In the early 2000s, the comic-book movie renaissance was still a few years away. Enter Constantine, a movie produced by Akiva Goldsman, directed by Francis Lawrence, and starring Keanau Reeves. Ostensibly a horror-action film, the character Reeves played is based on John Constantine from Swamp Thing and the Hellblazer comics. Upon its release, fans of comics didn’t know how to react. Constantine is a more defined character than some others, specifically in that he’s a British punk rocker who wears a white shirt, red tie, and tan trench coat who dabbles in the dark arts. This is not what Constantine gave fans, but the 15th anniversary panel from Comic-Con at Home celebrates what it did give them. Goldsman, Reeves, and Lawrence all showed up to talk about this movie that they still clearly love.
I first watched this film while deployed to Iraq with the US Army. Despite my affection for the comic book version of the character, I enjoyed it immensely. As always, my attitude is that I appreciate the attempt to adapt a comic book story into live-action. This wasn’t “my” John Constantine, but it was still a good movie about a John Constantine. Now, thanks to the Arrowverse, we’ve gotten a comics accurate Constantine from Matt Ryan on his canceled-too-soon series, in DC animated movies, and Legends of Tomorrow. Thus, many fans of the Hellblazer went back to this film with fresh eyes.
Over the past 15 years, fans began to see the film for what it is, rather than judging it for what it isn’t. The result is that we have a beautiful, frightening, and thrilling story about angels, demons, and sardonic sorcerer who gets the best of all of them.
The Best Parts of the Constantine 15th Anniversary Panel from Comic-Con at Home
Image via screengrab
Honestly, the best thing about this panel is that it gives the people more of what they love, specifically Keanu Reeves being a joy to watch. One some of these Comic-Con at Home panels, you can tell some stars don’t really want to be there. However, Keanu is easily the most excited person in the chat, speaking passionately, jumping up and down, and tossing out details only someone who loved what he did would remember. Seriously, if you can, be as excited about what you do every day as Keanu is about Constantine.
During the conversation, the actor recounted with glee moments from the filming, remembering the names of crew members that even the director didn’t. Even though this was a goofy comic book monster movie (how Warner Bros. saw it, at least), Keanu and the rest of them took it very seriously. Also, the image above shows the moment that Lawrence showed the camera “the Holy Shotgun” from the movie, to which Keanu threw his hands up in delight.
Constantine IS a PG-13 Movie, but They ‘Got Screwed’ by the MPAA
Image via Warner Bros.
One of the other defining things about the Constantine character in the comics is that he was part of the (now defunct) Vertigo imprint. Essentially, these were “rated-R” comic books with cursing, nudity, and other themes parents hate for kids to read about. Yet, due to a directive from Warner Bros., Lawrence was told to make the film a PG-13 film, because in 2005 R-rated movies didn’t make $1 billion. Yet, the film was rated R when it hit theaters.
Moderator Steven Weintraub asked if they tried to fight the rating. Goldsman and Lawrence said they did but noted that it was a lost cause. The former said that after about ten minutes of watching the film, the MPAA rated it a hard “R.” Lawrence followed a meticulous list for how to avoid an R-rating, involving violence, number of times they could say “f*ck,” and other suggestions. The MPAA however, gave it the R rating for “tone” and an “overwhelming sense of dread.” Neither of those things were on the list, but honestly, they should have put that quote on the poster. Lawrence lamented this, saying that if they knew they were going to be rated R no matter what, he’d have really “went for it” in terms of what they offered fans.
What About a Sequel?
Image via Warner Bros.
The filmmakers said that while there was some talk of a sequel, it came more from them than Warner Bros. Constantine was a success when it debuted, especially bolstered by DVD sales. However, because of the film’s cost and R-rating, Warner Bros. decided not to go forward with a new movie. The post-credits scene (not a common thing with comic book movies at the time) revealed that Shia LeBoeuf’s Chas had become an angel, something a sequel would have expanded upon.
Goldsman also briefly mentioned a pitch for a sequel story that involved Constantine waking up in a cell with a prisoner who, ultimately, would have turned out to be Jesus Christ. Goldsman also said that they wanted to make a sequel that leaned into the hard R rating, going over the top with violence, horror, and probably some old-fashioned naked fun. Yet, given that this film has aged well, a sequel may still be possible. (Rotten Tomatoes even apologized to the film for its low critical score.) “I think we’d probably make it tomorrow,” Goldsman said. Yet, he said the film was “a feathered fish,” meaning it was so odd that the studio couldn’t see a future for it.
The Constantine 15th Anniversary Panel from Comic-Con at Home Is One of the Most Fun From the Event
Image via Warner Bros.
The Comic-Con at Home experiment has been strange, but the Constantine 15th Anniversary panel is one of the best they’ve done. Many of these panels suffer from the lack of audience or fan energy (which, I think, also impairs those on the panel who respond to it). Yet, the trio of folks involved in this panel love this movie so much that their exuberance bleeds through the video. (And a bleeding computer screen sounds like Constantine kind of problem, to be honest). Unlike many retrospective panels, which are for people already fans of the movie, this works as marketing for those who’ve not seen it.
At the time, some comics fans (including your humble correspondent) were disappointed that they changed the character so much. However, now that we’ve gotten a comics accurate Constantine (and another is likely on the way), we can better appreciate the Keanu Reeves version of the character. This film made a lot of big swings, looks incredible, and every supporting castmember delivered an awards-worthy performance.
Watch the full panel below:
What do you think of the 15th anniversary Constantine panel from Comic-Con at Home? Share your thoughts about the movie in the comments below.
Featured image via Warner Bros.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.