Empire (UK), July 24, 2004

Keanu Reeves Talks Constantine

Empire at Comic-Con: Day 2

Friday marked the day that the big studios really unleashed their annual onslaught on the San Diego Comic-Con. There was a Batman Begins presentation, with input from David Goyer and Cillian Murphy. There was a panel for The Incredibles, with director Brad Bird presenting footage of Pixar’s latest masterpiece-in-waiting.

Goyer then showed up again, this time with the endlessly charming and frankly endlessly attractive Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds in tow, to plug Blade: Trinity, while Blade II director Guillermo Del Toro was around to present details of the Hellboy DVD.

So who would have guessed that one of the previously most-maligned comic book adaptations around would steal the show? For Keanu Reeves popped into San Diego yesterday to plug his latest flick, Constantine, in which he plays a world-weary and amoral mage who must thwart a demonic plan to destroy mankindEwhile trying to figure out a way to defeat his own terminal lung cancer.

So far the project has been much-maligned by fans of Hellblazer, the comic upon which the $100 million movie is based. Mainly because the title character, John Constantine, is British and blond. Reeves is neither of those things. On such small details can fanboys turn, the thinking being 'If they can't even get that right, there's no telling what damage can be caused'

Well, it was damage limitation time today, as Reeves, director Francis Lawrence and co-star Djimon Hounsou brought with them an astonishing 17 minutes of footage. And boy, did that damage limitation work.

The length of the montage of clips from the movie indicated a refreshing confidence in the movie and so it proved. When the lights had been brought back up in Hall H at the San Diego Conference Centre, the mood had changed from palpable scepticism to unalloyed optimism. Of course, we're yet to see the remaining hundred minutes or so, but right now Constantine's looking pretty damned good.

Without going too far into spoiler territory, the footage included: one of the best 'out of the blue' car accidents committed to film; Tilda Swinton as an androgynous Archangel Gabriel, sporting a lovely pair of wings; a fresh and feverish depiction of Hell, through which Constantine takes a small detour; several unnerving sudden demon attacks; an exorcism more terrifying than anything hinted at in the Exorcist: The Beginning trailer (which also played at the Warner Bros. presentation); and a fun sequence in which Constantine takes out a roomful of demons armed with a crucifix gun and a sprinkler system filled with holy water.

Yet this isn't simply The Matrixorcist. Yes, Reeves does get to do the action thing, but this is dark, brooding, deeply twisted and disturbed, visually stunning (and we're not talking wildly spinning cameras, as you might expect from a former music vid director, but a locked down camera and superb use of shadow, creating a sense of overwhelming menace) and most of all, very scary as Constantine is assailed from all sides by demons of all kinds. Imagine if David Lynch had directed Ghostbusters and you’re on the right track.

"We wanted to show the fans that we have not made Van Helsing," said Lawrence. "My approach from the beginning was never to treat it like a comic book movie. Everybody's done all the dutched angles and all the bright colours, and made things super-campy. There's plenty of elements of horror in this. There's plenty of scares. It's creepy throughout."

At the heart of it all, though, was Reeves, whose gritty, SFW turn as the nihilistic Constantine (rapidly encroaching lung cancer and all, a storyline taken from Garth Ennis' run on Hellblazer) had the geeks eating out of the palm of his hand.

And, as if to reciprocate, the notoriously private and often prickly Reeves was personable and fun during the presentation (during which he was asked 90% of the questions), flashing a constantly bemused smile as his every word was greeted with shrieks and shouts.

At one point he even leapt down from the stage to receive a present from an endearingly eager fan, who declared that 'You are DA BOMB!' Luckily, it turned out to be an actual present and not a thinly veiled bomb threat.

"Anything where there's a great enthusiasm and where there's a coming together to share what you think is cool, I think it's awesome," said Reeves of the Comic-Con experience, before expounding further on the appeal of Constantine.

"I ditched the accent," he laughed. "But I really loved the guy. I loved his anger. I loved his wry sense of humour about the awfulness of the world and what that's turned him into. He's like a warrior in this world of shit, and he's trying to deal with it."

Constantine is released in the UK next February. For more details on the movie, check back next week. And yes, we are aware that our pic is from Matrix Revolutions...

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Constantine , Matrix Revolutions, The

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