Comic-Con 2014: ‘Constantine’ Pilot Review

Constantine NBC

Several weeks ago, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment announced a three hour panel at Comic-Con International with screenings of “Gotham” and “The Flash.” However, fans at the panel received a surprise when the event stretched to a fourth hour with a screening of the “Constantine” pilot as well.

This is the most recent version of the “Constantine” pilot, as it explains why Liv Aberdine won’t be around since Lucy Griffiths is leaving the series. Aside from the title character, no one gets more screentime than Liv in this episode and Griffiths’ absence from the new scene makes it a lot harder to buy into the exit of her character.

The highlight of the pilot is Matt Ryan, who is just about perfect as John Constantine. He not only looks like Constantine, he acts like Constantine, he moves like Constantine and he’s really funny at times. The TV version of John Constantine isn’t quite as much of a bastard as his comic book counterpart, but this feels much truer to the Hellblazer comic than the Constantine movie did.

Related: ‘Constantine’ Cast Interviews From Comic-Con 2014

When we meet this John Constantine, he’s voluntarily institutionalized himself in a somewhat desperate attempt to make himself forget the horrors that he’s seen. One visually impressive exorcism later, Constantine receives a message about Liv as an old friend calls in a favor from beyond the grave.

Although the producers of “Constantine” have intimated that they found Liv to be a problematic character, I liked her for the most part. Griffiths has an endearing quality to her performance, but there’s no denying that Liv’s scenes are some of the weakest in the pilot. For example, Liv’s brief scene with her mother is so rushed and badly edited that it manages to temporarily derail the forward momentum of the pilot.

Jeremy Davies makes a welcome guest appearance as one of Constantine’s former friends and a reluctant ally. Davies’ character actually seems more damaged than Constantine himself and I think he could be a very solid supporting character if the show keeps him around. I’m not as sold on the rest of the supporting cast. Constantine’s friend, Chas (Charles Halford) is so ridiculously underdeveloped that there’s no real bond between them. It also makes it difficult to care when Chas is endangered by the demonic force chasing Liv.

Then there’s Manny (Harold Perrineau), Constantine’s new guardian angel who is attempting to get him back into the battle between Heaven and Hell. Perrineau appears to be having fun with the role, as Manny can offer Constantine the one thing that he really wants: a way to escape eternal damnation. That said, Manny’s scenes were overwritten and they didn’t do much to establish his personality or motives. He could be an interesting character, but he isn’t yet.

The final battle of the episode has some good special effects, but it falls apart in the moment where Constantine falls for a very transparent demonic trick and it takes Liv to save him from making a very big mistake. That’s part of the problem with Constantine’s new backstory for this series. The mistake that supposedly damned him was born out of altruism and not selfishness.

There’s real potential here, largely due to the strength of Ryan as Constantine. But this isn’t a great pilot. It’s serviceable as the first episode of a TV series, but “Constantine” still needs to make adjustments in order to make it work.