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Thursday, July 24, 2014

"If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."

     Hellblazer is a series that has always been held dear to my heart. I've got the first 5 or 6 trade collections of the comic, and a few later volumes. One day, I'll get around to picking up all the collections, but it has been a rather long-running series. It'll take a while. In the meantime, there's been the occasional adaptation that's cropped up. There was a film about a dark-haired and dark-coated American man named John Constantine that had some rather good points to it (save the presence of Shia LeBouf, whom I maintain there has not yet been built a bus large enough to properly run over), but was certainly no Hellblazer film. I even made a valiant effort to play through the terrible licensed game that was made said film. Rumour has it Castiel from Supernatural was originally supposed to be John Constantine, but licensing fell through, and we got Misha's charming rogue Angel instead.

     Now in the interests of plausible deniability, I'd like to say that while I am aware of the leaked pilot floating around the internet, I certainly haven't seen it, as that would imply some less-than-legal and certainly immoral ways and means, and I would never ever ever partake in such activities. Just so we're clear. Officially, anything I discuss here has been gleaned from various publicly available video clips and discussions. Honest. If you get my drift.

Walked right off the pages, he has.
     Let's get the giant demonic elephant in the room out of the way. Unlike Keanu, Matt Ryan nails the character of John Constantine. The new John is an asshole. He's selfish, lazy, reluctant to get involved, dripping with gallows humor, and prone to answering questions with truths so audaciously unlikely that people assume he's lying. But he's charming, charismatic, trouble that you just can't say no to, and knows that he's probably the only person equipped to deal with the things that he sees. It's a perfect reflection of the way John's been written in the books for decades now. One of the most important details is covered in the very beginning of the pilot episode, that being Newcastle. Years and years ago, John and some of his more irresponsible and experimental occultist friends accidentally damned a young girl's soul to hell, and he's dealt with crippling guilt since. Everything he's done since Newcastle has been motivated by a conflict between his instinct to avoid responsibility and his desire to redeem himself.

      The other characters are a mixed bag. Chas returns, Constantines hapless but faithful friend. He's American now, like he was in the film, but is portrayed by a gruff, bearded Charles Halford instead of the aforementioned (and afore-cursed) Shia. Visually and performance-wise, he hits the mark so well you don't even miss the original nationality. His omnipresent taxi cab is back, but this time it's a classic 50s Chevy instead of the London Black. Again, much more suitable than a 90s Caprice. The cast is rounded out by the angel Manny, played with a menacing charm by Harold Perrineau, and Lucy Griffiths as Liv. Manny's a fantastic character, but I was sadly disappointed by Liv. I have fond memories of Lucy Griffiths in the BBC's cheesy Robin Hood series, but she just falls flat here. Fortunately, I hear there's recasting afoot, and someone will be taking her place, but playing existing character Zed instead, opening up the possibility of an adaptation of the Damnation Army arc from the books.

     The show has a very interesting feel, a mix between more modern exorcism/possession films and higher-quality horror/adventure shows. The special effects are low-key but believable, with what appear to be a lot of practical effects. Lots of shouting in cod-Latin, as you'd expect from pulp horror. The setting was in interesting choice, being not New York or Los Angeles as you'd expect, but Atlanta of all places. Always knew there was something weird about Atlanta. Due to this (and I mean this in nicest possible way) I half expected to see a Winchester brother wander past in the background. The pacing was a bit odd, and the story didn't flow terribly well, but that's something you'd expect from a pilot episode, and doesn't worry me. Sherlock, for example, has a frankly amateurish pilot episode compared to its premiere.

     Overall, I have high hopes for this adaptation, based on the very limited materials I've seen of it so far, having totally not seen the actual leaked pilot episode. It's certainly better than previous adaptations of Hellblazer that I've seen, and I'm encouraged that Matt Ryan really feels like he understands the character. I honestly thing even my pick, Marc Warren, wouldn't have been better for the role. I've got a feeling this could, if properly handled, be at least as good as DC's other successful television property, Arrow.

     And yes, that was Dr Fate's helmet. I have to go squee now.

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