Film Review: 1998’s Blade

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When I wrote this review, I had no idea who David S. Goyer was, at least beyond the scope of Blade. Several of the points made here are made very interesting by the fact that as I was writing about Blade’s connection to Batman, a Goyer-scripted Batman film was being released on DVD.

While Blade is not the first film based on a Marvel comic, it does have several distinctions. It was the first Marvel theatrical release in eight years, and while it was not the first film Marvel put out after Tim Burton’s Batman, it was the first – and only – film series that Marvel released theatrically that made use of Batman‘s lessons and popularity, prior to the complete transformation of the genre by 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spiderman, making Blade Marvel’s only theatrical contribution to what I refer to as the Batman era of superhero film-making. Blade had a budget nearly 200 times that of any other Marvel adaptation not produced by George Lucas (which, after inflation, still had less than half of Blade’s budget). The series also makes up the three cheapest films adapted from Marvel Comics made in the past twenty years.

While Blade was very much a transitional film, it is different in another sense. I was first drawn to Blade, not with any awareness of the comic, but because of its very premise: that of a half-vampire defending mankind from his own species. By combining its massive (based on precedent, though with a lower budget than any Batman film) budget and two popular genres, Blade existed largely as a pilot for the series of Marvel Comics films that would come to sweep the industry and lead to the current status of the superhero film industry.

Most of us are taught from a young age that first impressions are everything. If that’s the case, then Blade definitely delivers. I don’t know what it is about the opening club scene – the trippiness, the impossible red of the blood-doused skin, or something else – but it hooks me every time I watch it. Blade is the definitive action antihero: he’s unstoppable, he’s got an attitude, and he’s not exactly the sociable type. If nothing more, that makes for an entertaining movie. The choreography is also outstanding, leading Blade to be the closest thing we have had to a martial arts movie in comics.

Like any good action movie, Blade has plenty of comic relief, even if it is a bit piecemeal. You’ve got Quinn, the biker-enforcer type guy that makes you wonder what the brain capacity requirements for second in command of evil are. You’ve got The Pearl, whom I’ve affectionately renamed The Worst Liar Ever. You’ve got lines like the first one Blade delivers, which only differ from the art of Samuel L. Jackson by a fraction of a hair. And, of course, you’ve got the twenty or so incarnations of “I’m gonna rip your head off”, all of which end with Blade hitting them almost before the threat is over.

Being an action-horror movie, Blade has some decent gore. Unlike many traditional vampire pictures, where there is nothing visible after a bite but a quiet slit on the neck, there’s blood all over the place here. It splashes all over the vampire’s face and the victim’s shoulder; the overall effect is much more bestial. Most of the gore and effects are surprisingly realistic – save for the CGI toward the end, which gets more than a little wonky. The various exploding heads are probably the worst effects in the movie. The first head cleans itself up nicely with a splash of good, dark blood. Frost, on the other hand, is preceded by a bunch of crappy CGI blood and ends with more of the same.

The movie’s not perfect, if I’ve been giving you that impression. There are a few loose ends, failed morals, etc. as well. I had to do research to figure out why Quinn was so much harder to kill than the other vampires. I still don’t get why everybody was after Blade in the hospital, despite the fact that he was attacking a “corpse” who had just killed a doctor in plain site of everyone. I have yet to discover if Blade eats beyond his serum. Finally, the one obvious attempt at dealing with racism (even going so far as to use the title ‘Uncle Tom’) killed itself immediately when the same person who said “do you think the humans will ever accept you?” referred to humanity as “cattle”.

Speaking of research, the Special Features on the DVD are really interesting. In fact, it’s a little too bad that Blade is a comic movie. I would really enjoy seeing a full movie about the details included in the special features, but since they aren’t centered around Blade, that’s never going to happen. Instead, we get Blade II and Blade Trinity – but I’m not even going into that here.

One part of the plot that should have been done without is the return of Blade’s mother. Really, there was no need for her. None at all. Except, of course, for the immense sexual tension between mother and son to lead up to the most sexual scene in the movie: the orgasm caused by the longest blood drinking ever.

All in all, Blade is pretty good if you like action movies. It is a little too much of an action movie, invoking such cliches as “The Chosen One”, but it’s entertaining, has some good gore, and has some well-acted characters. It’s a good time and an entertaining romp, and a hell of lot more entertaining than its sequels.

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