Tag Archive: david goyer


Blade (1998): Grade: B+

1998-poster-blade-wesley-snipes

Is this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, or Amazon Prime? Blade is not available for rent via Netflix Watch Instant, but it is available for rent on the iTunes Store and Amazon Prime.

Directed by: Stephen Norrington

Written by: David S. Goyer

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, Stephen Dorff, Donal Logue, Udo Kier, Sanaa Lathan

“You’re nothing to me but another dead vampire.”

Unofficially, Blade marks the beginning of the Marvel movie franchise. I say ‘unofficially’ because when New Line Cinema greenlit Blade in the late 90’s, nobody envisioned this film to be the financial success it would become, let alone give anyone the idea that audiences were hungry to see the Marvel comic book universe translated onto the big screen. In fact, New Line executives wanted Blade to be a comedic spoof, but writer and self-professed comic book fan, David Goyer (Man of Steel), insisted that the film remain true to its dark and serious comic book origins. With a B-list action star, average production budget, third-string superhero, and low box office expectations, Blade was released during the doldrum months of August (of 1998), when studios release their leftover summer films. To everyone’s surprise, Blade turned out to be a huge box office hit that spawned two more sequels, a TV series, and an anime series. It also gave studio executives and Marvel the idea that despite the box office failure of Batman and Robin (and Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel), which had come out 1 year prior to Blade, and further inspired by the massive box office success of The Matrix, which came out less than 1 year after Blade, a gold mine of Marvel’s properties was waiting to be tapped. Let me put it this way – without Blade, The Avengers may have never happened. The film’s unexpected success led Marvel to greenlight both X-Men and Spider-Man.

Besides injecting new life into the comic book genre, Blade reinvigorated the vampire genre as well, and gave this genre a much-needed contemporary vibe. It is difficult to imagine this now, but before Blade, the idea of a vampire nightclub inside a meatpacking warehouse filled with young vampire ravers was something not yet seen in a vampire film. Blade sparked the imagination behind later films and shows such as Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and True Blood.

Blade was created by comic book legends Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. Introduced in Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973, Blade is a superhero and vampire hunter. He was born a vampire when his mother was bitten by a vampire while she was still pregnant with him. However, due to his unique DNA, Blade (Wesley Snipes) has all of the vampire’s strengths, but none of their weaknesses except for their thirst for blood. Blade is able to suppress his blood thirst with a serum, but in the film his body is becoming increasingly immune to the serum. Assisting him in his mission to vanquish all vampires is Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), a regular human who designs and builds Blade’s arsenal of weapons and also serves as a father figure to Blade. In this film, Blade is faced with a new vampire threat – Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a bitten vampire (as opposed to a pure blood vampire) who seeks to translate ancient vampire texts in order to awaken La Magra (the god of blood) so that Frost can gain godlike powers. With his minions (who include Donal Logue), Frost kidnaps the counsel of vampire elders (who are all pure bloods) in his quest to resurrect La Magra. Blade obviously has issues with this and seeks to put a stop to all these shenanigans.

Sometimes, film adaptations of comic book properties can become successful and influential enough to impact future portrayals of that property in the comic books. This happened with Blade. Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s version of the vampire hunter is very loosely similar to David Goyer’s script. The comic book Blade was not super-powered at all – he was just some guy who was immune to vampirism and who threw wooden knives to kill vampires. The character wasn’t even that popular in the comic books. In Tomb of Dracula, Blade was a supporting character and the main focus in that series was Dracula. In later years, Marvel tried to revive him during the 1990’s, but he never caught on with readers. Once the film was released and became a big success, Marvel pretty much adopted Goyer’s version for the comic book version. Ironically, despite the success of the Blade trilogy of films, Blade has remained unpopular in the comics.

If you are familiar with 70’s blaxploitation films, you will probably recognize Blade as a modern blaxploitation movie. In fact, the comic book Blade was intended to be a blaxploitation character. Like his 70’s predecessors, Blade is a black man who can chop your ass up with his martial arts skills. Deacon Frost and his gang are like The Man in that they control the cops and politicians and they have the money, the power, and the rules on their side.

I would argue that the most rewatched and coolest scene in Blade is the opening rave sequence. It perfectly sets the tone of the entire film (and it is the only time we will ever see ex-porn star Traci Lords prove that her talents may perhaps have gone beyond porn and blowjobs). The opening sequence makes it clear that Blade is not going to be some kid-friendly superhero film like the pre-Chris Nolan Batman films, The Phantom, The Shadow, or Dick Tracy. With this sequence, Blade promised and delivered Sam Raimi-esque buckets of blood, a grim and dark tone, martial arts violence (Wesley Snipes has been a martial artist since the age of 12 and has earned a 5th dan black belt in Shotokan Karate and a 2nd dan black belt in Hapkido), and the superhero even says the word “fuck!”

I have never been too keen on Wesley Snipes. Aside from a few standout roles in Jungle Fever, New Jack City, and White Men Can’t Jump, Snipes has carved himself an uninspired career of starring in play-by-numbers action movies like Passenger 57, Demolition Man, Boiling Point, and Drop Zone. However, I have to give credit where credit is due and credit is certainly due to Snipes’ electrifying presence in Blade. Simply put, Wesley Snipes IS Blade and the first film alone turned that role into Snipes’ signature career character. Marvel Studios has regained ownership of the Blade property and apparently, a new film is in development. However, I cannot begin to even fathom who else can play this character other than Wesley Snipes (LL Cool J was initially attached to star as the vampire hunter…Mama Said Knock You Out). Director Guillermo Del Toro, who directed Blade II, even went so far as to state, “Wesley knows Blade better than David Goyer, better than me, better than anyone else involved in the franchise.” While this role did not require top notch acting skills, it did require a dedication to the role, which Snipes wholeheartedly embraced.

Stephen Dorff (in his only enjoyable role), who plays Deacon Frost, is surprisingly effective in a role that almost went to Jet Li (who opted to instead star in Lethal Weapon IV…good move, Jet, but in all fairness, no one thought that film would be ok and this film would be so good). The actor brings an air of menace and sinister theatricality that although comes off cliché at times, it works for this type of movie. His best moments are with Udo Kier, the German actor who plays one of the head vampires. However, among all the villains, its Donal Logue who chews up the screen as Frost’s right-hand man, Quinn. Its strange to see Logue in this film after seeing him in The Tao of Steve, in which he displays the same mannerisms as his vampire character here. And legendary Kris Kristofferson is a brilliant casting choice as Blade’s mentor, Whistler. He brings gravitas and experience to the piece, and his old grizzled badassery nicely complements Blade’s cool badassery.

Aside from the very 90’s getup that Blade has, Blade remains a remarkably stylish film – it contains slo-mo, time-lapse shots, overcranking and undercranking, and fast-edits using shaky handheld cameras. Much of what this film has predated what we saw in action movies for well over the next decade. However, the one film that everyone compares this film to is The Matrix solely because the Keanu Reeves movie came out less than a year after Blade did and there is much in that film that Blade had already done. Watch both films back to back and you will see a lot of similarities in action choreography, shots, and themes. Blade is also strikingly atmospheric – the score, when not pounding out annoying techno tracks, produces an incessant heartbeat-like John Carpenter percussion. Admittedly, some of the VFX has not aged well, but it doesn’t take you out of the movie and it is compensated by having some satisfying practical work.

Blade is an underrated and underappreciated film that still manages to deliver an entertaining product that clips along at a nice fast-moving pace. As I said before, Marvel now controls this property and based on how insanely successful they have been with their other properties, I have high hopes that they can reboot this franchise to be just as good as it used to be, if not better (let’s not forget how bad Blade: Trinity was).

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Man of Steel (2013): Grade: C

man.of.steel.posterStarring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, & Ayelet Zurer

Directed by: Zach Snyder

Written by: David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan

Superman was my very first exposure to the world of comic book superheroes. As a kid, I cannot recall how many times I must have dragged my parents to my local video store to rent Richard Donner’s Superman and Superman II. I knew every scene, every line of dialogue from those movies backwards and forwards. To me, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and Terence Stamp were not the Godfather, Popeye Doyle, and Billy Budd, respectively, but rather Jor-El, Lex Luthor, and General Zod. New York City was better known to me as Metropolis and in my world, there really was a Daily Planet. As I grew older and developed a more sophisticated and mature taste in comic books that were dominated by darker, more morally ambiguous heroes, I continued to hold a deep respect and fascination with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s American icon.

Since Donner’s standard-defining pair of Superman films, Hollywood has struggled to recapture the playfulness, awe, and grandeur of those movies. Supermans III and IV were marred by cheesy storylines, poor special effects, and an overall lack of inspiration. In 2006, Bryan Singer attempted to bring back Superman in a huge way with Superman Returns, an homage to Donner’s Superman. This film was to serve as Warner Bros.’ attempt to capitalize on the resurgent movie superhero genre and bring its stable of DC superheroes to the big screen. Unfortunately, Superman Returns was also a disappointment. However, with Marvel Film’s massive success in translating the Marvel superheroes to the big screen, Warner Bros. was determined to capture a piece of that box office dollar and tried again to give audiences a good Superman movie. To ensure that success, Warner Bros. convinced Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) to bring his successful vision for the Batman series to the Superman universe. With Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Suckerpunch) directing, Nolan producing and writing (along with David Goyer), the result is Man of Steel.

In this 3rd cinematic reboot of the Superman origin story, we witness the birth of Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill) and his send-off from his home planet of Krypton. Despite the warnings of Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), overdevelopment of Krypton’s natural resources has made the planet unstable and it is now ready to explode. To save his race, Jor-El takes the DNA of his race, called a codex, and places it with his infant son before sending him to Earth. The head of Krypton’s military, General Zod (Michael Shannon), opposes Jor-El’s plan and wants to keep the codex in Krypton so that he can rebirth Krypton’s race to be a superior one. But Zod is unable to stop Kal-El and the codex from being sent off to Earth. On Earth, Kal-El is raised by his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and goes by the name of Clark Kent. Clark eventually discovers his true origin and dons the Superman costume. However, just as he does so, Zod appears on the scene and orders Earth to give up its alien resident or face the wrath of Zod. With the help of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Superman decides to fight back, with or without the human race’s help.

Starting with the good, Man of Steel rivals the Richard Donner Superman films in regards to casting. Not only does Henry Cavill facially resemblance the Man of Steel, but he also has the hero’s physique, which is something that Brandon Routh did not have in Superman Returns. The worst casting choice in Superman Returns is one of the best choices made in Man of Steel by the casting of Amy Adams to play Lois Lane. I was also pleased by the casting of Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Michael Shannon (General Zod), and Diane Lane (Martha Kent), but the film’s absolute best casting choices are that of Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as Superman’s fathers. Donner seemed to recognize the importance of having iconic actors playing the father of the most iconic superhero and it is something I am guessing Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder recognized as well.

Cavill takes on the Superman role with very big expectations to fulfill and he does so magnificently. Unlike Brandon Routh, Cavill is able to lend his character a powerful presence that exudes authority and confidence. With their Batman films, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan gave Bruce Wayne/Batman a deeper and more complex inner conflict that humanized the character. They do the same here with Clark Kent/Superman. We see the hero struggle between his loyalties to his adopted human race and his loyalties to his alien heritage. This conflict resolves itself in a great scene at the film’s climax where Superman must finally choose. With this conflict, Goyer and Nolan place more focus on the alien aspect of Superman’s origin, which is something the past Superman films have not done.

The Lois Lane character undergoes the biggest change to the Superman mythos. Instead of meeting Clark Kent as colleagues at the Daily Planet, Lois finds Superman while doing an investigative report for the Daily Planet. From the outset, Lois knows Superman’s identity and any potential sub-plots involving Clark Kent hiding his true identity from Lois Lane are gone. A more welcome change is having Lois be a smarter individual who uses her smarts and wits to help Superman rather than always be a damsel in distress waiting for Superman’s rescue. This change in the character has been long overdue and its nice to finally see it here.

After watching his haunting performance in Take Shelter, I was very much looking forward to seeing Michael Shannon’s take on General Zod. The actor has a ferocious intensity that has served him well in films such as Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, Boardwalk Empire, and most recently, The Iceman. I had no problem with the quality of Shannon’s performance. He did exactly what the filmmakers envisioned for his character to be. Instead, I took issue with how the character was interpreted and that really comes down to a matter of preference. I still prefer Terence Stamp’s arrogant and homicidal take over Shannon’s militaristic, angry, and no-nonsense interpretation of General Zod.

Surprisingly, many of the best scenes in Man of Steel are the ones with Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner. Both lend gravitas and a “special event” feel to the movie in very much the same way that Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford did in Superman. Unfortunately, we do not get enough of Costner, who got short shrifted except for the film’s only emotional scene in which Clark Kent witnesses his father’s sacrifice to save people’s lives during a tornado.

So what went wrong with Man of Steel? How did a collaboration of some very talented individuals produce a film that drags so much in many places that I found my attention wandering elsewhere? One big issue is the attempt to place Superman in a realistic world. Writer David Goyer has said that, “We’re approaching ‘Superman’ as if it weren’t a comic book movie, as if it were real… I adore the Donner films. Absolutely adore them. It just struck me that there was an idealist quality to them that may or may not work with today’s audience. It just struck me that if Superman really existed in the world, first of all, this story would be a story about first contact.”

I do not have a problem with this approach, BUT it is one thing to make a realistic movie about an ordinary man who dresses up in a Batman suit and a whole other thing to make one about an alien with indestructible powers. The audience must suspend too much of its disbelief even in a realistic interpretation of the character. And in that case, then why even bother taking a realistic approach when the premise alone is so unrealistic?

We are all very familiar with Superman’s origin story even if you don’t read comic books and with the origin having been retold as recently as 2006 with Superman Returns, I’m sure the filmmakers struggled to give audiences a fresh take on Superman’s backstory. However, the back-and-forth approach between the past and the present is distracting and it prevents us from establishing a connection with Clark Kent or to create a build up and anticipation to his discovery of the Superman suit and his purpose on Earth. Furthermore, so many people witness Clark Kent’s incredible power on display when he was younger (i.e. the bully who gets saved from a school bus and the employees who get saved from a burning oil rig) and they obviously are witness to concrete evidence of alien life. However, they all seem to forget about this amazing sight and not a single one of them apparently reports it to the media!

The origin story is chock full of clichés. For example, in the school bus rescue scene, Clark rescues the bully who a few minutes earlier was harassing him on the bus. In the tornado scene, Pa Kent has to go out and save the family dog from an oncoming tornado and he dies, but the dog manages to escape. In yet another scene, a distressed Clark runs out of a classroom and into a closet. The teacher follows him and tries to talk him out of coming out of the closet. For some weird reason, the entire classroom is standing around her while she and Clark’s mom are talking to him behind the closet door.

By the way, for someone who is so against the taking of any life, Superman seems to have no problem smashing his way through giant skyscrapers and laying wanton destruction to the city of Metropolis. It made absolutely no sense to me that he struggled so much as to whether he would kill Zod in order to save a family and yet he probably already killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people battling Zod and his minions in Metropolis and other places.

Now I know a TON of money was spent on the visual effects for Man of Steel and there is some nice eye candy in the movie, but is it just me or does most of this film look like one huge video game cut scene? The original Superman film used the tag line “You will believe a man can fly” and although the film was made long before the advent of computer visual effects, the special effects served the story and they were used sparingly. As such, the effects had much more of a “wow” quality to them – they were earned moments for the audience so that when they appeared, you were far more impressed. Today, computer graphics are able to make up entire worlds and digital characters that look almost lifelike. Unfortunately, filmmakers have taken this tool and have blindly allowed their films to drown in CG effects. Worst of all, many filmmakers do not take the time or spend the money to allow those effects to look believable. Man of Steel takes all of this to the next level. It seems to go out of its way to make every CG shot look fake. The easiest way to take me out of a film is to see fake fire or water and watching the actors interacting with what obviously is a tennis ball on a stick in front of a green screen. The effects in this film look unrealistic, soulless, and they fail to give you a sense of scope and impact as Superman tears through cities and buildings. When Metropolis was getting trashed in Superman II, you got a strong sense that lives were in danger. You get very little of that in Man of Steel.

When it was announced that Christopher Nolan would supervise Man of Steel, I was very excited to see Nolan’s Dark Knight sensibilities combined with director Zack Snyder’s visual style. After watching this film, however, I now wonder if maybe this film would have benefited from just having Zack Snyder make the film. In the wake of Snyder’s horrible Suckerpunch, it is easy to forget that he also managed the impossible and gave us a great Watchmen movie. That makes me wonder what Man of Steel would have looked like without Nolan’s fingerprints and style on every frame of this film. Man of Steel is clearly a Christopher Nolan movie and that is its biggest downfall. Unlike Batman, the Superman universe is a more traditional comic book story so it is much more difficult to place the character in the real world. Consequently, trying to shoehorn a realistic vision into Superman has produced a Frankenstein mishmash that is part serious and part superhero film that ends up not working.