Fans of the iconic comic Hellblazer were happy to hear the character was coming to live-action in the early 2000s. However, Constantine starring Keanu Reeves was not what they expected. Now over a decade later, Reeves, writer Akiva Goldsman and director Francis Lawrence are reuniting for a sequel. But all due respect to Keanu, Constantine works best in a serial form like comics and TV.
The renaissance for Constantine began in 2020 when Reeves, Goldsman and Lawrence reunited for a Comic-Con panel to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the film. Reeves was especially effusive about the movie and voiced that he’d love to do another one. With the success of the John Wick franchise, he’s kind of actor who can greenlight a film merely saying something like that. It’s great that the trio get a second chance and if you separate the movie from the comic character, he’s as great a character as Reeves ever played. Yet it’s not really John Constantine — and not because Reeves isn’t British, blond nor looking like an old, worn-down Sting. It’s because Constantine works best in a series, where the character has time and space to be a right old bastard.
Reeves’ hero was intense, a little cold and not the nicest guy. In the comics, Constantine is all of these things, but he’s also a little selfish and routinely does things to screw over his friends and allies. A crucial part of what makes Constantine such a beloved character is how little audiences actually trust him. Matt Ryan has played Constantine in animation and three live-action TV series, including his own short-lived run on NBC. While he wasn’t perfectly comics-accurate, Ryan’s Constantine was more like the comics — beyond his blond hair and accent. He started out as this mysterious and untrustworthy figure, ultimately sacrificing himself for the world and, more importantly, his fellow Legends of Tomorrow.
While Constantine is no longer coming to HBO Max, another TV show also highlights how Constantines work better on the small screen. The Sandman‘s Johanna Constantine doesn’t get a full arc but hers starts where all the best Constantine stories do. She’s out here doing her mage thing, but also leaving destroyed people in her wake. Unfortunately for The Sandman Season 2, Constantine is not a character who pops up often in Morpheus’ story. Still, she is very like the comics’ version in that she is chiefly out for herself and only just beginning to understand the reckoning headed her way for how she’s lived her life.
Every adaptation of a character should be unique and able to stand on its own. Reeves’ version of the character in Constantine is a good one — made even better now that DC Comics fans know it’s not the only one they get. Whereas the Alan Moore-created character is popular because of how shady he is, Reeves’ incarnation is popular because who can dislike any role played by the man who brought Ted “Theodore” Logan to life. But looking at the things that make John Constantine capture the imagination of fans, a serial story is the best way to represent that full picture.
Luckily, geeks live in an age of plenty where multiple versions of favorite characters exist in live-action. Perhaps as the DC movies shift toward the multiverse, fans can get all of their Constantines in a single place. Even if that doesn’t happen, the many versions of Constantine on TV and in film show how much depth the Hellblazer has.
Constantine 2 is still a long way off, but catch the latest live-action Constantine in The Sandman, now streaming on Netflix.