Constantine: City of Demons: The Movie
The newest original DC universe animated movie is a kind of followup to Justice League Dark, since it stars John Constantine and explores magic and demons, but Constantine: City of Demons: The Movie is probably better seen as a prequel or even an origin story. There are no superheroes here, just a lot of demons and gore.
(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free Blu-ray review copy. My opinions are mine. Constantine was created by, according to the credits, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Jamie Delano & John Ridgway.)
I’ve previously posted the details of the plot, voice cast, and trailer. Fans will be happy to know that the character continues to be voiced by Matt Ryan, who first brought Constantine to life in the TV show and is currently appearing in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
As with Vixen and The Ray, this movie greatly expands on what was originally a CW Seed animated series. I could figure that out if I thought about it, since the events of the movie were rather episodic, but it hangs together well as a film where a lot happens. There are plenty of nicely creepy effects that couldn’t easily be done elsewhere (either comics or live-action), as when John is attacked by an army of tiny demonic versions of himself, which resemble zombie monkeys in little trenchcoats.
Similar to many of the Constantine stories we’ve seen in various media, there’s a possessed little girl Constantine has to try to save. It’s his buddy’s daughter, and the two head to LA to find the demon responsible. I found the comments woven through about the City of Angels a tad predictable, but I’m not surprised that a bunch of West Coasters thought that was a better location than England. One particularly gross section features a distinctly Hollywood gateway to a set of nasty tortures. The demons throw humans through a magical screen that puts their victims into silent movies with title cards that say “scream” a lot.
The role Zatanna might have played, helping diagnose the girl’s problem, is now filled by the “Nightmare Nurse”, one of Constantine’s former flames in a low-cut costume that looks like a stewardess in a stag film. She’s also known as Asa the Healer (voiced by Laura Bailey) and was created in comics by Philip Tan and J.M. DeMatteis, who also wrote this movie.
Although I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the character, I’ve seen enough stories to find much of this material familiar, as when everyone taunts Constantine with referencing “Newcastle”. The different kinds of monsters were the only fresh element, until we get to the end. Constantine has been doing deals with demons, trying to pit them against each other. In the final section, there are several surprising twists and a touching ending that emphasizes the cost of magic. And I liked the quote, “For a guy who lies so much, you tell the truth at the worst bloody times.”
The movie is distinctly R-rated, for “bloody violence/gore, disturbing images, and some sexual content”. I would call some of the images disgusting. Constantine is also seen smoking, which was a no-no elsewhere. The character I thought was Deadman, taking over people’s bodies, was instead the “Queen of Angels”, the city made flesh as a hot woman. Because that’s the kind of movie this is, but it might as well take advantage of that R rating.
I don’t know that I needed to see this, but it did leave me with new appreciation for the character’s struggles. If you’re squeamish, as I am, it’s possible to get most of the meaning through listening to the film instead of watching all the blood and dismemberment.
There are a couple of extras, a nice touch. “The Sorcerer’s Occultist: Understanding John Constantine” (13 1/2 minutes) is about his history, with a bunch of older white guys talking about his unique status as a blue-collar magician and a trickster. One is an “occult expert”; the others are producers Butch Lukic, David Goyer, and director Doug Murphy.
There’s also 21 minutes of the 2018 WonderCon Panel about the movie with Ryan, DeMatteis, and Peter Giradi, who is the “executive vice-president of Blue Ribbon Content” (which is a Warner division to create original programing for alternative venues, like the “digital marketplace”). I enjoyed the substantial Q&A section put together from audience questions.