I discovered Constantine/Hellblazer around the time I read Sandman and Preacher in the mid-90’s, and while my understanding of Preacher has changed a lot (short version: I don’t like it), my love for Sandman and Hellblazer is still on par. The Constantine movie from 2005 was more «inspired by» the comic than a true adaptation, and although not a half-bad action flick (a movie featuring Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare couldn’t be bad even if it tried) it was not what most fans of the comic wanted. The director Francis Lawrence and his team had gotten most of the mythology and characters wrong. Constantine had thus proved «unfilmable», so expectations weren’t high when a TV-series based on the comics was announced.
Surprisingly though the TV-show Constantine is not all bad. The first couple of episodes feels fumbled and admittedly abysmal (see what I did there? not the right kind of abysmal though…). Some of the later episodes also fell through for me, but overall the creators got equal amounts right and wrong. There are even some strong names on the credit list on IMDb. The writers Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, and Alan Moore (?) are involved somehow and directors Neil Marshall Mary Harron have previously done really cool things. The ongoing story and red thread follows the war between heaven and hell and that is good. Some of the side characters are excellent, especially the angel Manny and the voodoo priest Papa Midnite are interesting and sufficiently ambivalent. Matt Ryan, who plays John Constantine, is merely ok, but they had the decency at least to give the part to a British actor. And he is chain smoking like a champ!
My main gripe with the series is that it is terribly uneven, and some of the episodes would work better as an episode of Supernatural or even X-files. It could earn a few extra points if it tried to play more on the horror and hopelessness of the source material. I don’t care much for Constantine’s rather flat and unoriginal sidekicks either, but I understand how difficult it would be to make the series work with Constantine as the solitary, haunted and tortured soul he really is. That being said, some of the new and praised series like Breaking Bad and House of Cards use this theme quite effectively. Constantine is another beast though. It is about strange and weird magics, the occult coupled with modernity, new age magic at its most eccentric. It is therefor hilarious to watch Constantine chew on a little girl’s hair sampled from her hair brush while electrocuting himself to try to pinpoint her location. Luckily there are plenty of these weird and amusing scenes in the new Constantine, and together with the main plot and battle against the Brujeria it makes the series worth your time. It unfolds its main plot and threat nicely and the extremely surprising and welcome twist at the end of the last episode makes me join the clamor for a second season.