Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Marvel’s first ever comic book movie hit, Blade.
(1998) Directed by Stephen Norrington
Screenplay by David S. Goyer
The power of an immortal. The soul of a human. The heart of a hero.
What It’s About:
“You better wake up! The world you live in is just a sugar coated topping. There is another world beneath it – the real world.” In the real world, immortal vampires enjoy a parasitic relationship with mortal man, controlling the population through their puppet police force and world governments. Standing against the bloodsuckers is Eric “Blade” Brooks (Wesley Snipes). After his mother was attacked by a vampire while he was in the womb, Blade was born with superhuman vampiric abilities, but none of the selfsame weaknesses, aside from a growing hunger to consume blood, which he suppresses with the help of his grizzled partner, weapons designer and serum synthesizer, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). When Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorf) an ambitious young vampire revolutionary, sets out to overthrow the elder hierarchy and call up La Magra, an ancient vampire deity to throw back the curtain and rule humanity outright, Blade enlists the help of Dr. Karen Jensen (N’Bushe Wright), a blood expert unwillingly thrust into the action.
Why I Bought It:
It’s fitting that the first comic book movie to show up on the review list is Blade. Without the success of Blade, there would be no Spider-Man, no X-Men, no Iron Man, no Avengers franchises.
Blade was Marvel’s first big hit. The first of its characters to successfully transition to the big screen and the first Marvel film to earn a theatrical release. Prior attempts at getting Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and The Punisher to audiences resulted in direct to video US releases, mainly forgettable.
What’s so unlikely, is that Marvel took an obscure character from the 70’s (Blade was created by Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman to be part of the crew that hunts Dracula in the Tomb of Dracula title), made him a headliner in an R-rated action horror movie, and came away with a pretty sizable success. This wasn’t Spider-Man or The Punisher, this was Blade. Blade! It’s like making a Robin movie without ever having a Batman flick, or putting out a picture about The Wonder Twins.
OK, not that unlikely, but pretty unlikely.
But Blade, despite all its got going against it, remains one of the coolest comic book movies of all time.
Every time I rewatch Blade I’m giddy with how much I still enjoy it. I didn’t see it in the theater. It looked like a rental to me. But it grabs you right from the beginning with its super rain slicked visuals and frenetic Hong Kong style action, its nifty CGI (I was really wowed by the disintegrating vampires when I first caught this) and driving, ultra-cool soundtrack.
Wesley Snipes looks like he’s having a great time in this one. Before Blade, I only knew him from Jungle Fever, Sugar Hill, Mo Better Blues, and New Jack City, and even though I was aware of Passenger 57, I thought it was a bump in the road in the career of a mainly serious actor. But watching this, I can see Snipes’ fondness for this role in his performance, a barely contained nerdiness that escapes now and then in his impromptu fist pumps and certain comic book-y expressions. Blade is an extremely physical role. He barely has any lines, but he arrests your attention whenever he’s on screen.
I can picture Snipes as a wide-eyed kid haunting Chinese video stores for those awesome blurry videos with the barely readable white subtitles and the too large clamshell cases in a carefully ironed coolie shirt. The guy loves kung fu movies, loves martial arts (became a practitioner at age 12), and it shows in his performance, in the little physical homages he does. Several of Blade’s dismissive, sort of “bitch, please” expressions remind me of Bruce Lee, and there are moments during the fight sequences where I see Jackie Chan in his reactions, Jet Li, Jim Kelly and the Run Run Shaw gang in his stances and poses. I read somewhere that it was Snipes’ great ambition to star in a movie with Jackie Chan, and I wish now he’d got his chance. I’ll bet he was ready to roundhouse kick his TV over when the Rush Hour movies were announced.
Add to that the fact that Snipes is breaking ground portraying the world’s first cinematic African American superhero (Spawn doesn’t count for me – he was masked most of the time, and please don’t try to bring up Meteor Man), and yeah, there’s a barely perceptible but definite kid in a candy store vibe to Snipes in Blade.
But make no mistake, Blade is a total badass, so monumentally skilled and high powered that his swagger is totally deserved (“Quinn. I’m gettin’ real tired of cuttin’ you up.”), and instead of dropping a lot of dumb one-liners, when the chips are down, he speaks with his actions. I love the scene where Quinn (Donal Logue), wearing Blade’s sunglasses, giddily announces the latest regrowth of his hand (Blade has chopped them both off at various times) and dances in place with a knife. “I got two new hands, Blade, and I don’t know which one I’m gonna kill you with!” He lunges forward and Blade’s only answer is to spin, neatly decapitating him with a length of concealed razor wire, and reclaim his sunglasses as they fall. Maybe there’s something of the alternate definition of blade in his name, that of the dashing youth with implied panache and style, I don’t know – but he’s got it in spades. The ending is off the chain ridiculous, with Blade performing several unbelievably timed and executed tricks, throwing his booby trapped sword into a stone crack, catching the coagulant stuff behind his back, and not being content to just toss them with proven deadly accuracy at Frost, he actually tosses one in the air and roundhouse kicks it into Frost’s forehead. But screw it, this is Blade, and more, it’s blood supercharged Blade. You can believe he’s capable of it.
Kris Kristofferson as Whistler, Blade’s limping, unshaven mentor and right hand guy behind the guy is great, delivering macho lines like “Catch you fuckers at a bad time?” in this great Harley ridin’ gravelly growl that I love to imitate (and am only capable of aping) when I’m struck with a chest cold. He spends most of the movie like a frowning old spider in the center of this sparking machine shop web of workbenches and toolkits, metal shelving and jury rigged weaponry. Yet there are cool moments between him and Blade that elevate him above a hollow stereotype. There’s an unspoken fatherliness and mutual respect, when he injects Blade with his serum and grips his hand as he convulses, yet looks away, allowing Blade his dignity. And when Frost leaves Whistler a bloody, dying mess, Blade betrays no emotion, yet mops at the copious blood bootlessly and with the tenderness of a son attending his father’s death bed as Whistler groans his last words.
The gorgeous N’Bushe Wright (who I first had a crush on in Zebrahead) provides a little more than eye candy in her portrayal of Dr. Jensen, who is early on bitten by the vampire Quinn and nursed back from the edge of turning by a combination of Blade and Whistler and her own ingenuity. She’s a cool, nominally romantic foil to Blade, doesn’t really swoon overly, and gets herself out of a jam now and then, dispatching the wonderfully otherworldly and decadent Mercury (Arly Jover). She even provides Blade with the impetus to beat the bad guys in the end, offering her own blood. There is some weird Oedipal stuff going on, admittedly. When Blade first decides to try and save her, she is interposed with a shot of Blade’s mother (the stunning Sanaa Lathan) reaching out to him from the delivery room table, and Jensen’s offering of blood and Blade’s ravenous partaking is almost filmed psychosexually. He thrusts his hungry mouth at her, devouring her, and it almost looks like breastfeeding gone horribly wrong. Her interplay with her ex-boyfriend Webb (Tim Guinee) is great, and I absolutely love the abrupt tonal shift when Webb is attacked by the burned to a crisp and presumed dead Quinn on the autopsy table. It’s very indicative of the film’s tone that as these two characters begin to have a believable romantic tiff and the plot starts to sag a bit into familiar expository territory, suddenly a corpse sits up and takes a bite out of one of them.
Stephen Dorff’s antagonist Deacon Frost is a cool counterpoint in physicality and attitude to Blade. He looks like some posing clubgoer, and even the vampire elders dismiss him (gotta mention Udo Kier and Judson – Joaquin from Star Trek II – Scott appear as old money purebloods). He talks a lotta smack and appears to party a lot, but in fact he’s got this cold, reptilian demeanor that betrays his ambition. As his minions cavort and dance, he’s shown obsessing over the computer translation of the vampire bible, burning the candle at both ends. Stephen Dorff has nothing on Wesley Snipes in terms of physique, but he’s still deadly in the climactic duel, and when he’s infused with La Magra it’s like watching a cobra and a mongoose go at it. Though he walks around in the daylight under heavy skin crème and looks like something out of Twilight, make no mistake, Frost is totally gangster, proving his monsterhood in a cool scene when he executes Udo Kier with the dawn and tosses his fangs on the board room table to make his point to the rest of the elders.
I already mentioned Arly Jover. Mercury’s a white clad skinny as a rail vampire with an untraceable accent, vaguely eastern European, vaguely Irish, and comes across as a White Queen on heroin, visually fascinating to watch and scary as hell. I maintain that more comic actors should be cast as villains, because Donal Togue’s Quinn is a great character. He loves being a vampire, but is a bon vivant and a coattail rider. He and Dorf have their own brand of fun, ad-libbing some great exchanges like “I’m gonna be naughty. I’m gonna be a naughty vampire god.” And that whole bit where Frost pretends he’s going to cut off Quinn’s hand. Clearly Quinn amuses Frost, as I can’t see why else he’d be allowed to stick around.
The soundtrack for Blade was a big hit, if I remember, the blazing hip hop and electronica complimenting the crazily stylized story perfectly. Particular standouts for me were the opening number, heard in the trailers, the Japanese schoolgirl rap at the vampire club, and that end track that kicks in after Blade catches the sunglasses. It gives the furious action a video game feel that gets me grinning. I also like the simple pulsing track that plays when Blade and Jensen trail Officer Krieger (Kevin Patrick Walls) through the night time streets in their cars, a sequence Norrington shoots in fast motion, lending it a cool, nightmarish quality.
“Some motherfucker’s always tryin’ to ice skate uphill.”
The initial scene, the one that pulls you right into the world of Blade. A dopey clubgoer (Elliot James) rides in a hot car with an even hotter chick (Traci Lords), who takes him (and the audience) to this super secret club located behind a meat packing company (were those bodies in the plastic?). She throws the dork her coat and leaves him standing there, and he drops it and tries to get in on the party, but the beautiful but slightly weird dancers reject him at every turn and eye him with all the disdain of a bunch of Hamptonites whose party’s just been crashed by ‘Ol Dirty Bastard. He wanders through the strobing lights, ogling the dancing bodies and finally reunites with his ride, who is dancing seductively with Mercury. When he tries to cut in, he’s shoved away.
This sucks he thinks, and as the music reaches a fever pitch, he mutters something about needing a drink. Suddenly the house lights go up, the DJ roars in front of a banner reading BLOODBATH! and after wiping a spot of red from his cheek, the guy looks up in time to see the overhead emergency sprinklers douse the crowd and him in human blood.
Horrified, he recoils, desperate to find the exit, and each of the partiers starts popping fangs and vamping out. Stumbling away from horrors at every turn, he tries to run, but is laid out by a punch from some shirtless vampire and falls to the bloodsoaked floor, where he’s kicked and pummeled. The sprinklers drained, the music dies down and the crowd applauds and cheers, some holding up bottles to catch the drippings. Slipping to get away, the one lone human crawls towards some clean whiteness, an abbatoir shower or something for the slaughterers, and a big black boot comes into frame.
He looks up, and the entire crowd of suckheads crouches like wary dogs and backpedals, parting to reveal Blade standing motionless, uncaring of the crimson painted vampires creeping out of his wake, and only nominally concerned by the crowd of the undead milling behind him (“It’s him!” “Daywalker!”).
Blade waits for the inevitable as the music reaches a lull.
But as if on cue, when it starts back up again, somebody kicks it off, rushing forward, and what follows is a frantic one against many battle that perfectly introduces the character of Blade. His fearlessness, his weaponry, his attitude.
If you can watch this scene and want to turn this movie off, yeah, it’s not for you.
Would I Buy It Again?
Yes. But you won’t see the other Blade movies on here, unfortunately. Blade 2 couldn’t touch this movie with its screechy Predator-faced vamps, and besides Ryan Reynolds’ creative cursing in Blade Trinity, it’s a snoozer.
Next In The Queue: The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi