Blade (1998)


It seems that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having become the monster it is, has slowly become a Lovecraftian nightmare.  Its tentacles are reaching out and grabbing every Marvel property that came before it - suspiciously ignoring Roger Corman's version of The Fantastic 4 - but still reaching further and further back.  So far both pre-MCU Spider-Man franchises have been annexed as well, at least in an alternate universe, the original X-Men series.  Though he didn't show his face Blade has also recently popped up, and a new movie featuring the character is planned for release in 2023. 

It is almost guaranteed that the original trilogy of Blade movies will not be canon to the MCU.  In a weird way they are canon to the television show What We Do in the Shadows, but the problem with the original Blade films is two-fold: Wesley Snipes's often erratic behavior on set - as well as his age at this point - and the fact that the MCU is still scared to just go for an R-rated film.  The recent Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the closest so far, keeping in mind that Deadpool, Deadpool 2 and Logan are still not officially canon either.  After all this time, though, it is no wonder that Blade is being incorporated as Blade itself, though at the time a rough and bloody action film, was successful enough to reset expectations for superhero films after the genre was almost killed by Batman and Robin. 

Blade (Snipes) is born of a mother who is dying of a vampire bite.  This gives him the strength of natural born vampires, but since she was still technically human when she passed he does not have the allergies to silver or garlic and is not affected by sunlight.  He and his human mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) have been hunting a rebellious vampire named Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), who seems to be gaining popularity in the vampire community.  The search is complicated when the police interfere before Blade can finish off Deacon's right-hand man Quinn (Donal Logue).  A hematologist named Karen (N'Bushe Wright) is bitten by Quinn before he escapes the hospital.

Karen begins helping Blade and Whistler, both with hunting Frost and trying to find a way to cure Blade's own thirst for blood.  Meanwhile, Frost uses his growing influence, as well as access to the vampires' history in the Book of Erebus, to interpret passages that reveal a hidden temple in which he can bring forth a vampire deity that will allow them to conquer humanity.  The problem is that Blade is the key and, of course, will not come willingly. 

To say that Blade is highly influential would be an understatement.  Though there is nothing in this movie at all about werewolves,  Underworld and its sequels were definitely inspired by bringing a typically gothic and well-worn concept such as vampires into the modern day.  Crosses are out, vampires can easily cross running water, and their aversion to garlic, silver and sunlight are given somewhat scientific explanations, as is vampirism itself.  The top vampires are actually born that way rather than being changed, and the hierarchy looks down on ones like Deacon that were once human. 

Wesley Snipes is largely required to look intimidating as well as pensive, meaning that even though he is not a bad actor when he tries he is not challenged much in this.  It isn't a horror movie as much as it is an action film with horror and fantasy elements, and Blade himself, as described by Quinn at one point, is a force of nature.  It's not a complicated portrayal, but it works.  Kristofferson plays the father figure here, which is refreshing because in a lot of movies from the '90s the roles would have been reversed: white hero, black mentor is the way it's usually been done.  N'Bushe Wright provides a more human connection and, to David S. Goyer's credit, she is given more to do than be a victim. 

Despite its lasting influence and memorable performances - can't forget Stephen Dorff and Donal Logue as memorable bad guys - there are ultimately a lot of problems in this movie.  It often feels like entire scenes have been excised from the movie, particularly since Karen goes from scared outsider to vampire killer without much in the way of a transition.  Where it becomes really sloppy is the ending, as Deacon kills one of the elite vampires he needs to complete his goal and the audience is not shown someone else from his house replacing him.  However, the dead vampire shows up minutes later, alive and well, as if the scenes were already filmed with that actor and someone made the choice afterward to have the character killed.  Also, the deity is represented early on as being somewhat of a wave of blood that would rush forth and turn humanity, but since the CGI didn't work for it a new final fight scene was devised, negating entirely the point of what Deacon is doing throughout.  In fact, the original ending was supposed to be a bit of a downer, and I was thinking the whole time that it would be nice occasionally to see that type of ending, but I can't complain much since we did get Guillermo Del Toro directing the sequel. 

The other problem is that they should have gone for more practical effects.  It was the late '90s, CGI was becoming more popular and some companies were doing it right (Starship Troopers, released a year before this, still looks great) and others weren't.  This falls into the latter category.  Almost everything - sadly, including the practical effect of the vampire archivist Pearl - looks like a horribly rendered cartoon.  The vampires quickly incinerating when staked looked passable back then, but mostly it looks awful now, as does the final fight between Deacon and Blade.  One may point at the budget, but while this may be considered low-budget now, this was a medium budget film at the time with a known start in the lead role.  Even in 1998 there is no excuse for the effects to look that bad. 

Stephen Norrington, the director, spent most of his time doing special effects, so he should have known better.  Then again, he was responsible for the effects in Alien 3, which are also considered to be some of the worst CGI of the '90s.  He has only directed four movies, the last being The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the best I can say about his directing style is he is sloppy.  Huge continuity errors like the ones mentioned above should never have made the final cut (I know that the editor is also responsible for this, but directors often have a lot of control unless the movie is taken away from them) and, ultimately, the parts of the film not marred by his bad decisions just seem hollow.  Blade was not well-loved by critics when it came out, and I think a lot of the love it gets these days is due largely to Snipes's performance and the fact that a lot of the good stuff people remember is from the second film, while the third makes this look like a masterpiece in retrospect.  

Blade (1998)
Time: 120 minutes
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, N'Bushe Wright, Stephen Dorff, Donal Logue
Director: Stephen Norrington 

 

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