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).