One of the best things about adaptation is bringing the magic of the page to a visual representation that is faithful to the source material. Whether it’s Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine or Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier, some of the greatest comic book actors are great because they’re so similar to their comic book counterparts. However, there are many other examples that don’t respect comic book restrictions.
John Constantine is one of the most important (and least popular) examples of book-screen mismatch. Sometimes played by Jenna Coleman and Keanu Reeves, both of whom have little in common with the blond supernatural cop, Constantine is rarely accurate on screen. However, the adaptation of Constantine has little in common visually with the morally grey hero, a disparagement of those different versions of him, and film history attests to different interpretations of the story — and their heroes – proved to be the same. Sometimes as good as the original.
A famous example is Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s the great gatsbyScholars of this book (even regular readers) can easily attest that many of the characterizations and plot points are quite different from Fitzgerald’s novel. However, the spirit of the novel is preserved. Most fittingly, the adaptation acknowledges the limitations of the live-action genre, but also embraces its strengths. It cuts and simplifies the story while emphasizing exaggerated visuals and startling action that are difficult or impossible to fully convey in prose.
Likewise, live-action manga adaptations have limitations. Especially when it comes to the comics’ stylized visuals and the framing needed to convey character dynamics, movies often can’t compete. So the media must answer using audio and deliberate performances, both of which are difficult to convey in print media. For this reason, screen adaptations often choose actors who best embody the character and atmosphere of the film. Few of these actually visually match comic book characters.
The negative reaction from fans to Keanu Reeves “incorrectly” playing Constantine ignores the fact that he plays Constantine perfectly, embodying the rudeness and concern of the comic book iteration. Decades after the film’s release, there have been calls for a sequel and an apology in support of the idea that Constantine is more than just a blond man in a trench coat.Likewise, Jenna Coleman’s Constantine in 2022 sand man Black-haired, neat, and non-smoking; thus ignoring all visual cues of the character.However, fans called on her to lead herself Constantine series, as she played Clara Oswald’s occasional morally grey role in the days Doctor Who Seems like she’s ready for her role as the Golden Heart Killer of Demons and Angels.
Of course, Matt Ryan and his resemblance to the character are popular on screen. However, the superhero as a modern myth comes with a reinterpretation. Precise page-to-screen translation is not only impossible, but often unwise. A lot of times, the resemblance of an actor to the character they play isn’t necessarily the most important thing. Rather, it’s how well they embody their characters, and despite swapping brunettes for blondes, Reeves and Coleman’s portrayal of John Constantine is unrivaled.