Marvel Movie Madness! Part 7: Blade
We sink our teeth into Marvel's vampiric hero.
Part 7: Blade (1998, 55% @ 84 reviews)
Directed by Stephen Norrington, starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N'Bushe Wright
Matt: In 1998, Blade hacked and slashed his way onto the big screen in one of the bloodiest comic book adaptations we'd ever see (at least until Blade II). Wesley Snipes, mostly at the top of his stardom, played the vicious vampire killer, and the movie was directed by a relative newcomer named Stephen Norrington.
I remember liking this movie, but I was surprised at how bleak it was when I rewatched it. There's a washed out feeling to the cinematography that's somewhat alienating, and I think it really helps set the tone here. As I watched it though, I felt like there was a conflict between the laconic intensity of the Blade character and Wesley Snipes' natural exuberance. Blade is very dour character here (more than he is in the comics), but sometimes Snipes just can't help mugging, or making a wisecrack.
Alex: Absolutely, this movie looks fantastic. The sets have zero clutter, with the images stern and elegant. It actually creates a sense of oppression, reminiscent of The Dark Knight later on. Other than some unfortunate CG work during the climax, it's hard to believe Blade has been out for nearly 15 years.
Norrington is clearly more comfortable with Snipes's physical strength than later directors who waste a lot of time on unnecessary stylized shots and slo-mo moments. You got Wesley Snipes in front of the camera; just let him do his thing and you'll get all the badass you need. There's very little posturing and chasing around in this movie. It's all direct choreographed brawling and it just feels great and real.
That's what I love about Blade and X-Men: they were filmed when Marvel had no precedent of Hollywood success. They hide their comic book origins and focus on making sense within the real world. Blade has refreshing immediacy, something slowly traded away for spectacle in modern comic book movies.
Tim: I agree with you, Alex. Having not read the Blade comics, I could imagine how this story looked on the page without much difficulty. I really enjoyed how movie plugs you into its world without tons of convoluted backstory or heavy portentousness. Still, there's a lot going on here: at times, Blade is an AIDS parable, at others, an Oedipal nightmare. Sometimes, Snipes comes across as the supernatural resurrection of John Shaft -- he's a supercool freelancer navigating the underground on a mission to make things right. But none of that detracts from the sheer fun of this movie -- it's got several fantastic set pieces (I particularly love the disco bloodbath at the beginning), and the performances are all better than they need to be. I could listen to Kris Kristofferson read the phone book, and N'Bushe Wright is good enough here to make it lamentable that we haven't seen much of her since.
In some ways, the sleek aesthetic of Blade feels like a dress rehearsal for The Matrix one year later: it's got leather trench coats, shades, a throbbing techno soundtrack, spiritual mumbo jumbo, and truckloads of spent shell casings. Alex is right -- some of the special effects look surprisingly dated, and the end is probably 15 minutes too long. But he's also correct in the fact that Blade is an assured B-movie that works well despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Blade is a lesser-known Marvel character -- it's not weighted down with the expectations of a rabid fan base, so it can go about its business with efficiency and a good deal of panache.
Alex: Marvel was probably cautious after watching D.C. let Superman and Batman rise, crash, and burn. Smart to toss out Blade first to test the waters.
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