Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Fun Vampire Action Film Blade Proved That Marvel Comics Characters Could Headline Enjoyable Movies

Though it may sound like total poppycock to in a day and age where Rocket Raccoon, Korg and M'Baku are beloved household names, there was a point in time where movies based on Marvel Comics characters were thought of as box office poison. Movies based on Howard the Duck, The Punisher and Captain America had been received with ridicule and dismal box office, the latter element occuring if such films received any kind of domestic theatrical release at all. Meanwhile, attempts to turn characters like Spider-Man into major motion pictures had been fraught with endless problems. In the mid-1990's, it looked like that Marvel Comics character may be doomed to never get proper theatrical movie adaptations.

Then Blade came along.

Arriving in August 1998, this motion picture nearly tripled its budget at the worldwide box office and received positive marks from critics and audiences alike. Suddenly, the possibility of Marvel Comics characters being translated into successful feature films didn't seem like such a foregone recipe for disaster. The story for this inaugural Blade movie forgoes the origin story approach that many movies introducing a certain superhero to moviegoers opt for. Blade (here played by Wesley Snipes) just shows up at the start of the movie as a vampire hunter whose intimidating penchant for dishing out deadly violence against vampires already has made him an immensely terrifying figure in the vampire community. 

Not every vampire is so scared of Blade though. Despite having numerous run-ins with the vampire hunter, half-vampire/half-human Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) isn't afraid of the possibility of running into Blade in the course of exacting his plan to unleash an ancient evil in order to procure a massive amount of power and also simultaneously turn the world's population into vampires. Teaming up with the human Karen Jensen (N'.Bushe Wright) and his mentor Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), Blade is gonna have to stop an impending vampire apocalypse and only a guy as skilled and experienced as Blade has a shot at stopping this impending Armageddon.

In an age where comic book movies tended to forego a number of core elements of the characters they were adapting, it's interesting to look back on Blade and see a movie that's unashamed of embracing material from its source material that the cynical may look at as "goofy". Vampires are vampires here, there's no attempt to ground them in reality, they're simply bloodsuckers who can't go out in the daytime. Meanwhile, Blade saunters around casual settings dressed up in his comic book attire and engages in all sorts of over-the-top combat in taking down his vampire foes. If you're gonna make a movie about a guy fighting hordes of vampires who want to kickstart the apocalypse, don't make it overly serious and that's just what Blade does.

Blade actually does quite a lot right as a movie, making it something that's aged better than a lot of 1990's superhero movies (*cough* Spawn *Cough*). CGI is kept to a minimum prior to the climax, so the visuals don't look too dated (CGI seen in the climax does look shoddy though) while Wesley Snipes is able to convincingly sell the sort of confident air the character needs to function properly. Blade is so experienced in this whole vampire-killing gig that he should command a presence suggesting that he doesn't even know how to break a sweat and Snipes is able to convey such a presence with remarkable ease. N'Bushe Wright and Kris Kristofferson, meanwhile, play off of the lead character well, Stephen Dorff is an appropriately scenery-chewing baddie and Udo Kier is perfectly cast as the leader of a group of super important vampires.

The story, coming from a script by David S. Goyer, is a solid one even if it occasionally suffers from the sort of overly convoluted narrative twists and turns (there's a late in the game reveal regarding a secret secondary villain that comes and goes too quickly given how much of an impact it's supposed to have on our lead character) that his 2010's superhero movie scripts like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Man of Steel suffered from. Meanwhile, filmmaker Stephen Norrington fares far better as a director here compared to his then-future superhero movie The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Whereas that 2003 film was heavy on tedium and stale performances, Blade is instead enjoyable to watch due to a strong lead performance and it's tendency to embrace the fun inherent in it's premise.

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