There are rumors that Constantine 2 is in the works, but making a follow-up film to the 2005 Constantine movie would be a big mistake on the part of Warner Bros. and Keanu Reeves. Ignoring that the original was a critical and commercial flop, a sequel would be far too difficult to sell in 2020 to general audiences and fans of the John Constantine character from the comics.
First appearing in Saga of the Swamp Thing #37, John Constantine is probably the most successful original character co-created by comics legend Alan Moore. Modeled on actor/singer Sting, Constantine was meant to put a unique spin on magic in the DC Comics universe, where most of the magic-wielding heroes were born to the upper class and independently wealthy. By contrast, Constantine was decidedly blue-collar, working class and made his money as a con-artist and gambler.
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Constantine largely ignored this legacy, presenting Keanu Reeves’ Constantine as a demon-hunting everyman with a holy shotgun. Despite this, the film has developed a cult following in the years since its release and there had apparently been talk of a Constantine sequel between Reeves, director Francis Lawrence and producer Akiva Goldsman. Unfortunately, while they may be willing to make Constantine 2, there are many reasons why it would be a bad idea to do so.
Constantine Was A Financial & Critical Failure
While Constantine has found an audience in recent years, its original theatrical release was considered a bomb. The film opened at #2 behind the Will Smith romantic comedy Hitch, which was in its second week of release. The $100 million movie grossed only $76 million domestically after four months in theaters, with over just one-third of that ($29 million) earned in its opening weekend. While the film did turn a profit once the overseas’ box office was added in, it was still viewed as a financial disappointment given Keanu Reeves’ star power following The Matrix: Revolutions and the hopes of starting a similarly profitable Constantine franchise.
Shockingly, the audiences were kinder than the critics. Constantine was rated 46% Rotten on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, out of a pool of 224 critics. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert gave the movie 1.5 stars out of 4 and placed Constantine on the list of the worst movies he had ever seen alongside Caligula and Battlefield Earth. Leonard Maltin was even crueler, giving Constantine zero stars and a BOMB rating in his 2005 movie guide, describing it as “dreary, to put it mildly.”
To put those numbers in perspective, consider how they compare to Birds of Prey, a comic book movie which faced similar criticism for deviating from its source material and was declared a bomb on arrival. Birds of Prey had a stronger opening weekend with $34 million domestically and $48 million internationally, making more money in its opening weekend than Constantine did domestically during its four month run. Birds of Prey was also a critical success with a 78% Fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes and it earned the same high rating from audiences. Given that, it’s a wonder Warner Bros. would ever consider Constantine 2 to be financially feasible.
The Theatrical Release Industry (And Warner Bros.) Are Struggling
The question of just how Constantine 2 would be released is a point that hasn’t been discussed in all of the talk of a sequel, despite it being a major point of consideration. A case could be made for the movie being filmed with a lower-budget as an HBO Max exclusive or a direct-to-VOD release with a limited theatrical run, much like Bill and Ted Face the Music. However, modern action/fantasy movies like the original Constantine depend on special effects that demand an IMAX or 3D theater, so it’s far more likely that Constantine 2 would be held in reserve for a post-COVID-19 pandemic release.
Warner Bros. is already facing all of these same issues with the long-delayed release of Wonder Woman 1984 and is losing money the longer it delays the film’s release. On the one hand, most theaters in the United States are not equipped to safely operate at sufficient numbers to make any new movie release profitable, even with sold-out socially distanced seating. On the other hand, many movie goers would be unwilling to pay movie-ticket prices for an in-home cinema experience for a movie that was meant to be seen in a theater. Constantine 2 would face the same problems once it was completed and offer too many risks for too little reward.
Constantine 2 Needs An R Rating — But Won’t Get One
Another problem a Constantine sequel must address is the issue of an R-rating and the catch-22 situation most movies based on adult comic books face. The original Constantine was rated R and declared unsuitable for viewers under 17 in the United States, despite having been filmed with the intention of Constantine having a PG-13 rating. This dealt a double-blow to Constantine, as it limited the final film’s audience while simultaneously turning off horror fans hoping for a truly terrifying movie as well as fans of the original comics.
The problem is that Constantine 2 would have to have an R-rating in order to have any hope of capturing the essence of the classic Hellblazer comics. Yet Warner Bros. is unlikely to approve of an R-rated cut of Constantine 2, due to the need to reach as wide an audience as possible. This is particularly true given that the failure of Birds of Prey has been blamed by many Hollywood insiders on the decision to go for a hard R-rating. As such, it seems that there is little chance of Constantine 2 being even half as bloody and disturbing as the original.
The Constantine Fandom Doesn’t Want It
There is perhaps only one group that savaged Constantine more than the critical press: comic book readers. To say that fans of the original Hellblazer seriess hated Constantine would be a vast understatement. Fan complaints went far beyond the cosmetic differences between the John Constantine of the comics and the character played by Keanu Reeves, though the character being an American did little to build the fans’ confidence. The chief issue was that Constantine had little to do with its source material, despite nominally being based on the graphic novel Dangerous Habits. Apart from a subplot that John was dying of cancer and an homage to the scene where John flipped-off the demons he blackmailed into saving his life, there is nothing of Dangerous Habits’ story left in Constantine. (Reportedly Michelle Monaghan was meant to appear as Elle, a succubus who is a major character in Dangerous Habits, but her role was cut twice.) Beyond that, the movie seemed to borrow the names of several characters from the comics and applied them to totally unrelated characters. Perhaps the most famous example of this was John’s friend Chas, who was defined in the comics by his somehow avoiding the bloodline curse that killed all of John’s friends. In Constantine, Chas was John’s teenage apprentice and he died two-thirds of the way through the movie.
Hellblazer fans were far happier with the short-lived 2015 Constantine television series, which aired for 13 episodes on NBC. Starring Welsh actor Matt Ryan as John Constantine, the series took its plot from American Gothic, the storyline from the Swamp Thing comics which introduced the character of John Constantine and a mysterious threat known only as the Rising Darkness. Despite the show being beloved by fans and critics, Constantine languished in its Friday night time slot and the #SaveConstantine fan effort to save the show from cancellation failed. However, Ryan’s take on Constantine found new life in the Arrowverse, and a cameo in season 4 of Arrow led to a place among the crew of the Waverider on Legends of Tomorrow. Despite this victory, fans still hoped The CW might continue the story of the Rising Darkness as part of Legends of Tomorrow‘s story or in a new Constantine solo series.
A similar movement arose this year in the world of comics, as fans worked to save John Constantine: Hellblazer from cancellation. Released in 2019 as part of DC Comics’ Black Label imprint for adult readers and The Sandman Universe line, the series was the first John Constantine comic aimed at adult readers in the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, despite being one of the most well-reviewed comic books of 2020 and a fan campaign supported by Neil Gaiman, the series has been cancelled and the final issue of John Constantine: Hellblazer is scheduled to be released later this month.
The comic readers and fans of Matt Ryan’s Constantine are likely to take any attempt on Warner Bros. part to make Constantine 2 in the wake of their efforts as a personal insult. Given that John Constantine: Hellblazer was cancelled because of a cost-cutting measure in the wake of AT&T’s acquisition of DC Comics, fans of the classic John Constantine are likely to be irritated that far more money than it costs to publish a monthly comic is about to be invested in a sequel to a movie they didn’t like and that that few people are interested in. If nothing else, it’s a bad look for Warner Bros at a time when the studio can’t manage to get a Wonder Woman sequel released and has spent nearly as much on reediting the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League as it did on producing a single Shazam movie.
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