Blade: “You better wake up. The world you live in is just a sugar-coated topping! There is another world beneath it: the real world. And if you wanna survive it, you better learn to PULL THE TRIGGER!”
Well before the hype surrounding Black Panther, Marvel had another superhero film starring a person of colour. Coming off the back of the disastrously performing Howard the Duck and based on the character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, Stephen Norrington’s 1998 anti-hero Blade burst onto the screen in full glory and can be seen as the start of something bigger for Marvel. This R rated film (Certificate 18 to fellow UK readers) took the path of most violence long before Deadpool or Logan hit the screen with their darker look at the superhero life. Blade is an uncompromising look at the life and struggles of this comic book star.
Incorporating incredibly violent scenes (does violence against vampires really count?), there is a large amount of blood everywhere, as you would expect in a vampire film. But in this instance it has a dual purpose – it signifies life and death. Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a dhampir: a human with all the vampire strengths but none of their weaknesses, and this is where he gets his vampire nickname of Daywalker after his ability to be exposed to sunlight and not die instantly.
Fighting the vampire threat in LA is a hard job, as they appear to now be everywhere. But Blade is a highly skilled combatant, trained in the use of weapons and he has a real thirst for killing vampires, even though he is linked to the vampire mythology himself. It doesn’t take long for it to be made abundantly clear that Blade is not your normal superhero. The opening abattoir rave scene is a great introduction, and not just to Blade but to the thriving culture of vampires. This new depiction is not the loners of yesteryear but young and vibrant and doing most of the things that young people do, just with lots of added blood!
Blade, however is not alone in this quest. Like all good bastions of fighting for what is right he has his accomplice. Working with Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson – a Q-like character to Blade’s Bond) gives him the edge over his enemies, making him his weapons and keeping him one step ahead. But Whistler doesn’t just act as an armourer, as he also keeps Blade grounded and healthy, working on a serum to take away Blade’s blood-thirst, keeping him in the realm of the human rather than his vampire half.
On the other side of the battle are the vampires, but these aren’t the solitary vampires of old. Introduced is the Council of Elder Vampires: a group of pure blood vampires, beings that have been born vampires (although it’s not entirely clear how this works, considering vampires are supposed to be immortal/never age!). Watching them discuss business it can be seen that they are no longer the shadowy beasts of Bram Stoker but upwardly mobile, world-aware creatures. One such example of how far vampires have been entwined with the humans is a treaty set up with the human politicians binding them not to gather in numbers. These vampires are socially conscious and aware of the need to keep a balance between vampires and humans. However, upstart and local vampire mob-style boss Deacon Frost (Steven Dorff) does not like this and believes that humans are food and should be ruled over like cattle.
Developing into a head to head battle from the one-vs-all scenario that we begin with, it narrows the challenge Blade faces but also heightens the stakes (pun intended). There are deep-seated reasons as to why Blade is the way he is and why he has an aversion to the vampires living their lives but these are lost in the swing of things as we build towards the grand finale. The action moments are superbly done with some really impeccable fight sequences, choreographed by Snipes himself.
The entire Blade trilogy is written by David S Goyer, who has made a name for himself in writing other dark superhero film such as Crow: City of Angels, Batman Begins, Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Whilst there has been a need for these type of films going forward from the Blade trilogy, Wesley Snipes’ career has taken a bit of a hit after the rather lacklustre ending to the trilogy, resulting in release after release of direct-to-video films.
Looking at the success of Blade it is clear that it paved the way for more comic book adaptations, and recognition that there is a market for films of this ilk, but it would take a few more years before Marvel would return to embrace the violent side of comics in the way that Blade did.