This year is the fifteenth anniversary of Marvel’s half-vampire hero Blade making his big-screen debut. To mark this occasion, I thought I’d look back at the trilogy of Blade films, and comment on how they’ve aged, what still works, what doesn’t, and what never did.
I sometimes feel BLADE doesn’t get the respect it disserves in terms of the impact it had on the blockbuster landscape. It was the first major feature film adaptation of a Marvel Comics character (not counting HOWARD THE DUCK) and represented a huge risk. It’s remarkable, really, that New Line Cinema threw their support behind such a dark and adult premise for what is essentially a supernatural superhero film. While Warner Bros had just wrapped up their colourful, kid-friendly take on DC’s Batman, the first Marvel hero in the spotlight despatched vampires with edged weapons, fire, bullets…and trains.
Wesley Snipes is perfect in the title role – a cool and calculated hunter of the undead in constant battle with his darker side. Strong supporting performances come in the form of Kris Kristofferson’s pragmatic and grizzled mentor Whistler, and of course from Stephen Dorff’s chilling, deceptively boyish vampire villain Frost.
The film still largely holds up – director Stephen Norrington handles violent action well, and seems to get the best out of his cast, and David S. Goyer’s story moves along nicely. Perhaps the special effects haven’t aged particularly well, but they’re used sparingly until the slightly overblown finale so this hardly matters.
BLADE II (2002)
BLADE II is undoubtedly the highpoint of the series. With the addition of fantasy auteur Guillermo del Toro at the helm, Blade’s second outing is bigger, funnier, and inventively tweaks the vampire mythos. It was del Toro’s second crack at Hollywood, following the underwhelming Mimic, and this time he was given free reign to put his boundless imagination and aptitude for twisted fantasy/horror on screen.
The film’s plot is in classic sequel territory – our hero must put aside his differences and team up with his old enemies in order to confront a bigger threat. Blade allies himself with an elite team of vampires (eclectically including Ron Perlman, Danny John-Jules, Donnie Yen and Tony Curran) to find and destroy a group of infected, rabid vampire “reapers” who threaten human and vampire alike. The first, and strongest reaper Nomak (a memorable Luke Goss) appears to be manipulating events for his own purposes, and threatens to reveal a dark secret about his kin…Needless to say, both superhero and vampire film plots are rarely so perfectly paced, tense and exciting.
The whole film is beautifully crafted, giving Blade the solid sequel he disserved, and providing Guillermo del Toro his window into making the films he wanted to make in Hollywood. What could possibly go wrong from here?
BLADE: TRINITY (2004)
Trinity is what went wrong, or more precisely, David S. Goyer is what went wrong with Blade. Goyer is a good enough scribe, but he isn’t a born director, and needs someone else calling the shots, a visual artist who can see what won’t work on film from the start. Under Goyer’s direction, BLADE: TRINITY is a shoddy affair – the screenplay feels rushed, the action is clumsily edited, the goofy humour is overdone and the cast either phone it in (Snipes), over-act (Posey), or are hilariously miscast (Purcell).
If only del Toro returned, we might have ended up with less of a car crash to cap off an otherwise sturdy series of films. Goyer’s well-publicised spat with Snipes over the film’s tone and direction probably didn’t help – it’s never a good sign when your leading man and director refuse to speak to each other. Trinity’s only saving grace is Ryan Reynolds, who at least appears to be enjoying himself with his near-constant stream of smartass quips.
Fifteen years since Blade and not a lot has changed. What was good in 1998 and 2002 still is, and what fell flat on its face in 2004 still does in spectacular fashion. We’ll almost certainly see Blade again on film. Snipes has expressed interest in returning for a fourth instalment, as has Dorff for a Deacon Frost-centred prequel, but now the rights to Blade and related characters are back with Marvel, both are unlikely to happen. The Daywalker will be back, but likely (and sadly) portrayed by someone other than Snipes when Marvel inevitably re-boots the series. SSP