The new movie "Constantine," based on the Hellblazer comic book, derives its drama—and special effects—from life's most central questions and themes.
Keanu Reeves as John Constantine and Rachel Weisz as Angela Dodson (Warner Bros.).
But don't expect a theological treatise or an in-depth exploration of God's nature. "Constantine" is 1 percent theology and 99 percent Hollywood entertainment.
The movie, which opens nationwide Feb. 18, centers around John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), a man who took his own life as a youth out of despair for his "gift": being able to see demons who walk the earth in human form.
Constantine was revived, however, and now he wanders the earth, trying to earn his way back into heaven by blowing Satan's minions back to the underworld.
In addition to the notion that an attempted suicide bars a soul from entering heaven, other story points—like how one battles demons, or the personality of the angel Gabriel—take Hollywood license with Christian theology.
Shia LaBeouf, who plays Constantine's apprentice, said audiences shouldn't take the movie too seriously.
"I don't think this movie was made to push ideas or philosophies on anybody. It's a fun ride," LaBeouf told religious press covering the movie recently in Beverly Hills, Calif. "There's a lot of aspects to the film where there's probably a lesson in the film, but I don't necessarily think anybody's walking about from the film going, 'Wow, that's right and you know what, now I'm going to change my life because of that.'"
"I don't think that was the purpose of making the film," LaBeouf continued. "It's not 'The Passion of the Christ' that we made."
Francis Lawrence, the movie's director, said even though the movie is make-believe, "this stuff is very, very serious to a lot of people, so I think you have to be cautious and be respectful."
The movie's visual style and iconography, of sorts, are grounded in Catholic Christianity, though familiarity with Catholicism is not a prerequisite for following the story, according to Lawrence.
"You don't have to be Catholic to relate because there's these really broad ideas that I think work for a lot of people—spiritually or philosophically," he said.
Keanu Reeves agreed.
"I think of it as just secular religiosity," Reeves said of the movie's general tone. He referred to what he considered general ideas of God and the devil, heaven and hell, good and evil.
"I was hoping that these concepts could become a platform that are humanistic, that this kind of journey of this particular hero is hopefully relatable," he told journalists.
Furthermore, Reeves said he didn't necessarily see his character in mostly spiritual terms.
"Spirituality is a word that I really don't feel is something to apply to Constantine," he said. "And if it is, then it's very humanistic—as it always is, obviously. It's more flesh and blood somehow than spiritual."
Rachel Weisz, a 33-year-old Brit who plays Constantine's ally in the film, told journalists the movie combines the serious with the special effects.
"It's a Hollywood movie, it's entertaining and scary and all those things, but it's set within a universe where really important questions are asked," Weisz said. "But they're very serious themes and questions housed within what is undoubtedly an entertaining Hollywood movie, and I don't see why one can't have both."
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
The movie's official Web site is here.