Blade sort of sneaked up on people in 1997. A lot of people think Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 was the superhero movie that really kicked things off for the genre, but three years earlier, Stephen Norrington’s stab at reinventing one of Marvel’s lesser known heroes went down a treat.
That was largely due to the engaging story, coupled with the mythology of vampires being moved into modern times, as sharp suited businessmen and power hungry punk rockers. It made vampires scary again, a species that has sadly had all the life sucked out of it by the plague on society that is the Twilight saga.
Towering above all of that though is Wesley Snipes as the growling, sword wielding protagonist. Now, Wesley at the time was no stranger to action movies, but had made as many sci-fi/fantasy movies as he had filled in tax returns. To see him buy into the comic book mythology, and turn Blade into a complete badass that strikes fear into to the heart of the vicious bloodsuckers, shows a trait that predated Hugh Jackman’s snarling interpretation of Wolverine.
The initial scene, where an unsuspecting human is lured into a rave club, only to find out that it is a haven for vampires when the sprinkler system comes on, gives you a genuine sense of threat and horror. It also makes you feel really uncomfortable because it puts you in the position of the guy in the club. All of a sudden, you realise everyone else in the room is a vampire, and you’re not. Everyone that is, apart from the guy in the black trench coat with the samurai sword, who is a whole lot worse than any bloodsucker.
And that is what made Blade successful. It made superheroes badass again. Tim Burton’s Batman had gone a long way towards redressing that balance way back in 1989, but just eight years later, that reputation had been tarnished by Joel Schumacher, George Clooney and Bat Nipples. Wesley Snipes as Blade added a touch of menace back to the superhero genre, and embraced the idea that you could still be heroic, even if you had a habit of raking someone’s face along a passing subway train.
It was a gamble to bring the character to the big screen, and New Line Cinema, which would later disappear in a pit of it’s own manic creations, had a sure fire hit on its hands with Marvel’s vampire slayer. That he was slaying vampires of course made it a lot easier to up the violence ante, as anyone chopped in half by Blade disintegrated into a pile of ash rather than a puddle of blood. That allowed him to slice, spike and shoot his way through hoards of bad guys, notably in his fight amongst the ancient pages of vampire scripture.
As in any great film though, the hero needs a villain, one who can provide a legitimate threat to the hero and what he stands for. You wouldn’t have banked on Stephen Dorff encapsulating the cold hearted nu wave vampire that is Deacon Frost, but the fact he is the antithesis of Blade makes him all the more threatening. Blade is a seething ball of rage, a ticking time bomb. Frost is cool, calm, single minded about his mission to resurrect a vampire god as himself. True, Wesley Snipes is not exactly an actor in the Gielgud or Burton class, but the look on his face when he realises that Frost is better or equal to him in a straight fight is priceless.
Dorff oozes evil throughout the movie, but at the same time exudes charisma that made vampires awesome. He isn’t a Twilight, doe eyed lover, rather, an animalistic, almost erotic vamp that would quite happily have his way with you then drop you out of a window.
Add to that a fine supporting cast, including a reimagined Whistler as a cranky, grizzled hunter with a busted leg, and a collection of foul henchmen working for Frost that you can’t wait to see Blade off, and you have the ingredients of a fine action movie that contains enough comic book elements for it to straddle the niche/mainstream fence.
Blade’s legacy would sadly be tainted by a more gratuitous sequel, lacking a lot of the original’s subtlety, despite featuring a good turn from Ron Perlman. It would be further harmed by an unnecessary third installment which above all, should not be respected for featuring a vampire Pomeranian. And WWE wrestler Triple H.
The original still stands the test of time, for it’s coolness, subtlety, violence, and portrayal of it’s main characters. It made comic book heroes gritty and brutal, and opened them up to an audience who was searching for a way to like the genre again. It also bought something as otherworldly as vampires down to a base level, and made them frightening, awe inspiring and fashionable.
For number eight, we’re going to pay a visit to somewhere not of this earth, a place where no super hero had visited before on the big screen. Want to know more? All I’ll say is he was heaven sent, and provided Marvel with their biggest challenge to date.