Back in the days before shared universes, studios were eager to try new standalone things with the various comic book properties they could get their hands on, and the results were often fascinating. In 2005, that gave us Constantine, a supernatural action film based on the DC/Vertigo character John Constantine. Though the film received mixed reviews when it was originally released, and departed in many ways from the source material (most notably, for many fans, by remaking the title character as an American), Constantine has only risen in esteem in the 15 years since it was released, and that means a reunion is something a lot of people can get excited about.
On Saturday during Comic-Con@Home, Constantine star Keanu Reeves reunited with director Francis Lawrence and producer Akiva Goldsman for a virtual celebration of the film's 15th birthday. In a discussion led by Collider's Steven Weintraub, the star and the filmmakers reflected on making Constantine, where it stands in the pop culture lexicon now, and their wishes for a sequel that never seemed to arrive.
Weintraub kicked off the conversation with a little discussion of Constantine's origins. At one point, we might have seen a version of the film from director Tarsem, with Nicolas Cage in the title role. That didn't happen, but despite years of development, the film just wouldn't go away.
Eventually, Lawrence — then best known for his work in music videos — was approached to direct, and Reeves ultimately came on board as a star. Though he was not familiar with the character of John Constantine before he read the script, Reeves noted that he did go back and research the character's comic book roots later... and knew that some changes were in store if he was going to play him.
"Then I did some research on the character and I was... not hesitant but, you know, I'm not English and I'm not blonde, and the character is," he said. "So, I had to reconcile that, and part of that was 'Well, what was at the base of the character? What could I bring to the character? Why even do it?' And it's such a beautiful character, this kind of humanitarian cynic, kind of tired, world-weary, tired of all of the rules and morals and ethics and angels and demons, but still a part of it. And I loved his sense of humor, so I was really excited."
Weintraub noted that the film emerged at a time when the biggest comic book movie touchstones in pop culture were films like X-Men and Spider-Man. Despite their presence, though, Lawrence went with a different approach in looking for visual inspiration for Constantine.
"I definitely wasn't looking at comic book movies as references. In all honesty, I was looking at noir films," Lawrence explained. "I would look at something like Blade Runner over any other kind of comic book movies, or The Third Man, or Maltese Falcon, things like that. Because there was just a huge noir tone and influence in the story and the characters, and I wanted it to influence the aesthetic of the film itself."
The film's visual tone was also heavily influenced by Reeves' insistence that the film actually be shot in Los Angeles, rather than some other city standing in for it.
"I love LA, and I love filming LA. I love being on the streets, I like the way the weather changes, I like the early dawn, the deep night, the color of the lights, the people who are on the street," Reeves said. "It's got a good vibe."
Of course, amid all the discussion of the making of the film, Weintraub couldn't let the panel pass by without talking about the sequel we never got. Goldsman confirmed that it was indeed something that was frequently discussed.
"It endlessly came up. Boy, we wanted to," Goldsman said. "We wanted to make a hard-R sequel, we wanted to...oh God, yeah. I think we'd probably make it tomorrow."
He continued, "To the studios who made it, which were Village Roadshow and Warner Bros., it was always a bit of a feathered fish. Its oddness... the way it is equally comfortable in a character scene between Keanu and Rachel as it is with demons flying and hurling themselves at a man who's going to light his fist on fire and expel them is odd, right? It's not really action-packed; it just has a bunch of action. This movie isn't exactly a thing. It's kind of a few things, which is I think what's beautiful about it, but those seem to get harder and harder to make."
Lawrence agreed, and added that even the Constantine team never gets to make their sequel, he still finds a renewed sense of love for the film out in the world every time he promotes something new.
"We definitely talked about sequels, I think, more than the studio," Lawrence said. "The movie did fairly well... but it wasn't a knockout success, and it also wasn't really critically acclaimed by any means at the time. The kind of cool thing for me about this movie is just in the 15 years since it released, every time I do a movie and I go out and travel the world and do junkets, I am signing Constantine DVDs more than any other movie that I've done. Over the years, [in] different countries, people really, really love this movie. I think that it's found sort of a new life in a weird way."
For more from the Constantine discussion, including a moment at about the 22:00 mark when Reeves just begins to fully nerd out about the sheer level of fun he had making the film, check out the video above.
Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of Comic-Con@Home 2020.