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.

* 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.


* 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.


* 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