Blade (1998)

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“The power of an immortal. The soul of a human. The heart of a hero.”

Directed by Stephen Norrington
Starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson and N’Bushe Wright

In a world where vampires rule from the shadows, making deals and controlling multinational businesses, only a handful of hunters oppose them. Blade (Snipes) is one such hunter, a hybrid with the powers of a vampire but not their weaknesses. When vampire radical Deacon Frost (Dorff) threatens all out war with humanity, only Blade can stop him.

Blade is assisted by his mentor and armourer Whistler (Kristofferson) and newbie Dr Karen Jenson (Wright), a haematologist who brings insight into the vampire condition. Frost and his loser henchlings are set on deposing the rulers of the vampire nation and raising the vampire god La Magra through a long-forgotten ritual, effectively sealing the doom of all humanity. Fortunately, Blade has guns, bombs, a snazzy sword and all the pumping techno beats a half-vampire needs.

What’s wrong with it?

Blade is basically as dumb as rocks; blood-splattered rocks that are still having blood thrown at them. It dares to ask the question ‘what is truly scary about a vampire’ and concludes that it’s lots of blood splashing everywhere. It certainly isn’t the vampire’s power or seductive nature, nor its affiliation with death.

The soundtrack really likes its pumping techno, which… well, if you like pumping techno then yay, but it’s all a bit much, especially on the occasions when the lights are flickering as well.

It’s never really explained why vampires are such a terrible thing. The elders are slightly seedy business types, but most of the vampires in the opening club scene are just there to party and run when Blade shows up. Maybe they’re just cowards and bullies, but only one vamp brought a live human to a party in a slaughterhouse (there are strong implications that animal blood and bank blood provided much of the modern vamp diet,) so for all we the audience know, Blade is just gunning down the crowd at a rave. Blade and Whistler certainly make out that becoming a vampire would be terrible, but never say why.

Is it the thirst? Because Blade has that.

Is it because they hang out in seedy clubs watching mock-sapphist J-pop lolitas dance and sing badly?

In the case of Pearl, the Recorder, Karen’s scruples about killing evaporate in the face of a creature she finds physically repugnant.

Deacon Frost… Well, let’s just say that it’s a damning indictment of the vampire nation that he cracked secrets that had eluded them and of his gang that he’s the brains of the outfit. The scroll he has painstakingly translated by asking the guy who has always looked after it to work on it a bit apparently yields its secrets to Whistler at a glance. What the fuck, dead language?

The ancient scroll that apparently ‘translates’ into a 3D computer model. Did the ancient founders of the House of Erebus code that for Mac or PC, I wonder?

The twelve most powerful vampires in the world allow Frost to get away with his coup with barely a struggle.

Aside from occasionally grinning terrifyingly at a particularly satisfying multikill, Blade has no expression.

What’s right with it?

There is clearly a complex backstory worked out; it’s just a shame that none of it makes it into the film, leaving the viewer wondering what the hell is up with this ‘House of Erebus’ shit. Didn’t they make hats or something?

Stephen Dorff is at least having fun.

How bad is it really?

Blade is dumb, goofy fun; as long as you’re okay with blood splatter, and it is besides the absolute apex of this particular trilogy.

It’s really problem is one that it shares with Underworld and I, Frankenstein, which is that in the transition from their home genre (horror) to action, the vampires lose basically everything that makes them… well, vampires. Blade is the only character in the film ever seen in the grip of a thirst for blood, and the evilness of vampires (aside from Frost’s crew, who are evil by choice) is thus much in question.

Best bit (if such there is)?

“Some motherfuckers always trying to ice-skate up a hill.”

Preach it, man!

What’s up with…?

  • Sunblock? Three thousand years, elders, and it turns out a tube of factor 50 is all you need to cheat the sun. At first it’s layered under bike armour and tinted visors, but a scene later Frost is all ‘lalala sun’, and sweating to boot.
  • The babe in a box? Despite the above ease of avoiding the sun, Frost has a techno-sealed box bed in his windowless bedroom (paranoid much) which Blade’s mother appears to spend all her time in. She just pops out if someone uses the laptop, like a sexy Microsoft paperclip. “You appear to be plotting world domination. Would you like some husky whispering and come hither glances with that?”
  • Mercury? That’s Frost’s number two vampire, but I only know that from the synopsis. She’s never addressed by name.
  • Harvey! Fuck me, that’s Donal ‘Harvey Bullock’ Logue playing Quinn, the even-stupider-than-most vampire. (“This man has defeated me in a humiliating fashion at least twice! I will take him alone!”)

Ratings

Production values – Oh my; I do not recall the effects (especially La Magra) being quite that bad. CGI, how you age. 14
Dialogue and performances – Oh my ears and whiskers. I swear, Snipes emotes maybe twice during the course of the entire film while he spits out his lines as though he resents having to speak them (as well he might.) You know why I’m surprised I didn’t remember Logue was in this film? Because he’s acting the fuck out of everyone, even when claiming that he’s going to be ‘a naughty vampire god!’ A film in which Donal Logue and Kris Kristofferson are the long-haired, seedy leaders of the two sides would have been awesome though. 16
Plot and execution – Nothing about the ‘plot’ isn’t as dumb as a bag of fire. Frost’s plan, dumb. The elders’ reaction, dumb. Everything Blade does, dumb. Blade’s failure to convey vital, need to know information by telephone, very very dumb. We can only really forget how dumb it all is when the techno pumps and the blood flies. 15
Randomness – “It’s a dead language; no-one can translate it.” Yeah, except for Whistler, apparently. And why does it translate as a computer model? Who in Erebus was coding? Vampire Ada Lovelace? 12
Waste of potential – Back in the day, this was… pretty much to standard for a Marvel movie; certainly within the limitations of the 18 rating they wanted (and yes, at that point the 18 rating was a constraint, because you had to work hard not to get saddled with a 15.) These days… they’re usually done better. 11

Overall 68%

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