Constantine and Elektra

Continuing in my quest to complete the superhero genre film list of films I want to see: my blurbs on the films Constantine and Elektra, two heroes I knew next to nothing about prior to watching.

Constantine

For those who aren’t familiar with the character, John Constantine belongs to DC Comics and was published under the Hellblazer label. In the film he is a self-styled exorcist and Noir detective with the ability to see creatures that pass into our world from both heaven and hell and typically disguise themselves to normal people. Constantine can perceive them because he was sent back from the afterlife after a suicide attempt that damned him to hell. If he “deports” enough demonic entities that illegally cross over into the earth plane and possess humans, there is (he hopes) a remote chance that mercy might be shown to his eternal soul and he will be allowed to enter heaven instead.

The only supernatural beings that are can legally inhabit the earth plane are “half-breeds,” creatures half human and either half divine or demonic, that look normal to regular people to their own kind and other supernatural entities appear in their true form.

Constantine uses specialized weapons that can defeat demonic forces, and he is an expert in exorcism rituals and techniques. However, as Constantine points out “it’s not always like it is in the books”; i.e., he is knowledgeable about actual metaphysics and mechanics.

John is a chain smoker suffering from terminal lung cancer with anywhere from a few months to a year to live. His services are sought by a woman, Angela, whose twin suicided, but his client suspects it was due to demonic possession. The plot involves pursuit of the Spear of Destiny (the spear used by the Roman centurion to kill Christ).

In the balance, I liked Constantine overall. Keanu Reeves does good job with the role. One of the problems that I experience with Reeves’ acting is not really his fault, but for me just his voice alone can easily conjure his Ted persona. Thankfully that didn’t happen for me in this film. So that was good.

Anyway, Reeves does a convincing job of portraying a weary, gritty, and immensely cynical character. And I did find myself caring about what happens to him (and Angela as well, nicely acted by Rachael Weisz).

Shia LeBeouf appears as a sidekick exorcist’s apprentice, and he does no great harm to the film. For some reason this element of the film didn’t work all that well for me, though. Whether or not one likes LeBeouf or the sidekick character in my view it’s a minor thing either way.

I don’t want to spoil anyone regarding the plot, but I will say that at least for me the story worked reasonably well enough to buy-in to and become engaged by. The action was decent, and exciting enough to hold my interest. It was fairly well paced.

Honestly, the only real problem I have with the film is that Constantine initially rebuffs his client steadfastly–and then he unaccountably does a 180 degree turn. He immediately switches gears; even warming up to Angela right away as if she were a confidante after that frosty resistance. The film would have benefited from even just a brief wordless scene in which we see Constantine ponder or wrestle with–i.e., reckon in some way–the decision of whether to help her. The motivation doesn’t necessarily have to be explained at that point (although in my opinion in a better script we would have a scene like that and Angela would ask him “So what made you change your mind?” after he rushes after her, catches up with her, and agrees to take her case). Anyway, for me this abrupt about-face formed an immersion-breaking lapse in the storytelling.

For me, one major question in a film such as this is whether the hero (or here an antihero) is likable or charismatic enough to tug at me to care about him or her. With Constantine that was for me a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, John Constantine is a fairly compelling character and Reeves makes him fairly relatable. On the other hand, the character is not the most sympathetic. He is mainly out for himself–and not in a way that is either particularly endearing or cool to watch due to mad skillz. He does manage to redeem himself at the end, however, which helps me care more overall. Another major question is how engaging is the story itself. I was sufficiently drawn in by the tale and the circumstances the protagonist faces to never be bored. But it was mostly a mild curiosity that kept me paying attention.

I would recommend the film, even to people who aren’t particularly fans of the superhero genre. It’s adequately well made and the concept is interesting enough. Reeves is pretty good as Constantine. Just don’t expect to absolutely love it.

Elektra

For those unfamiliar with this character, Elektra is from Marvel Comics. In the Marvel cinematic universe she is a spin-off from the Daredevil film (which I really like and feel is sorely underrated). It is hard to discuss that relationship without spoiling the Daredevil film, so I will leave it be.

Elektra is essentially trained in martial arts and ninja skills, and she works as a professional contract assassin who sits at the peak of her trade. Her martial arts training includes Far East Asian mysticism and through it she has some limited ability to see the future. She is very much the loner.

The plot revolves around defending a father and 13 year old daughter from The Hand, an evil organization that uses dark mystical energies to control its empire. Therefore in the course of that task Elektra faces powerful foes with such dark mystical powers.

Jennifer Garner plays the title role, and she does so pretty convincingly. Like Constantine, though, I think that perhaps this movie suffers having neither a quite likable or charismatic enough hero (or again, an antihero). I wanted  to like this character and care about what happens to her. But for some reason that pull was weak. Also, the story and action weren’t exactly riveting. There was just enough of the basic ingredients that do work to keep me watching. But I actually became a bit bored at a few points.

The most engaging character is arguably Abby, the teenager that Elektra protects and takes under her wing. She is well acted by Kirsten Prout. Mileage will vary, but I felt that Abby came off as more likeable and charismatic than Elektra. That’s probably not a good thing for the film.

Terrance Stamp is pretty good as Elektra’s mentor, known as The Stick. The villains are kind of meh.

One quibble that could be made with the action is that one of the villains named Tattoo can conjure mystical energy animal spirits from the tattoos on his body; and when they give chase they appear to be moving at supernatural speed. It is a bit immersion-breaking to have their prey succeed for fairly long sequences in running away on foot without the magical creatures closing in at what appears should be an instant.

This is a film that unfortunately does not really come together well enough for me to feel a strong affinity for. By the same token, I can’t say that I disliked it either. It held my interest enough to finish watching, at least. But curiously I found myself wanting to like it–yet struggling to.

For superhero film fans, I would say do watch it (i.e., yes, get around to finally watching it).

Here’s where I place these films on my ranked list of favorites for the genre:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. The Avengers
  4. Captain America: The First Avenger
  5. Iron Man
  6. X-Men: First Class
  7. Hellboy
  8. The Wolverine
  9. Thor
  10. X2: X-Men United
  11. Daredevil
  12. Spider-Man
  13. Iron Man 2
  14. Thor: The Dark World
  15. Man of Steel
  16. X-Men
  17. Superman (1978)
  18. The Dark Knight Rises (Yes, here, above The Dark Knight and Batman Begins)
  19. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  20. Batman Begins
  21. The Dark Knight
  22. Superman Returns
  23. The Amazing Spider-Man
  24. Batman (1989)
  25. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  26. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  27. X-Men: The Last Stand
  28. Iron Man 3
  29. The Fantastic Four (2005)
  30. Spider-Man 2
  31. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  32. Spider-Man 3
  33. Green Lantern
  34. The Incredible Hulk
  35. Constantine
  36. The Phantom
  37. The Crow
  38. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  39. Mystery Men
  40. The Punisher
  41. Hulk
  42. Judge Dredd
  43. Elektra
  44. Batman Forever
  45. Batman and Robin
  46. Batman Returns
  47. Superman II
  48. Superman III
  49. Catwoman
  50. Blade
  51. Darkman
  52. Superman and the Mole Men
  53. Batman (1966)
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Constantine and Elektra

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