In the 90s, there was a film about a chosen one, born with enhanced strength and senses, destined to be the scourge of vampires everywhere. This series later gave rise to a TV series with the initials BTS.
Obviously, if you’ve read the title of this article, you know I’m talking Blade, not Buffy.
The Blade films and TV show were, shall we say, inconsistent in terms of quality, and I hope to cover them further in the future, but for today, let’s have a look at the beginning…
That is to say, the beginning of the live-action stuff. Blade started out in Marvel Comics. Back in my comic book days, I was definitely a Marvel boy. I never really looked at DC. For about 6 years, I pretty much bought every single Marvel comic I could find. The problem was, because I was in the UK, it was sometimes hard to get them.
I never found a Blade comic. Ever.
Not even one in which he guest starred.
I don’t know if that was the luck of the draw, or if he just wasn’t being used in the early 90s, but either way I’m not qualified to deal with his comic book origins.
Instead I’ll start with Wesley Snipes, and the Blade films.
Blade was a smash hit.
People often forget that these days, but what was the previous big comic book film? Batman and Robin, which almost ruined the Batman franchise and made studios nervous about films based on comics.
Blade made comic book movies viable again. But why?
Let’s begin with the story. Blade’s mother was attacked by a vampire while she was pregnant with him. She died in childbirth, but Blade lived, inheriting most of the strengths of a vampire (except immortality) and few of their weaknesses (except their need for blood). At the start of the film he’s around thirty and has been recruited by Whistler (oh look, another Buffy connection!), who builds weapons for Blade to use against the vampires.
That much holds true to the comics.
In the film, Blade’s hunting the undead and looking for one in particular – Deacon Frost.
Blade goes to a vampire rave, killing a few dozen low level vamps and wounding Quinn, a big burly vampire he has apparently had a few run-ins with before, but the police arrive before he can finish him off.
Quinn is taken to the morgue, where a blood sample shows unusual properties, leading Karen Jenson, a haematologist, to examine the body. Quinn wakes up at this point, attacking Karen. Blade shows up in the nick of time, rescuing Karen, but again failing to kill Quinn. He retreats with Karen to his hideout where Whistler points out that, having been bitten, she’s going to become a vampire. He injects her with garlic and silver, which may cure her.
After some running around and Blade using Karen as bait, they discover Frost is planning something big. Frost decodes an ancient prophecy and finds out that Blade’s blood is the key to a ritual to free an ancient god (more Buffy parallels – imagine Snipes playing Dawn!).
Blade is captured, and discovers his mother is now a vampire, and that Frost was the one who attacked her, thus creating Blade. The ritual begins. Karen rescues Blade and makes him feed on her, giving him the strength to defeat Frost.
It’s a very simple and straightforward tale, but what made it work so well?
The film has a few things going for it, and several against it, but the thing that works best is the fact that visually, it all looks incredibly cool. Blade looks cool, Frost looks cool, the weapons are cool (ridiculous, yes, but mostly cool).
#2 The Direction
Not without its problems, but it works. Look at the opening scenes. The first is brilliantly economical with its story telling. We see a young pregnant woman being brought into the ER, she’s been bitten and goes into labour, they perform a C-section, and the woman flatlines as her baby is born.
70 seconds and about two dozen words and we’ve established most of Blade’s backstory.
The second scene, in contrast, is about 10 minutes and almost nothing happens. But it’s the scene that most people remember from the film – a man is brought to a club, unaware that it’s full of vampires, until they turn the sprinklers on and blood rains down on them. At which point, Blade turns up and kicks ass. It’s padded as all hell, and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but damn does it look good!
Blade is a secondary character in the film.
Karen is the viewpoint character, and the one who goes through the most changes;:discovering the hidden world of vampires, being infected, and developing a cure for her condition (ridiculously easily, it has to be said). By the end of the film she’s come to terms with this new world and is making a place for herself in it.
Perhaps the strongest element of Karen’s arc is that there is no romantic side to it – she and Blade don’t get together! It’s so nice to see a film in which the male and female leads aren’t forced into an unnecessary romantic relationship.
There are three things that don’t come over very well for me, and sadly two of those are Wesley Snipes and the vampires.
The vampires don’t do much. Most of them are mooks, there to get killed. Only Frost has any character. Only he and Quinn have names you can remember by the end. The vampire pureblood elders call Frost in to wag their fingers at him, then proceed to do nothing about his scheme, which is going to get them all killed. In some ways that doesn’t matter, because Stephen Dorff, as Frost, has more than his fair share of charisma and carries the other vampires with him. He imbues them with his menace and leaves them to just fill out the action sequences until the climax. The hints of the political structure of the vampires’ world are intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying because we don’t actually find out anything.
Snipes, on the other hand, carries off the look of Blade superbly and comes over fantastically in the fights, but in my opinion doesn’t hold his own in the acting stakes. In stark contrast to Karen, Blade is little different at the end of the film. He has found and killed his vampiric mother and the vampire who both killed her and created him. He has also lost his surrogate father in Whistler. Despite all this emotional upheaval, he’s unchanged by the experience. He still fights vampires and he still looks cool. He’s just moved on to a new battleground in Moscow.
The last huge problem with the film is the CGI, which wasn’t particularly good eighteen years ago, and for the most part hasn’t aged well—especially the blood effects at the climax.
My verdict: Blade is a great, fun action movie that happens to have vampires in it. A decent hero, a female protagonist, well-staged fights, and a villain who can hold the whole thing together. If you haven’t seen it before, give it a try. If you have, then why not take another look next time you feel like watching some vampires getting taken out in style.
Steve works full-time for the NHS and tries not to spend too much of his day plotting out his series of vampire novels. Away from the office, he divides his time between playing games where he is a vampire, playing games where he hunts vampires, and playing with Lego (he has numerous Lego vampires).