Blade: The first successful Marvel film


and debonair
Feb 25, 2022
Last night I re-watched an old favorite - 1998's vampire super hero story Blade, starring Wesley Snipes. As when I left the theater 25 years ago, I remain impressed.

Blade the vampire hunter is a 1973 invention that came and went in publication, getting more page time in the 1990s. While always a black male, the comic character was not really super powered, at least at first. The film version depicts something more like a vampire in strength, agility and healing while being able to go in the sun and survive without blood. So expect super powered action.

But what really gets me about Blade is the aesthetics of the film. The camera is used very stylishly, with some scenes slowed down and others sped up for a hypnotic effect. Those camera effects and editing are used to great effect in some action scenes: The flashing lights of the subway tunnel makes the chasing vampires actually look like they are running nearly as fast as the train, for instance.

The world of Blade is interesting in other ways: Taking a cure from maybe Seven, the location and even exact era of the film is ambiguous. The cars look a little old for 1998, and the computer hardware perhaps too advanced. It leaves the impression of a parallel world, or maybe it emphasizes that the "real world" is merely a veneer hiding the massive vampire conspiracy from the regular humans - something that would also be used in the Matrix films.

Race is extremely interesting in Blade. It is not a "black" film like Wakanda or some of the Eddie Murphy comedies like Boomerang or Coming to America. The cast is fairly multiratial, which vampires and humans of all races shown. But what did get my attention is that the main attractive people in Blade - the titular character, the doctor helping him and his mother - are obviously and strongly black. Blade himself is a inhuman loner with a close relationship mainly to Chris Christopherson's Whistler and keeps a Zen meditation shrine, yet when we see him visit a close black friend his cultural affiliation as an African American couldn't be more obvious. And that contributes to the confident swagger Blade maintains - it doesn't seem like dress up, but the earned behavior of a man that has essentially been oppressed on multiple fronts and does not have to suffer anything he doesn't want to. Race is never mentioned in the film, and cross racial romantic relationships are shown multiple times. One pivotal scene takes place in what might be this ambiguous city's Chinatown. But instead of showcasing the usual storefronts and alleys with tired noodle cooks, the scene just has all Asian actors and extras. Every person that isn't Blade or his opponent are Asian, and this is just fact of this part of town, rather than "local color".

Wesley Snipes himself is a superlative actor, and strong in everything I have seen him in - comedy, drama or action. He not only brings an incredible physicality to the part, but makes this over-the-top character feel real and reasonable. He projects moments of humor that hit just right without breaking the forth wall. Yet, his dialog is relatively minimal.

Blade also embraces the rave scene and techno as a way to show the vampires as pleasure seeking night-lifers. And their behavior is somewhat individual - some being stern and authoritarian, some thrill seekers and some partying goofballs. Stephen Dorff's Deacon Frost is a gangster-like mover-and-shaker in this world - a Scarface rising quickly on his vision and ambition. Dorff is generally and excellent actor, even if his specialty is douchiness. The Matrix will later use a similar feel for its nightclubbing heroes, letting the bad guys be straight laced. But the rave feel and soundtrack remain. (Special points to the weirdo musical performance by Japanese duo Bang Wa Cherry.)

Overall, the film manages to introduce us to its complex world without obnoxious exposition, sells a fairly stylized kind of action without investing itself in an other genre's look or form (Matrix = Kung Fu), has many action scenes that look great (jumping from the hospital window, fighting in the subway), and largely respects its characters - all of whom seem to have their own agency and stakes. Even the clothing and weapons showcased are relatively original and unique.

The film mainly suffers from the inevitably over ambitious CGI used in different places - especially toward the end. But the same could be said about Empire Strikes Back's stop motion. It is forgivable.

As a serious super hero film that lead the way to the Matrix, Spider-Man, Batman Begins, X-Men, Hulk, and the MCU, Blade still stands as one of the very best super hero films of all times. It is no less realistic and serious than the Nolan productions, and is almost a flashback to the heyday of SF films - 1976 to 1987 - in terms of fully investing in its believability rather than the wink-at-the audience stuff that came later.

The two sequels are very different, but the second one by Guilllermo del Toro is a lot of fun as well.
I saw it when it first came out in the theaters . Terrific stuff . The two sequels were good but not as good as the first film .
I watched this again a couple of weeks ago and it really holds up. Apart from a few seconds of bad CGI, it looks extremely good - there's a scene where a vampire disintegrates in the sun that looks very impressive in a gruesome way. I always liked Kris Kristoffersen in it, but I was struck by how subtly good N'Bushe Wright is as the closest thing the film has to a normal person. Some of her facial expressions as Blade does his stuff are quite funny. Snipe gets it just right.

I agree about the direction style. There's a sped-up "time passes" scene where Blade follows a car that might be how the vampires perceive the world and a really nice bit where Blade drives into town in the morning. It's stylish without being intrusive. I was surprised how gory it is in places. Stephen Dorff is good at being slimy.

It feels weirdly convincing, especially the little vampire world, without being too goth or taking itself too seriously (unlike The Matrix). It might be because it's quite underplayed. Anyhow, it's really good.

Oh, another random thought: both Blade and Outland lack romantic subplots, which I think helps them greatly. The closest either of them gets is that the hero meets a new friend/helper, which covers fairly similar territory but doesn't put the main plot on hold too much.
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Oh, another random thought: both Blade and Outland lack romantic subplots, which I think helps them greatly. The closest either of them gets is that the hero meets a new friend/helper, which covers fairly similar territory but doesn't put the main plot on hold too much.
Clearly, the doctor is Blade's potential romantic +1. But I think that is left somewhat dangling so the return of his mother can have a stronger incestuous feel - an element that helps cement her loss of humanity and makes her death more acceptable.

I agree with everything you mentioned.
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I thought the Blade films were 'stylistic cheese' (the third film was horrible). I wish they would have treated the films more seriously, since they had a lot of potential to be much better than what they were. For example, if Nolan had directed them. With that being said, I've seen the first two films multiple times, and can quote much of them.
I would rate it the best Marvel comics movie (though I am not familiar with the comic so--I don't think Whistler was in the comic?). The humor did not override the seriousness of it--and with people like Udo Keir involved, that helped give it more horror status.
John Carpenter's Vampires has a similar plot (and one of the Blade actors is in it too). It makes more sense here than in Vampires-- think it was a mistake for them to go in the direction they did with Jack Crow. I am guessing I saw Blade first so it felt repetitive.
One thing about Blade I did not like is the Frost transformation. The Blood god. I think they should have had a monster there instead of the sword fight thing-especially after that neat sequence with the skeletal bats.

I am not a fan of the sequels.
The Dracula one is terrible beyond belief but I didn't care for the other sequel either. The vampire element is really diminished in that--they seem more like ninjas.

I was thinking of Stephen Norrington yesterday-- the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen got derailed by a few things including excessive cgi.

BTW-Blade was not the first black vampire hunter.

Incense For The Damned 1971 had the idea too.
Personally, I'm glad Nolan didn't direct Blade. He's a perfectly good director, but all of his films that I've seen have a dour, funless quality. Blade is ultimately about a man who fights vampires with kung fu, and benefits from being very slightly tongue in cheek.

Somber and serious Nolan couldn't do a Blade film.

Nut if the ever did an adaptation of Karl Edward Wager novel Bloodstone , Nolan would be the perfect director/ producer for that one.

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