Let’s start off the Marvel Blogathon with a throwback. A throwback to a time 10 years B.I.M. (Before Iron Man), when George Clooney was Batman, Christopher Reeves was Superman, Robert Downey Jr. was in the middle of his “drug years,” Joss Whedon was working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Chris Evans was 7 years old. The most recent Marvel-based films were an unreleased Roger Corman Fantastic Four project and direct-to-video flicks for The Punisher and Captain America. Tides were shifting and Phase One of Superhero films, a phase dominated by Keaton’s noir-steeped Batman, was winding down and major changes lingered on the horizon. A few cult-classics peppered the landscape, most of which featured lesser known characters like The Crow, Spawn and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the originals, not the Marky Mark and Megan Fox disappointment). The public was becoming more and more familiar with Marvel characters outside of their comic homes with the Spider-Man TV show and the X-Men arcade game (which as an aside, I played a few weeks ago and it is still awesome. I’d recommend playing as Colossus and luring the Sentinels in before blasting him with his mutant power). But the looming explosion of comic book films was still a few years off and even the idea of a multi-phase roll-out of a Marvel Cinematic Universe would have seemed like a farfetched concept.
With Blade‘s release in 1998 the wheels began to slowly turn. Blade is more a Vampire flick and an excuse for Wesley Snipes to punch and flex for two house than it is a Comic book/Superhero flick. Looking back, it’s a great place to start, Blade was not a widely known character but had a modest base of fans, some who met the shades-wearing, knife-wielding, half-Vampire, Vampire-slayer through the Spider-Man TV show. This base and lack thereof gave the film a token of name recognition while avoiding the fine-tooth-comb scrutiny and nit-picking that prey on bigger name characters. This translates to freedom, freedom to develop your own cinematic world, picking what source material you want to include and adding what else you’d like. In the film, Blade’s origin comes when his mother is bit by a vampire just before she gives birth to the character. Through this prenatal bite, Blade gains the strength, speed and regenerative abilities of vampires while avoiding their weaknesses including vulnerability to sunlight, giving him the sweet street name Day Walker. The murder of his mother at the hands of a vampire sets him on a path of vengeance as he uses his abilities to hunt down the vampire responsible and kill any others he finds along the way. With all of his strengths, Blade has one crucial weakness which becomes an interesting and often poorly used plot point throughout the series. While acquiring vampire strength he also acquires their thirst for blood. Whistler, Blade’s mentor and surrogate father, developed a serum to stave off the thirst but by the time the movie begins, Blade has begun to develop a tolerance to the serum and requires increasing doses. The thirst, serum, and compassion for humans are Blade’s main weaknesses but don’t stop him from being a more than capable vampire slaying machine.
The film’s plot centers around Blade and a half-blood vampire named Frost (i.e. he was born a human then bit by a vampire). Despite neither being born as pure vampires, Blade and Frost shape the vampire world more than any pure blood in the film. Frost holds a seat at the table among the vampire leaders but never receives the embrace of the pureblood elders. He sets out to even the playing field and unleash a vampire apocalypse set to convert all humans on the planet creating a world full of vampires, half-blood and pure-blood alike. To fulfill this prophecy he needs Blade’s blood, pitting the unlikely pair against each other.
Blade feels much more like a product of the action movie scene of the 1990’s than the comic book genre of the 2000’s. The fight scenes alone betray the film’s 90’s root and the film opens with a fight in a rave with electronic music pumping in the background. Taking its plot recipe from the action genre, Blade follows a predictable story-line starting with the hero’s introduction, introduction of his mentor and love interest, the hero’s initial success then tragic setback, all followed by redemption. But the film infuses interesting ingredients to this cookie cutter, most of which afforded not by gimmick but the inherent story being told. In earlier reviews, I’ve discussed the importance of establishing thorough and consistent rules in a fictional world. Blade manages to give us just enough to appreciate the vampire world without burdening us with complicated explanations. Blade’s origins are believable in the film’s world, as are Frost’s. I last watched the sequels many years ago but I imagine the film will break its own rules as Blade’s story continues. But this first film delights as a fun origin film. Stephen Dorff plays Frost wonderfully, providing an effective but not ridiculous villain. Wesley Snipes shows restraint as Blade, not complete restraint but he never goes overboard (other than an early fist pump as he nails Donal Logue to the wall which was awesome). Over-the-top moments come from Logue who gives the film some needed comic relief, even if he outstays his welcome at times.
Bottom line: Imperfect and at times dated, Blade helps lay the groundwork for Marvel’s later films by creating a solid film with respectable profits, even if the film version may be a slightly unfamiliar to the comic fans.
Thanks for reading!
Flashback/Backslide’s Marvel Blogathon continues Thursday, January 8th with a review of X-Men (2000).
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