Monday, June 18, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #13: Blade

Chronologically, Blade is the first Marvel Movie of the modern era (1998 to The Avengers).  It broke the ground and laid the foundation for all Marvel movies until The Avengers.  (It is our firm belief that The Amazing Spider-Man will establish a new era)  Being the first of anything is tough.   You have to do a lot of work and take a lot of risks and ultimately make the mistakes that future films in your ilk will either learn from or die by.  With all of those potential strikes against it purely as a result of its timeplace, it is kind of surprising to find it this high up in the list.  With any vanguard there is usually a fatal flaw that mars it and keeps it from reaching the level of its predecessors, but Blade survives because it does the one thing no film before it has successfully done: it delivers EXACTLY what it promises.

How am I not relatable?
To be sure, Marvel sort of played it safe with Blade.  They didn't fully commit to a costumed do-gooder like Spider-man or Captain America with brightly colored spandex and secondarily colored villains.  They went, instead, with a grungy, pre-goth (it was only really taking hold in American pop culture by this time, get out your Dead Can Dance albums and let's go way back) vampire hunter decked out in leather and weapons.  It was the style at the time and it was pretty safe.  (see The Matrix the following year...)  They also went with a character who could fight common villains like vampires instead of hard to understand, and accept, villains like MODOK.  This allowed Blade to span two genres, super-hero/comic book and horror.  That way if it wasn't flying as a comic book movie, it could be sold as a horror flick based on a comic book.  Safe.

But as it turns out, none of that matters because Blade turned out to be pretty damn good.  The plot was kept simple.  A quasi-origin story (done smartly in flashback) that pits Blade against the very monsters that made him.  We join Blade in the heat of his fight against the creatures of the night as he and his partner hunt them down, always searching for the fabled first vampire whose death will signal the end for their kind.  Basically, we are just along for the ride as Blade goes up against Deacon Frost, a vamp baddie with big plans.  Thrown into the mix is the bitten maiden whom Blade must try to save before she fully turns.  It is all very standard vampire movie stuff (Vampires anyone?), and doesn't ask us to buy more than we normally would for a film of this type.  The good news is, it takes this standard formula and executes it at a pretty high level.

The real key to Blade's success, however, is Wesley Snipes.  I will accept no one else in the role of Blade until Snipes is WAY too old the play the character.  His take on the character is tough, serious, and just a little bit campy.  Snipes knows what he is doing.  He knows the score and knows that he is taking the audience on a trip.  He accepts that role and you can tell he is having a blast doing it.  Since Snipes' Blade is so genuine, it is easy to get sucked in and want to see where he is taking the role and the story.  The supporting cast is good.  I've never been a Kristofferson fan, but he is great as the grizzled old vet.  N'Bushe Wright is not as annoying as the maiden in distress as she could be and really fills the role without being terribly memorable.  The same can be said for Stephen Dorff's Deacon Frost.  He's a villain, you want him to be defeated.  It's good.  I realize these aren't glowing reviews for these two, but in a film like this, it is better to be bland than to be Parker Posey in Blade: Trinity.
I still have my foam promo throwing star from ComicCon the year Blade came out!
Like I said, Blade sits here at #13 because it manages to not screw anything up so badly that it fails in delivering on the promises it makes.  Blade is a solid film with solid performances and a standard plot.  It succeeds.  The charismatic work of Wesley Snipes is just icing on the cake.  Not too shabby for Marvel's first foray into super-hero movies since the 1990 Captain America.  And a pretty good start for the modern era of Marvel movies.

Aimee's Take:

You know, I was living in the late 1990's watching movies like The Matrix thinking, "Wow, I live in the freaking future!" Everyone was wearing sunglasses in the dark and wearing synthetic leather trench coats. I didn't manage to see Blade 1998 when it came out, but it has a definite Matrix feel to it... before the Matrix.
Blade is not a terribly well-plotted film but it certainly isn't unwatchable. The story is, in some ways, incredibly simple, showcasing an origin story and a parallel; but in other ways it gets bogged down in vampire society crap and can be a little confusing.
But, Blade is a character/actor driven piece, and if well-executed, the plot can become an afterthought. (Note that this did not work out for Wolverine.) Wesley Snipes owns the role playing it both cool and cheeky, spitting out one-liners that make you cringe and cheer. The action is intense and no-holds-barred, and carries the movie quickly through all the paces. All you need is Blade and Whistler to make this thing work. It really doesn't matter who the villains are--it's Blade and Whistler versus the vampires. 

Maybe we'll take a look at these films soon...
What could be cooler than watching Blade destroy dozens of raver vampires in underground vampire clubs? Nothing, really. Things want to be cooler than this, but they aren't. They are only going to be just as cool as watching Blade kill vampires. It's the unattainable standard. It's the reason why Blade Trinity sucked: not enough watching Blade kill vampires.

In all seriousness, Blade succeeds in setting a new tone for "comic book" films. Outside Marvel, at this time, comic book nerds were having to feast upon things like Batman & Robin in theaters. Which, frankly, is miserable. Nothing about this says it respects the genre.

So, whether I love or hate Blade I think we must give it props for taking mainstream comic book films out of the glow-stick bargain basement and into the the new century. Is Blade as popular as Batman? No. But perhaps that's why Blade was allowed to put the character through his paces. Blade was given just enough room to breathe; it's over the top but it didn't have to be--it merely does what seems natural. It's not my favorite film, but succeeds where others fail.

Trust me, this is better than Uma.

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