Bad CGI, Keanu Reeves, and a lack of authenticity to its original source earned Constantine some harsh reviews when it was released. But despite those things, this is actually one of my favorite films (and not in the same way that Birdemic: Shock and Terror is.)
As a stand-alone, nitpickings aside, Constantine had a great story with sympathetic characters, and its resolution tied everything up with a clever plot twist.
I love this movie almost as much as I love making people suffer, so I decided to examine the Hero’s Journey plot structure as seen in Constantine (It’s two for the price of one!)
(Note: Captions are not real quotes from the movie. Spoilers ahead.)
John Constantine is a chain-smoking exorcist. He has cancer, it’s getting worse, and when he dies, he has a ticket straight to Hell thanks to the mortal sin he committed. On top of that, when he gets to Hell, every vengeful demon he ever deported will be waiting to welcome him.
During one of John’s exorcisms, he realizes that a demon is physically trying to enter the earth plane, but the rules state that demons must stay in Hell, angels in Heaven– only half-breeds are allowed on earth (The great part about fantasy is that it doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to be consistent.)
Constantine uses the news of this demonic threat as leverage to ask the half-angel, Gabriel, for an “extension” on his life, but Gabriel reminds him that he can’t buy his way into Heaven, and that all God wants from him is self-sacrifice and belief.
Constantine risks his life to do God’s work, but only to win God’s favor. He doesn’t believe because he has faith, but rather knows because of what he’s seen.
At this point, we know all of the crucial things we need to become invested in this Hero’s Journey:
Normal life for the protagonist
John Constantine is a selfish exorcist with Cancer
An important, unusual story element
Demons and angels cannot physically enter the earth plane, but half-breeds can.
An imposing enemy
A demon tried to enter the earth plane.
What the protagonist wants
He wants to avoid going to Hell
The possibility of success
Gabriel hints at the solution a second time: “Everything you’ve ever done, you’ve only ever done for yourself.”
The possibility of failure
The mortal sin he committed condemns him to Hell
[The Call to Adventure]
After leaving Gabriel, Constantine is attacked on the street by a demon. He goes to tell Papa Midnite, in hopes of using “the chair” to investigate (By doing so, he is still trying to buy his way into Heaven.)
However, Papa Midnite is a figure of neutrality that claims only one interest– to maintain the balance of good and evil.
Because demons and angels are not allowed on earth, he doesn’t quite buy Constantine’s story, and refuses to let Constantine use the chair at the risk of disturbing the balance.
Thwarted by rejection and a coughing fit, Constantine goes home to sulk about his impending death.
Chance leads to the discovery of an unsuspected world
Demons apparently CAN enter earth, and smack him around while they’re at it, but under what circumstance?
Herald appears to represent the unknown
Papa Midnite is a mysterious figure, who has things that Constantine can’t obtain himself.
Resolution Foreshadowed: Papa Midnite tells him, “you’re the one soul [Satan would] come up here himself to collect.” (At this point in the movie, it just sounds like idle banter.)
[Refusal of the Call]
Answering the call goes against everything the protagonist knows
Angela, a detective, finds Constantine to ask for help determining her twin sister’s death because she suspects supernatural causes (and you know, he’s Mr. Creepy.) Constantine shuts her down because he’s selfish, and that would be selfless.
[Thrust into the World]
The hero has no choice but to answer the call
Shortly after Angela leaves, Constantine sees more demons on the earth plane, this time in pursuit of Angela. Even though he wants little to do with her, his idea of resolution (fixing the hiccup in the spiritual world order to please God) now directly coincides with her.