Published on October 28th, 2014 | by Brad0
Constantine – Non Est Asylum review
Rounding out the DC TV slate for the autumn, Constantine made its debut on NBC last Friday with Non Est Asylum, and is available to stream on Amazon Prime right now in the UK. Based on the classic DC/Vertigo Comics character, played by Welsh actor Matt Ryan, Constantine will follow our titular hero, a self-proclaimed (he has business cards and everything!) “Exorcist, Demonologist and Master of the Dark Arts” (though he intends to change Master to Petty Dabbler, as he hates to put on airs) as he gets into supernatural scrapes, largely fighting on the side of the angels, though he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Created in the mid-eighties by Alan Moore, Steve Bisette and John Totleben as a supporting character in their superlative Saga of the Swamp Thing, John started out as a streetwise mage who helped Alec Holland realise his true potential as the avatar of all plant-life on Earth. In 1988, John was spun off into his own comic series, Hellblazer, which ran until issue #300 in 2013. Hellblazer was one of the launch titles when DC created the Vertigo imprint in 1993, alongside such high-class contemporaries as Sandman, Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Animal Man and Shade the Changing Man. He made only occasional forays into the DC universe after that, whilst aging in real-time in his own series, a la Judge Dredd. In 2011, with the launch of DC’s New 52, the decision was made to restructure Vertigo as a strictly creator-owned imprint, reverting the characters who had originated in the DCU back into that line, including Constantine. Hellblazer kept running until 2013 to allow it to reach issue #300, and its cancellation coincided with the launch of the DCU series Constantine, written by Ray Fawkes.
This TV version is not the first time John has made his way onto the screen. Keanu Reeves put on the trench coat in 2005 for a much-maligned, OK-ish supernatural thriller that had almost nothing to do with Constantine beyond some character names. Peter Stormare’s Lucifer is cool, though. Shame about Shia LaBeouf as Chas. The film did not do well, but after nine years on the mainstream shelf, John Constantine is back for another crack of the whip.
Non Est Asylum begins, oddly for an episode called There Is No Asylum, in an asylum. The Ravenscar Institute to be exact, in the North of England, where John has checked himself in to try and convince himself that demons aren’t real, to get rid of his guilt over the loss of a young girl in Newcastle to a denizen of hell named Nergal, a recurring antagonist for Constantine in the comics. A patient is possessed and writes Liv Die on a wall, causing JC to leave the asylum, as he has work to do.
The Liv in question, rather than being the word live, unfinished, is Liv Aberdeen, an American saleswoman who is under attack by demons because reasons. With the help of friend and taxi owner Chas, Constantine has to save Liv from the demon in question, and help her unlock her talent for scrying, that she might help him travel America, smiting demons as he goes. Or at least, that was the original plan. Liv (True Blood’s Lucy Griffiths) is really annoying, and the show-runners seem to have realised this fact, altering the pilot to write her out of the series. She’s to be replaced by Angelica Celaya as early Hellblazer supporting character Zed Martin, who makes a cameo at the end. It’s a shame they couldn’t have cast Liv better – it’s revealed that she’s the daughter of Jasper Winters, and the idea of bringing in Baron Winters and the Night Force later on in this show’s run would be awesome. Maybe one day.
No Est Asylum is directed by Neil Marshall, who fantasy TV fans should know as the director of the two battle episodes of Game of Thrones, Blackwater and The Watchers on the Walls. He does a great job here, crafting some very spooky visuals and a couple of top-notch jump scares, as well as bringing the visual spectacle when required. Matt Ryan seems an inspired choice for Constantine. He looks like he was drawn by John Ridgway, and he nails the attitude of the character just perfectly. There won’t be much if any smoking or swearing for this Constantine, which is a shame, but Ryan seems to be channelling his essence nevertheless.
Non Est Asylum is a good pilot. Definitely stronger than Gotham, probably stronger than Arrow’s was back a couple of years ago, too (although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that, so that may be unfair). Constantine is a show with a lot of potential, and one I really hope lives up to it. Definitely give this one a watch.