I went into last night's free screening knowing full well that I would react differently than the vast majority of fanboys and fangirls, due to two strange conditions I suffer from:
I have yet to get into the Hellblazer comics, and thus only have a passing familiarity with the character of John Constantine.
I like Keanu Reeves.
I know that second item makes my judgment suspect, but it's just a quirk I've never really kicked; even at his most wooden, I still find him strangely likable. Sure, I haven't put this to the Much Ado About Nothing test, but the fact remains that I have a strange weakness for Ted/Neo/Det. Jack. It's not even crush-based. He's just... cool.
But I know that's not conventional wisdom, and I know that his casting has been more than a little controversial (it's like the punchline to a bad joke come to life: "...and then they cast Keanu Reeves"). So I walked in knowing that me and fandom would probably disagree on this one, and thus I was feeling a little insecure about my geek cred (which is really something I have to get over; most people spend their lives wanting to shake their nerdier attributes; I worry that I'm not nerdy enough).
And then I heard the girl in front of me lean over to her boyfriend and ask: "This isn't some sort of Shakespeare thing, is it?"
I felt a lot better after that.
Anyways. The movie. I'm certain that it isn't as good as the comics, but it was pretty damn fun. Perhaps my expectations were low because of the director's previous credits, but rather than being all effects and incoherent editing and bad pop songs, Francis Lawrence managed to make himself a real movie. Some pacing/intercutting problems right at the beginning ("meanwhile, in Mexico..."), but the irreverent tone was really well-maintained, the oddities of the universe scattered throughout. It felt like a world unique, which was kinda cool given that I recognized half the locations ("I've been to that bowling alley!" "Hey, the USC Religious Studies library! Complete with library books!"). Heavy on the exposition at times, but not at others; I really liked the way a lot of things were left unexplained. Little things, like a cell phone ringing in the middle of a conversation, not at an appropriately timed pause, really worked for me. "It felt like an actual movie," Brian said afterwards, still a bit scarred by comic book movies past. And I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Sure, the tinges of studio-ization lurk (I mean, this is Warner Bros) but it's no goddamn Catwoman, dull-edged and dead-eyed. It helped that this was geared to be a R-rated horror movie -- easier to make something cool and unpredictable when you're not trying to make it popcorn-appropriate. I'd guessed a certain outcome halfway through the movie, regarding who would live and who would die. I was TOTALLY WRONG. And that was kinda great.
Moment of Unintentional Hilarity: the Spear of Destiny figures heavily in the storyline, and when first mentioned in the opening chyron I couldn't help but laugh. After all, I thought Noah Wyle had already found it.
I have the suspicion that every single thing I liked about the movie can be found in the comics -- the dark humor, the wry grin, the strange and mystical. But the comics aren't acted out in front of me by Tilda Swinton. And that's a crying shame because Tilda Swinton is eight kinds of genius. I keep forgetting how good she is, but after seeing her as Gabriel I imagine I'll remember for quite some time. Her and Shia LaBeouf and Djimon Hounsou and Rachel Weitz and all those other people with hard-to-spell names.
And yes, even Keanu was good. He was chock full o' sass, able to make ashen and dying look lovely, and hell, did some actual acting. I know. It surprises me as much as you.
So the last beat made me laugh (even though I know it'll piss people off). I walked out happy. My expectations had been exceeded. I'd had fun. And I really wanted to read the comics.
In this world of piss-poor comics adaptations, that's more than enough for me.