Overview: Constantine travels to Los Angeles to save the daughter of a childhood friend from a demon.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): The film opens with a young Constantine recovering in a psychiatric hospital and being visited by a friend, Chas. The story flashes forward to present day where Constantine wakes up from visions of Los Angeles to find a room littered with liquor bottles. Constantine is then attacked by his own trench coat wearing inner demons which he fights off. Constantine is contacted by Chas, who he has not spoken to in years, who asks for his help with his daughter, who has mysteriously fallen into a coma.
Constantine determines that the girl’s soul has been taken hostage to by a demon and leaves for Los Angeles to track the demon down, leaving the little girl in the care of Asa the Healer, aka the Nightmare Nurse, who has to guard against Trish’s empty body being taken over by other demons. Constantine and Chas track the demon, who introduces himself as Beroul. Beroul states that he will release the girl if Constantine agrees to help him rid Los Angeles of his demonic competition as he establishes something of a Hell franchise in the Los Angeles area.
As Constantine tries to hold up his end of the bargain while also trying to find a way to rescue Trish, it is revealed that Beroul is really a demon named Nergal, who a young Constantine summoned years ago which cost several lives and the soul of another young girl. Constantine forces a confrontation with Nergal where he uses Trish’s parents love for their daughter to destroy Nergal and the movie ends with Constantine having sacrificed his friendship with Chas and returning to London again alone with his own inner demons.
Analysis: There was a point in this film where Constantine is being watched and at points helped by an entity that travels from body to body. And while I was watching it, I thought to myself “Oh cool, Deadman is in this”. It turns out that isn’t the case and instead it’s the “Angela, the Queen of Angels”, the collected embodied spirit of Los Angeles. What happens next is a scene where the queen hikes up her dress and has sex with Constantine in the supply room of a seedy bar while she gives him psychic visions that explain what she is and how this relates to the plot of this story. This scene kind of highlights the problem with this film. It wants to be “adult” and edgy. It throws around a lot of supposedly mature themes and a large amount of blood. But at the end of the day, it comes across as sophomoric. This movie is a Spawn comic from 1997. This film is another example of the larger problem that Warner Bros Animation has when they want to venture outside of the confines of the PG-13 sandbox they usually play in. There’s an adolescent quality to the thinking that if you splash around enough blood and say the “F” word enough times that you’ve made something mature that should be taken seriously.
The film is actually a collection of five episodes of the animated series with extra stuff added into it and for the most part, the seams don’t really show and it feels like one complete story. The only way that I feel you can really feel that the narrative was broken up into smaller pieces is the way that the story is sectioned off is that the individual episodes are clearly structured to have one big reveal an episode, and when put together, some of them feel fairly pointless. The biggest example of that is having the demon Beroul reveal himself to really be another demon, Nergal. I know that they establish early on that demons are inherently liars, but it doesn’t really add anything to reveal that the big bad in this story one demon and then without much else happening, reveals that the demon is actually one that has a personal connection to Constantine. There’s no reason not to just have the baddie be Nergal right from the start and while it might work better in a more episodic format, that’s not how I watched this film, so taken as it is presented for a film, it just feels like a waste of time.
The biggest disappointment in watching this film, despite its subject matter, is not frightening, unsettling or even very exciting. There are some decent action sequences that are well staged and fun to watch, but I think that this film is very much a missed opportunity to go down a more horrifying road and that’s frustrating. For a project that didn’t have to appeal to all audiences and had the benefit of the wider canvass of animation then, say, the Constantine live-action series, it would have been cool to see something that was more about tone and mood then what is essentially an action movie with monsters in it. It would have been better, for instance, to make for a smaller buildup to the reveal in the hospital that the little girl’s soul has been stolen by a demon than to open the story with a hungover Constantine literally fighting off his inner demons, all in little trench coats.
The animation of this film doesn’t disappoint. Director Doug Murphy has an extensive background in animated projects and has directed episodes of Justice League Action and Young Justice and that experience is apparent here. Of particular standout is the “Party Scene” and I particularly enjoyed how Murphy incorporated old black and white live action footage into the sequence which I thought was the only scene in the film that was unsettling if not actually scary. The only knock against the aesthetic of this movie is in the character design of Nergal, who reminded me of Goliath from Disney’s “Gargoyles” to a distracting degree.
The voicework is a well done. Matt Ryan has certainly taken ownership of the Constantine character and he does good work here. The rest of the cast does a decent job with what they are given. The week link of this film is the Chas Character, who is largely just there for Constantine to have someone to talk to, but that’s no fault of Damian O’Hare, the actor who voices him.
Final Thoughts: This isn’t a bad movie but it’s a forgettable one and one that squanders an opportunity to tell a more horrific story then what’s presented here.
Editor’s Note: Constantine: City of Demons is now available on Digital HD, 4K Ultra HD, and Blu-ray. You can order your copy, and help support TBU in the process, by heading over to Amazon.