For over a decade now, comic book movies have been some of the highest grossing films to come out from Hollywood. What started out as a fad has become it’s own genre. Over the next few months, I’m going to be delving into each movie individually to try and find out what it is that’s made them a mainstay in modern Hollywood.
Release Year: 1998
Director: Stephen Norrington
Writer: David S. Goyer
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright and Donal Logue.
Blade always seemed like an interesting choice of character to turn into a movie. He made his debut in comics in the early 1970s, first appearing in The Tomb Of Dracula series by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. At first, he was a supporting character, and was created to fight vampires in the Marvel universe. He has had several of his own titles over the years, but none of them lasted that long, and he never really broke out like other supporting characters. I, personally, have been reading comics pretty steadily since I was 8, and I’ve read my fair share of Marvel comics, and I can’t recall Blade appearing in any of them. Even recently, in all the big marvel events like Civil War and Secret Invasion, stories that happened after he broke out as a movie star and when he was a little more well known, he was never used. Almost to the point were it’s like comic book writers don’t know what to do with him.
My first experience with the character that I remember, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, is the character turning up in the 90s Spider-man animated cartoon show. They did a vampire storyline were the vampires never bit anyone, instead they drained the plasma from their victims through their hands. This was because the cartoon couldn’t have blood sucking vampires, so it had to make do with plasma draining vampires (and because children know what plasma is, right?)
The film itself is also pretty significant because it’s one of the few R rated (or certificate 18, for English people) comic book/super hero movies. Movies like this aren’t usually made with that high of a rating because they need to be family friendly in order to make money. The majority of comic book movies are 12a (which is something I’m going to go into more when I write about Spider-man in a couple of weeks) in order for the studios to make back the money they spend on these things and turn a profit. But Blade got lucky, because it came out on the back of Batman & Robin, which was very much made to cater to the family friendly audience, and it ended up severely under performing at the box office (because, as we’re all well aware of – Batman & Robin is not a good movie).
Also, with Blade not exactly being a big household name, they had freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do with the character and the film, which turned out to be a blood-filled action movie full of bad language. And what they did worked, because they spent $40 million making Blade, and it made over $100 million back at the box office and even went on to get two sequels and an unrelated TV series.
Now, onto the movie itself. Blade is the story of a half human, half vampire who has all the strengths of being a vampire but none of the weaknesses. His mother is bitten by a vampire when she is still pregnant with him, and he is torn from her dying womb and adopted by Whistler, who decides to turn Blade into a vampire slayer. The films villain, Deacon Frost, wants to do away with mankind, and let vampires become the dominant species on the planet. In order to do that, he needs to unlock the secrets of an old vampire God La Magra. Blade must stop Frost before he can do this, and along the way he’s going to kill a lot of vampires, and make Donal Logue wish he’d have died in the first scene, because this dude goes through hell for Deacon Frosts cause.
I watched it again recently for the first time in years – and it holds up pretty well. Some of it is very dated to the late 90s, like the outfits and the underground club dance scene that opens the movie. But other parts hold up better, like Blades costume. He decides to go for the long leather coat and body armour look. He only works in black, and he still looks like a bad ass. I was also thinking that a lot of the costume design in this movie looks very inspired by The Matrix, but after some imdbing found out that The Matrix came a year later, so this is pre-matrix black leather.
Wesley Snipes is also pretty great in the lead role, and managed to help turn a supporting character from a comic into a movie star. They never give him much dialogue, the exposition is left to other characters, but in the action scenes he’s really solid.
But even though this film isn’t as campy as other super hero movies, it’s still full of stuff that makes no sense. Like, for example, Whistler, who is Blades old and wise trainer, but still thinks it’s a great idea to smoke next to a fuel pump that’s in use (he smokes whilst filling up Blades motorcycle (I’m not making this up!). And then there’s Donal Logues character, who is Frosts main henchman. He is lit on fire right at the beginning of the film, has both of his hands chopped off and goes through a lot of rough stuff, He pretty much has the worst day you can have and still thinks he can take on Blade, before finally meeting his match against a zip-wire.
And my favourite thing about this movie, which is another thing that I list under ‘making no sense’ is that, with the help of a little sun tan lotion, vampires can go out walking in the daytime. There’s a scene which is set in the middle of the day, were Frost is holding a little girl hostage. In a park. In the middle of the day. But he doesn’t burn up to a crisp because he has factor 50 on and he’s stood in the shade. So much for taking out the comic book campiness.
The DVD also features an alternate ending. When Frost is possessed by the evilness of La Magra, he has one final confrontation with Blade. The ending that ended up in the final cut depicts Frost as being possessed by having extremely red blood shot eyes and looking very pissed off at everyone and everything, the alternate ending depicts Frost as a giant whirlwind of blood. They made the right choice in choosing their ending, because the whirlwind of blood would not have aged as well as the sword fight that’s in the film.
But the film is good in what it sets out to do – be a badass, vampire slaying movie. There’s plenty of it, the film rarely feels like it’s boring and dragging, which is also help by it’s running time being just under 2 hours.
So now a character that no one had heard of has become a huge commercial movie star, and Marvel have had their first taste at big screen success. But what came next was even bigger. Next time, I’ll be looking at Bryan Singers X-men.