There are certainly arguments to be made about why each and every member of HBO Max’s Justice League Dark should be played by one actor over another, but in my eyes, there’s already one integral member of the league who should be a casting no-brainer: Matt Ryan as John Constantine.
The news broke recently that HBO Max will soon be home to a live-action adaptation of Justice League Dark, a team of superheroes from the DC Universe that tackle problems that fall outside the purview of the traditional Justice League. It’s an incredibly well-loved set of characters with a long history and an interesting roster—fan favorites like Zatana, Deadman, Swamp Thing, and the League’s most recognizable name, John Constantine.
The new Justice League Dark show, helmed by J.J. Abrams (who by now likely has blackout on his franchise directing bingo card), has yet to confirm whether it will take place outside the universe already established by DC TV shows like The Flash and Arrow, or the cinematic universe that includes Justice League and Batman v Superman. Although the concept of a multiverse has been established in both franchises, the lack of information about just where Justice League Dark takes place has led to rampant speculation about which actors will be filling the magic-wielding shoes of the league’s members.
Constantine, sometimes referred to as Hellblazer (the name of his most famous comic run) is a British warlock/detective who uses his supernatural abilities and terrible attitude to solve cases and take down baddies of all shapes and sizes. Mass audiences may recognize the character from the 2005 Keanu Reeves movie Constantine, but despite its small cult following, the film failed to garner the wide appeal that audiences hoped for, and the concept was set aside.
Then, in 2014 NBC revamped the character with a short-lived horror/drama series, also titled Constantine, which starred Matt Ryan as the titular warlock. Like the movie years earlier, the Constantine series didn’t do as spectacularly as one might hope—despite generally positive reviews, it was canceled after one season. In some dark, tragic timeline, that might’ve been the end of Matt Ryan’s Constantine, but fortunately, that hasn’t been the case.
Whatever became of the show, Ryan’s performance as Constantine garnered much praise from both critics and fans, and just months after the Constantine series ended, Ryan surprised and delighted fans by reappearing in the role in an episode of Arrow season 4. It was a brief appearance, but it was more than enough to rekindle interest in the character. Matt Ryan’s Constantine had successfully made the jump from NBC to The CW and had found a new home in the new network.
After his appearance on Arrow, Ryan jumped mediums yet again—this time lending his voice as Constantine in the animated Justice League Dark movie from Warner Bros. animation. Although this was less of a drastic jump considering that Warner Bros. owns both DCTV and Warner animation, it was still unprecedented, considering the likes of Stephen Amell and Grant Gustin haven’t voiced the animated versions of their characters in animated DC films.
Yet again, Ryan’s performance in Justice League Dark garnered him praise from critics and fans (are we noticing a pattern yet?) and further solidified his performance as the definitive onscreen incarnation of the master of the dark arts. After a TV show, a cameo on Arrow, and an animated feature, Ryan made one last jump, this time appearing as a recurring character on the Arrowverse’s island of misfit toys, Legends of Tomorrow.
Just as before, Ryan’s Constantine wormed his way into the core of the show, and he was bumped up from recurring guest to main cast in season 5 of Legends, which is currently airing on The CW. But why the history lesson? After all of his success in the role, it would be nothing short of a crime for HBO Max to throw Matt Ryan out of the running for Justice League Dark’s version of Constantine.
While it’s true that making a jump from The CW to HBO would be a big one (and would also mean leaving Legends), it’s not like the character hasn’t switched networks before, and Constantine is a natural fit for (not to mention a key part of) Justice League Dark—really, it just wouldn’t be the same without him.
DC Comics is no stranger to casting and recasting its iconic characters (the eternal “who’s the best Joker” debate comes to mind), but I’m hoping and praying that, for once, they’ll decide not to recast such an iconic, well-loved portrayal.
Though it may be tricky in terms of logistics, Matt Ryan is the best incarnation of Constantine that pop culture has seen. Unrestricted by censors of networks like NBC and The CW, and not limited by what studios are willing to do with animation, Justice League Dark would be the perfect place for Matt Ryan’s gritty, lived-in performance as John Constantine.
(image: Quantrell Colbert/NBC)
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