When Constantine makes his long-awaited return to the big screen, he might be a little older, and maybe a little closer to death. But he’ll still be Constantine.
In a new interview with The Wrap to promote his family film Slumberland for Netflix, director Francis Lawrence opened up about the creative direction he hopes to take his untitled sequel to 2005’s Constantine, which will again star Keanu Reeves in the title role.
In an interview published on November 14, Lawrence hinted the sequel, which does not yet have a projected release date, will retain the dark tone that the original film had while fully committing to the freedom R-ratings now allow. “All I know is that Keanu and [screenwriter] Akiva [Goldsman] and I have been wanting to do it forever,” Lawrence told the outlet.
“We finally have been sort of given the permission to go ahead and do our version of Constantine because people are always saving him to be part of some shared universe thing or some TV thing or whatever,” Lawrence said.
The director added that one challenge the 2005 film endured was conflicting marching orders over its graphic content. Constantine was rated R by the MPAA, but studio Warner Bros. still imposed PG-13-like restrictions. Lawrence explained that this essentially held the movie back despite their intentions and having permission of the MPAA, anyway.
Now, it seems Constantine 2 (or whatever it will be titled) will have Constantine appear in an authentic R-rated movie.
“One of the biggest things for me about the first one was we followed, per Warner Bros., the rules to make a PG-13 movie in terms of violence, blood, language, sexuality,” Lawrence said. “But the ratings board gave us a hard R based on their ... gray zone of intensity. And my big, big regret was that we have an R-rated movie that’s really a PG-13 movie ... And if I was going to have to go have an R, I would have really made an R-rated movie.”
Lawrence added, “I would have made it much scarier and much more violent and I would have really made an R-rated movie.”
Blazing an R-rated path from the comics?
The character of John Constantine, an occult magician and exorcist who starred in over 300 issues of the DC/Vertigo comic book series Hellblazer, inhabits a darker corner of the DC Universe where traditional superheroes rarely tread. In live-action, the character was recently part of the “Arrowverse” franchise of DC television shows on The CW, with British actor Matt Ryan donning the signature raincoat and necktie.
But while Matt Ryan played a comics-accurate Constantine, who bears a physical resemblance to blonde singer Sting and operates in London, the 2005 film with Reeves — as an American Constantine roaming Los Angeles — was celebrated for adhering to the despair-filled tone and atmosphere of DC’s Hellblazer comics. Constantine has only accrued goodwill over the years, especially through Reeves’ continued stardom. “And now I think people realize that there might really be an appetite for another version of the Keanu Constantine,” Lawrence said.
In a 2018 interview with Inverse, Lawrence said he was aware of the criticisms levied at Constantine. “I know what the criticisms are,” he said. He observed the tone was perhaps too bleak, even if that’s what allowed the movie to find its tribe.
“It’s not a romp, but it should be funnier. It should have more of John Constantine’s wry, sarcastic cynical humor,” Lawrence told Inverse. “[I]t got caught up in supernatural gobbledygook that nobody really cares about ... [stories] tend to [fail] when you’re trying to build a world and it’s not all that relatable. So I would refashion the world in a way that’s visceral and relatable.”
Regarding why a follow-up to the cult favorite Constantine hasn’t been pursued in the 17 years since its release, Lawrence told The Wrap that “all of that craziness with DC” has settled down. Though it remains to be seen if the project will fall under the supervision of James Gunn, who now operates DC Studios as co-chair with Peter Safran.
“We have germs of ideas and dedication,” Lawrence said. “Keanu and I have been batting around for a while and we’ve always wanted to do it. It’s just that we finally gotten past the hurdle of now we can go ahead and, and really do it. Now we have to just roll up our sleeves and dive in. But we have lots of ideas.”
There is no release date for the Constantine sequel.