine.

As I've said, The Devil's Vinyl was probably a better episode than the last two combined and that's mainly because there is more plot here than The Darkness Beneath--perhaps even too much. Still, once the credits rolled, it stuck its landing well enough. Sure, Constantine is still trying to figure out itself as a serialized paranormal show and I confess that there are a few instances while watching this episode that I keep trying to turn off the Supernatural fan in me so I can focus. That said, there are plenty of things that made this episode work and only a few that held it back and I'm going to summarize them below:

  • This episode has brought us a lot of trivia concerning rituals and magic gizmos: the charmed playing card where the holder can make it appear whatever it wants it to be; the ammonia-soaked left hand of a hanged man with fingertips you can use as a candle to evoke the dead but the price is a few days of your life; and a soul broker who can null the contract by literally digesting the parchment where the deal was signed. The entire episode itself is devoted to an urban legend concerning a vinyl that recorded a demonic voice which wants to be played no matter what so whoever is unfortunate enough to possess it will have no power to resist once he or she hears said fatal recording. It's an entertaining enough plot for a forty-two minute format.
  • We got the first-ever mention of the FIRST OF THE FALLEN and another appearance of the angel Manny just to remind viewers that there is a bigger picture unfolding (a possible main arc?). Obviously, the First of the Fallen is Lucifer. The reason why we use such a title as oppose to just plain ol' Lucifer is because in the Vertigo comics, Neil Gaiman is already using a character named Lucifer Morningstar for The Sandman series so for a different character, but still basically with the same function (minus the existential angst of Gaiman's Morningstar), Hellblazer created its own version of the devil and is deemed First of the Fallen which is pretty rad.
  • Papa Midnite also makes his first appearance and I gotta say he's exactly the baddie this show needs to give Johnny something more tangible and human to challenge him aside from the ghouls and demons he hunts. The viewers quickly understand the dynamics between them and Midnite does look like he'll be a threatening, impeding force to be reckoned with and we might get more action-oriented confrontations between him and Constantine in the next episodes. I'm very hopeful about this development.
  • Tons of plot stuff happened. We got a first arc with Jasmine Fell and her pursuit of the vinyl record in exchange to buy her soul back; the second arc with Papa Midnite wanting the powerful artifact for himself and abandoning John to fend for himself or die; the third arc of Midnite's own goons being under a demonic trance as they started cruising places like a club and a radio station to initiate a murderous rampage via vinyl recording which is both absurd and horrific. It worked because such elements allowed the episode some fast-paced action which should keep your average viewer glued to the screen to see the events unfold and get resolved.
  • My personal favorite scene has to be John Constantine with a earful of Sex Pistols as he runs like a champ inside the radio station to stop the recording from being played on air. Also, his first appearance in the episode where he was naked, covered in blood from head to foot, as he learns a new incantation. Actually, Matt Ryan is still the best thing to happen for this show. That's probably why I keep watching even if the writing and overall tonality for Constantine are still problematic for me. I continue to hope the show gets better. Matt Ryan does look the part and there are aspects to him that do feel very John Constantine but I need more.
  • Chas was underused for the last episode so it's nice for him to have more of a presence here even if he does arrive later on as everything in the plot is about to get resolved. He better get that iconic taxi cab fixed soon because he needs to be driving Johnny around that thing. Supernatural has an Impala. And I got to stop making SPN references in my reviews, dammit. But it's hard because that's usually my go-to show for anything mainstream spooky and horror. I do long for the day that Constantine defines itself as  a different show than SPN because, so far, it has yet to do that. But never give up, viewers. It's only been three episodes. Nowhere to go but up!
  • We need to talk about Zed. When they dropped Liv Aberline as a major character, the writers said it's because they don't want a mentor-student dynamics between their two leads but that's EXACTLY what's happening here. I'm not amused. Though Zed does contribute a significant amount of action and decision for this episode, I just don't like her presence. It's...bland. There was a spark to her in the last episode where she's vaguely coquettish with an off-putting charm that surprises me and John whenever she says or does things--but there was something about her in this episode that annoyed me. As far as I'm concerned she's hardly changed since the second episode so perhaps I'm just getting sick of her already. I'm biased because I know her character from the comics and where she's heading so that's probably why I feel like she's overstaying. But hey, the writers may have other plans for her and I may just need to get over myself and just suck it up and watch more of her next time. By then my feelings may change again and I might start enjoying her.
  • But for the love of god, give me more Chas Chandler! I want his relationship with John to have a more definitive focus than John and Zed's. The physical chemistry of the latter is beginning to suffocate me by now, if I'm going to be perfectly honest. I'm an awful person for asking this but can they please shag already? They're going to. They have to. It serves the plot (oh, yes it does); that is if this show plans to still follow the comics. If it doesn't, whatever. My overall ratings will continue to coast on the same scale then, like for this one.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10

* The episode is a noticeable improvement from the last one. It's  filled with amusing and suspenseful moments to balance out its overcrowded plot elements. A new and exciting character makes his debut appearance and Matt Ryan continues to deliver a solid performance for the titular role in spite of the problems areas of the general writing for the show itself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

[Constantine] "The Darkness Beneath" Review


There were only three things I thought about while watching the second installment for Constantine. First: Matt Ryan has been really entertaining to watch as he interprets John Constantine on screen. Second: the story wasn't scary but it was definitely fun in unexpected ways. And third: I wonder when John and Zed are going to have sex (because it happened with little preamble in the comics; and Zed in the show has a damnable coquettish body language that makes the attraction on her side painfully obvious to watch). On that mildly dreadful note, let's start with this review.

The episode's story will be discussed so spoilers ahead.

THE STORY
 
  
I suppose the case-of-the-week procedural formula would be okay for a supernatural-adventure genre that NBC's Constantine quickly sets up to define itself for this week's episode. And I didn't mind. I revealed in my pilot review that I'm a fan of the CW's Supernatural and I feel that I can associate this more with that show than the actual comic book series it was based from. The earliest Hellblazer issues have a certain eighties feel to it and it's very British which is why I think that it would be unfair to make comparisons between these two at this point in time, seeing as this adaptation does feel more Americanized more or less. The plot for this week's case was not necessarily a complex one. After Liv Aberline scryed many places across the country before she left for good, John decides to make his way on investigating some of them. He starts with a small mining town in Western Pennsylvania that suffers a series of untimely deaths perpetrated by ancient Welsh spirits called Coblynau who were supposedly harmless ghosts of miners who passed away. However, they have been summoned by dark magic to kill. The revelation of who was commanding these spirits was a surprise turn though not far-fetched. By the time I realized that Coblynau are being controlled by someone else, my money was not on the priest character who lost his faith but already on the bereaved housewife (I instantly stored that tidbit about her being of Romani descent in my memory banks and retrieved it by the time John eliminates the priest as the perp).

Like I said, it was an okay enough spook story for an episode that came out around Halloween. We don't get any pressing updates about Manny the angel and whatever evil is on the way (which I believe may be the important main arc of the series). Chas only appears in the opening scenes. We have a new lead female who will be accompanying John in the succeeding episodes. Everything is generally okay and I'm simply reserving my expectations and allowing the show to grow on me given that it's still finding its footing. I'm patient enough to see it through and I don't let my preconceived notions of how I wish the show would b get in the way of me enjoying what it's currently offering. I'm sure we'll get to the better parts soon.

Let's not rush the journey, eh?
 
JOHN CONSTANTINE THE WORKING MAN
 

 
Matt Ryan gets more material to chew on for this episode and it's nice to see him playing the sleuth role quite actively especially for someone who just got out of a mental hospital and is also still reeling from his traumatic experiences from Newcastle. Suffice to say, I thought this was a believable direction enough, considering John is just one of those men who can always push through whatever miserable thing that ails them in the present so they can function for the work ahead of them. That's basic Constantine stuff and Matt Ryan plays it with a glibness and sincerity that I think non-comic book viewers will find themselves warming up to. Now I can't say for sure at this point if he's everything I ever wanted in a John Constantine as portrayed on screen, but I certainly think he's growing on me though for a different set of reasons than his comic-book counterpart. I think he's a lot more affable and honest about his demons than his more cynical version in the comics. There were many instances in his interactions with Zed that he would always make a point to address that being around him is dangerous. He doesn't say it to simply scare away any potential companionship just to be an asshole; he seemed genuinely concerned of the other party's welfare. I couldn't really recall John doing the same in the comics; I don't think he even bothered to warn anyone who attempts to get close to him. He just kindda let it happens until it ultimately blows up in his face. John has the uncanny ability to care a lot and care too little all at once when it comes to relationships with people. It's what makes him very difficult to read and figure out.

Meanwhile, TV-Constantine is more apt to express his apprehension and distrust toward Zed, often directly if not subtly steering her away from him so she could go to the opposite direction and not get into further trouble. He would drop hints that it's in her best interest to stay away. He basically shows her what he does as a job, hoping it will discourage her to associate with him. None of it works. What I like about this characterization is that it shows a softer side to John that doesn't really come out until later on in the comics when he has experienced too much losses and fuck-ups. In a solely viewer perspective, this is a good decision because it will help me like John as the protagonist if he isn't overtly callous and dismissive especially toward someone he clearly has a special connection with. In the perspective of someone who read the source material, I'd take anything that tones down John's grimness (which I acknowledge is a contradiction to what I said so explicitly in my pilot review). I suppose I don't mind the lighter hues in John's characterization in this show so far. It makes him endearing considering that as much as he tries to keep Zed in a distance, there's also this unmistakable hopefulness on his part that she does stick around which just validates how lonely he is and in need of company.
 
THE CHICA BONITA AND THE MAN IN HER DREAMS
 

 
I have nothing particularly definitive to say about Zed Martin for now nor do I have a strong opinion for or against Angélica Celaya's acting chops. I thought she was moderately pleasant. I liked that sultry vibe she has going on. I didn't think she was bad for the role nor was she amazing for it yet. I want to know more of her "clairsentience" and how it works. It seems to be more potent than Liv Aberline's because Zed can channel it more fiercely and with more precision without the use of any instrument  like a magic necklace. She intrigues me in that sense.

There is obvious physical chemistry between her and Matt Ryan too which I quite liked, considering that John and Zed will eventually hook up. I'm sure that the show will find some ways to make that eventual relationship more romantically-inclined as oppose to purely visceral and sexual which was how I've always seen it in the comics. I don't think there was anything wrong about the quick way John and Zed got it on in the comics, honestly, because that does fairly happen in real life anyway. It didn't diminish Zed's importance as a character (though, personally, she got better and more interesting only after she and John were no longer a thing). But I have a strong feeling based on how much the writers talked about Zed that they want her character to have a more nuanced relationship with John which could only mean that there's going to be some unresolved sexual tension interplay for a while, as well as some old-fashioned "will they, won't they" in the mix.

Again, I'm not opposed to it if it's handled with taste, and as long as the stories/cases in the next episodes will be more interesting, and that their characters will have plenty of action to do as they go about hunting and purging evil together. I honestly want more character development from John than from Zed though as a woman I would certainly hope that a female lead like Zed will have a more pronounced presence and not just act as a sidekick to the male protagonist. I read in an interview somewhere that the writers aspire to write Zed in equal terms with John where she would challenge him in a lot of ways. If that is the case, then I hope to see that relationship unfold. As I've stated early on, I'm not going to be critical of this show for now because it's only been two episodes. I'm giving this a chance to surprise me. In the meantime, my ratings will remain unchanged like for the pilot episode because I want to set a bar and so far Constantine has yet to prove itself above it. But I'm counting on it. We should all hope for the best the next time around.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

* The episode is spooky enough to sustain interest. It also introduces a promising female presence who will hopefully contribute a lot to the upcoming stories. Matt Ryan excels in the role though the characterization for the titular hero should be expected to get better in the long run.

Monday, October 27, 2014

[Constantine] "Non Est Asylum" Review


I watched the leaked episode of Constantine around mid-July before I even started my Hellblazer comics diet on August. I'm not going to lie; seeing someone who actually looked the part play this well-loved charismatic cynical Brit occultist got me in the ovaries. I have the complete 300 issues of Hellblazer but never really had the energy to read them chronologically (shamefully enough, I tend to read the fairly recent ones just to keep up with what was current). But after the show's pilot, I decided that it's about time I read one of Vertigo's classic in the right order and treat it with the respect that it deserves.

Fifty issues read and reviewed here in this blog later, and I only had to wait three weeks before the official pilot "Non Est Asylum" aired on Friday, Oct 24th. In comparing the leaked episode from the official one, I must note that they only changed one particular scene and added two scenes at the end (if you follow the news, you'd know why this was done. I'd explain that later on in this review). Reading Jamie Delano and some of Garth Ennis in the first fifty issues of the series and then re-watching this finalized pilot episode have definitely affected my overall opinion and appreciation for the adaptation. It is worth mentioning that Constantine has been brought to the silver screen once, starring Keannu Reeves, and that was by far a polarizing film for fans. I would consider myself belonging to the faction that didn't exactly hate it. I was actually fine with that movie (though Shia Labeouf as Chas is an unforgivable miscast, I daresay). I was more than open-minded to have another TV show based on a comic character who is not a superhero this time, and one who is immensely scintillating at that.

To be frank, when I watched the leaked pilot for the first time, I was enthralled and also quick to overlook some awkward moments in the pacing and story itself. Now that I know enough of the source material, re-watching it again has made me slightly anxious and more inclined to examine the same things I dismissed in the first viewing. That's not to say I still didn't enjoy it, but my enjoyment was definitely not the same as before. Look, I'm hardly a purist. I can always separate the original canon from the adaptation on screen (hell, as a long-time Holmesian, I've gotten used to the alterations that every Sherlock Holmes-based movie or TV show have done) so I would still consider myself lenient in reviewing this pilot episode. However, there's going to be a discussion about the characterization of TV Constantine and the comic book one later.

This review will only be a SPOILER for you if you haven't seen the episode. If you have no intention to read the comic book series yourself yet also interested to know canon background, this review will hopefully enlighten you enough.

CANON TIMELINE: NEWCASTLE AFTERMATH


The opening scenes of the pilot featured John Constantine' voluntary submission to the Ravenscar psychiatric facility. He allows himself to undergo electroshock therapy. He talks to one of the doctors about why he was there in the first place. We get a creepy sequence featuring a possessed patient whom John subsequently exorcised. Said possessed patient left a cryptic writing on the wall which John easily decoded. And then we proceed to  the character Liv Aberline's first appearance where we immediately witness that her life is in peril (supernatural forces want her dead) and only John can prevent it as long as she'd trust him. So far, so good. The pacing wasted no time to introduce its lead (and his baggage), the damsel to be rescued and the chief conflict this episode will revolve on. As a premise, it was intriguing to watch unfold, but re-examining these elements would reveal that it's yet another typical set-up for any horror-based flick. Not that the formula doesn't work, it's just not fresh enough to hold up to its comic book counterpart.

The most invigorating aspect about Hellblazer and John Constantine as its central figure is that it defies the readers' expectations and has this uncanny ability to subvert horror tropes. The opening scene of the pilot did its best to capture foreboding and chilling elements that would keep the viewers at the edge of their seat but the pacing was also abrupt, eager to hurry along to get the story told without paying more attention to the best way it should be delivered. I'm afraid I'm going to have to raise my first complaint about how the show writers handled one of the most crucial plots of Hellblazer which was composed of the events in Newcastle and Ravenscar. In the show, the viewers became immediately privy of John's nervous breakdown and the specific details that caused it (the young girl Astra Logue whose soul he condemned to hell, and the demon who claimed her). Meanwhile, it took ten issues to get to the Newcastle storyline in the comics (and the build-up was delicious; it made me keep reading). When readers finally discovered what happened in Newcastle, it was so shocking and depressing, and it certainly painted John Constantine both in a repulsive and sympathetic light.

Unfortunately, viewers will never get to experience that dread. I'm sure we'll get an episode flashback where we actually get to see the Newcastle event play out, but it wouldn't be as surprising anymore. This is problematic because what happened in Newcastle is a big fucking deal for the way John turned out. It's the kind of past that has a long reach and has tormented John so deeply that he eventually lost his mind and had to commit himself to a mental institution. Ravenscar was treated with the same casual abruptness as Newcastle in this pilot. It's as if the show writers don't recognize why these two places (and the events that happened in them) are significant enough to warrant a build-up leading to their revelations. It also undercuts the complexity of John Constantine's struggles with his inner demons and the live demons he had to face (I have plenty to say about his characterization in the later part of this review so let's put a pin on this for now).


Look, I can understand the need to inform the viewers with the essentials but this is practically spoon-feeding them the climactic revelations which will only lessen their impact once we reach the episodes that would explore them. The blatant name-dropping of 'Newcastle' could prove interesting to a casual viewer but for someone who has read the comics, it's coming off tacky and heavy-handed. I wonder if this is because of the network this series is being broadcasted in that the show writers decided to cut down the meaningful exposition and narrative development that Newcastle and Ravenscar have to be told with. If this was HBO or Showtime, perhaps they'd have more creative freedom and wouldn't shoot their bullets far too early in the game. Perhaps NBC preferred a pilot that's more action-oriented that important plot points get told in the dialogue of the characters instead to save time, because what matters is that they keep the casual viewers interested with the special effects, jump-scares and gore that will entertain them.

Personally, if any of you want a formulaic paranormal adventure show then Hellblazer is not the material for that. The CW's Supernatural has claimed that demographic already but I speak as a fan of that show as well, and I can honestly say that it thrives more when their writers prioritize character-driven stories. Hellblazer is also a type of comic book series that works better when characters and their decisions (both noble and damaging) affect the plot instead of the other way around. John Constantine's existential angst and cases of cosmic horror are the compelling things I've devoured in reading the issues. Knowing this, I guess I'm just going to have to adjust my expectations for the NBC show.

I think the biggest drawback of the pilot was more or less caused by a certain young lady who didn't help propel the story forward. And this is why she was dropped as a recurring main character which was unfortunate because actress Lucy Griffiths would have been wonderful to watch in this show. Let's discuss that now.


PLOT OVERVIEW: LIV ABERLINE

 
The entire premise of the episode suffered mostly because of the original character that the show writers introduced in the story: Liv Aberline. I wouldn't have minded OCs if they were compelling enough to watch but Aberline fell short in many ways. Things are mostly happening to her and she has no control over them. She's haplessly going through the motions in a very inconsistent way too. One moment she's compliant and the next she's flippant. This happens a few more times for the rest of the episode. I was almost dizzy after it's all over. I don't think I liked or enjoyed her while watching the pilot and since the story mostly revolved around her, I think it's not far-fetched to say that she's definitely the major reason why the episode had a hollowness to it. This is more or less the fault of the writers, and they recognized that after a screen test at Comic Con. Griffiths wasn't given anything substantial about her role to put her teeth on so her performance also suffered and she was unable to deliver a believable and sympathetic protagonist who could join John Constantine and have adventures with. Initially, this was the plan. In the leaked episode, we see her taking initiative (FINALLY) and ready to use her psychic abilities to help solve a pattern of strange murders across the country.

When the writers decided to drop her character altogether, that scene was changed into Chas informing John about Liv's departure and the fact that she can't handle any of this supernatural nonsense. I can't say I was bothered with this. Liv Aberline just didn't hold up on her own and the revised ending of her character arc was probably the most believable aspect about her. Besides, that new scene also gave us a chance to see the interplay between Chas and John. Chas is definitely a crucial character since he's basically John's best friend (and frequent chauffeur) who knows the dangerous life that John lives and doesn't judge. I hope to see the two of them interact more as the series progresses.

I'm not sure I even want to touch the storyline about Manny the angel. I don't know enough about it (I believe this is also a show-based plotline) so I'll just let that play out in the next episodes and take it from there when I can discuss it in detail.


SUPPORTING CAST: Chas Chandler, Ritchie Simpson, Zed Martin

 
 
Chas Chandler, as I've mentioned above, is one of the few constant people in John's life who has never abandoned him especially in his time of need. This is a big deal if you know how the comics portrayed John's personal relationships with people--they're not flattering or permanent, that much I can tell you. The show did provide snippets of John's personality and how he acts in his relationships in his dialogue exchange with Manny the angel, and with that bespectacled gentleman with a curious Southern accent (Ritchie Simpson, I believe, given that he was there in Newcastle as he pointed out quite sharply during his scene with John). One of the most engrossing yet also a very upsetting aspect of John's characterization earlier in the comics is that he is, by black-and-white definition, a terrible friend who uses and then gets his loved ones KILLED indirectly or often because he's just far too self-absorbed with his bullshit to notice (POINT: This is where the events in Newscatle play up that integral part of his character). So it's a goddamn miracle and accomplishment for Chas to survive someone like John who has this nasty habit of outliving his friends. I certainly wish the show would touch upon that delicate part of his characterization--although I'm not sure if a network like NBC would allow their leading man to be painted in darker hues. But, and I cannot stress this enough, HE HAS TO BE RENDERED IN SUCH DREADFUL COLORS.

That's just who he is; his flaws and mistakes are the foundation that Hellblazer was established upon. John Constantine is, after all, a quintessential ANTI-HERO whose selfishness and reckless decisions would drive the stories he is a part of in exciting and often harrowing directions and heights.

Other characters I can't wait to see are Papa Midnite, Jim Corrigan/The Spectre (who had been casted from what I've read online) and, of course, Zed Martin, the mysterious woman at the end of the pilot episode who has an enormous collection of John Constantine sketches. I'm curious as to how they will portray her. She's one of John's prominent girlfriends (but their relationship is secondary to her plot relevance in the later issues, actually). From what I can understand, the writers decided to replace Liv Aberline because they don't want a mentor-student angle for her and John. They claimed that they want a woman of equal to test and challenge John (are they sure they're not talking about Kit Ryan? Because she's the girlfriend who fits that bill, and hardly Zed). But we shall see. I do think Zed is a fascinating character but only after her story arc with John ended. But I won't talk about that here. That would be too much spoilers.


CHARACTERIZATION: WHITE-WASHED TO BE MORE ACCESSIBLE?

 
 
Matt Ryan looks so good for the part; all trench-coated arrogance indeed! He's also a newcomer in the mainstream acting scene and what a lucky bloke to land such an influential role. I can only hope and pray for the best things to come from his casting especially since I think he nailed the presence and attitude the entire time he was on screen, including the moments he showed surprising vulnerability. It was exactly what I imagined a John Constantine driven to his limits would be like. As problematic as the pilot episode had been,  Matt Ryan's charming performance made everything pleasantly bearable. I think his enigmatic past, witticisms and connection with the occult are enough qualities to keep viewers invested enough to watch what happens to him in the next episode. I like Matt Ryan for the role a lot, but given the amount of criticisms I had in the earlier part of this review pertaining to the show writers' narrative decisions, I think I should also express my fears and anxiety for how they will possibly handle John Constantine on screen.

In the first fifteen issues or so of Hellblazer, what was so captivating about John as the titular hero is not because he is a decent human being with noble intentions to save people and fight evil. He's not Superman or Batman. He is an extremely flawed person who had committed foul mistakes against his own loved ones and often only survive brutal encounters with the paranormal because of his shrewdness and gift for deception. He's a con artist who lives in the fringes of polite society, occasionally concerned about those who are suffering terrible fates and is willing to help them, but more or less has "callous and cynical" as his default personality. But it's his worst qualities that often make him oddly endearing to his readers because they reflect our own darker inclinations when faced by situations beyond our control. John Constantine is a self-preservationist and it has cost the lives of the people closest to him. It's been a thematic aspect of his character; that anyone who gets close enough to love him will suffer a gruesome fate. And yet, poignantly and shockingly so, over the course of the comics he is revealed, after all, to be a decent human being with noble intentions to save people and fight evil. It just takes readers a while to unearth that beautiful core because the outer layers around it are corroded and have so much grime and blood in them that it's almost impossible to believe that he still is, on all accounts, a character you will root for to win against his demons (including the literal ones) and find happiness.

It's his evolution in Hellblazer that made this character so unforgettable and timeless. I only hope that the show writers keep that in mind and devote their time and commitment to deliver that fragile, complex characterization on screen. The stories themselves are only consequential to John Constantine's journey towards becoming the hero that I steadily and eventually fell in love with. I'm fearful that there will be some white-washing aspects to his character on TV. They did that with Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones because the grittier and morally ambiguous aspects of that character may alienate viewers who are so used to their heroes always doing the right thing no matter what. It's time to challenge people with their preconceived notions of morality. Nothing is absolute and definitive in the world, including the world of fiction, and most especially when it comes to what is good and what is evil. We all live in shades of gray and the inexplicable and absurd, and Hellblazer is a comic book series that is devoted to that aspect of living, and I certainly hope that Constantine will find its own voice while staying true to its source material's message and legacy.

THE EXCLUSIONS AND THEIR EFFECTS:

The two essential traits of John Constantine that might not make it on the adaptation, and hence what got people talking and complaining online are his chain-smoking and bisexuality.

I'm actually more concerned about the former because I consider the Dangerous Habits story arc one of the best stories that Hellblazer produced, and that mostly dwelled on Constantine's cancerous bad habit. I was appeased though when I read THIS ARTICLE where it was stated that the actual smoking will not be shown but it would still be in effect off-camera. This is due to network regulations, of course, which is understandable, as long as it's still established during the season that John is indeed a smoker. As for his bisexuality, THIS ARTICLE was a well-argued one concerning 'the erasure of bisexuality in pop culture' and I suggest you read it because I quite agree with some of its points. Personally, I have no strong qualms if John Constantine is not depicted as bisexual unlike a lot of people who have voiced how offended they are about this decision. I'm gender queer myself, and I have intimately related to John in so many ways that it has been really painful to read him in the comics (as shown in my reviews for each issue). But my connection with him has nothing to do with the fact that we're both bisexual. I'm at odds with this issue for now. From what I can see, Constantine always had more serious relationships with women. There was only one mention of the 'odd boyfriend' in one story and that was basically it.

No writer in the series (okay, there was Brian Azzarello but that was a universally agreed on 'crap' story) has taken time to explore that offhanded comment, which for me is a disappointment because John is such a complex man with unconventional values and philosophies so I won't be surprised if he is bisexual. I do think that the writers have driven themselves into a corner by publicly denouncing that possibility for their characterization of John Constantine because there really is no way of seeing that decision as a close-minded action that further contributes to the lack of gay or bisexual protagonists in a TV show. Only Captain Jack Harkness (John Borrowman) of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood is someone we can consider as the first successful queer hero but the show is obscure at best, known only to Whovians and other sci-fi geeks, and not exactly mainstream. I'm not saying that Constantine should aspire for that because there are truly more important things the show should focus on getting right than defining their lead's sexuality but my concern lies primarily on why they have to be immediately dismissive of the possibility of exploring bisexuality in John's character. I sure hope they would change their minds and realize that John is already an interesting and multi-dimensional character in the comics who can tantalize the readers and fans no matter what crazy and depressing story he's written in. I personally would find it refreshing to see someone of my gender identity and sexual preference be portrayed in a TV show positively and not merely serve as a gimmick to bait ratings during sweeps week or something.

Besides, there are so many fun possibilities to work that angle in the show. His attraction towards the same sex can be implied as the season progresses.  We could have him on scenes with other male characters that are ambiguous enough for speculation. This makes me think of the way the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto in X-Men: First Class as played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively were depicted in the movie. Their relationship was homoerotic but it was still respectful of the characters and their importance to each other as friends and comrades. It doesn't need to be tawdry or outright sexual which I believe is the misconception when it comes to writing LGBT characters in a show dominated by heterosexuals. If the writers do change their minds and figure out a way to demonstrate John in that certain light which would even increase how mesmerizing he is as a character, then that would be swell. I won't count on it, though. Sadly, pop culture has a long way to go in embracing queer influence and presence.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

* The pilot had showcased the crucial plot points that the entire season will focus on for the next episodes, but the delivery of certain elements needs work. The titular character must prove himself compelling and sympathetic enough to warrant sustained attention both from the viewers and comic book fans who expect a lot more from this adaptation than the last one.