Where would we be without Marvel Comics? They, along with older sibling D.C., molded the super hero concept and created the modern medium of the American comic book near single-handedly. Their influence on our culture and the film industry is undeniable, as is their presence in today’s society. Back in the nineties, however, Marvel’s impact was far smaller than it is now. Furthermore, the super hero movie, which is now such a colossal business following X-Men, Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, Iron Man and The Avengers, was almost non-existent in the cinemas of the day, or at least, wasn’t such a powerful and lucrative sub-genre. Warner Bros had killed off both of D.C. Comics’ heavy weights. The Superman and Batman franchises, following the atrocities that were Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in 1987 and 97’s Batman And Robin respectively, had more-or-less run their present course.
Marvel Comics wasn’t a complete multi-media failure, however. They’d had a fair amount of success in the 90’s following the broadcasting on television of the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons. Both were lauded for not only taking the characters seriously, but also treating them with respect. The company had a major live-action, rather than animated, hit with the Incredible Hulk television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The hugely popular show ran from 1978 to 1982 on American television network CBS with three made for T.V. movies being aired in 1988, 1989, and 1990 on NBC. Where they had never prospered was on the movie screen.
Before the late 90’s there had been a handful of Marvel movies such as Howard The Duck (1986), The Punisher (1989) starring Dolph Lundgren, and the direct-to-video Captain America (1990). The real push of Marvel characters hitting our cinemas worldwide really began with 1998’s Blade starring Wesley Snipes. Predating the Bryan Singer directed X-Men by two years and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man by four, Blade, though one of Marvels lesser known (anti-) hero’s, heralded their arrival.
The Blade movie trilogy strictly obeyed the law of diminishing returns. The sequel, directed by the hugely talented Guillermo Del Toro, although a decent movie, never really hits the heights of the original with it’s overuse of C.G.I. effects letting it down somewhat. Blade Trinity, on the other hand, is just sub-par with the character almost becoming a parody of his former self. A fantastic turn by Ryan Reynolds as the character Hannibal King cannot save what is a poorly executed mess of a movie, largely due to its muddied narrative and poor direction.
That is not the case with the original Blade, which, simply put, is a triumph. The film, like The Crow before it, closely follows the 90’s trend of being ‘dark’, both physically and thematically. Blade is a dhampir, or half-vampire to the layperson, born of a human and vampire union. The movie tells the story of Blade the vampire hunter and his never-ending quest to rid their scourge on humanity.
Wesley Snipes pitches his performance perfectly as the eponymous protagonist. He is softly spoken, sardonic and disdainful, gruffly uttering his lines as he dispatches his ‘prey’ efficiently and effectively. For the lead role, the casting really couldn’t have been better. Snipes has much opportunity to show off his martial arts prowess at many points. The movies’ fight scenes erupt with a verve and energy reminiscent of the best of Bruce Lees’ work such as Fist Of Fury or Way Of The Dragon due to their dynamism and ferocity.
The supporting cast is equally strong with the perpetually world-weary Kris Kristofferson as his right hand and manufacturer of vampire slaughtering armaments, Abraham Whistler. The character, equal parts father figure and brother-in-arms, acts as Blades conscience and anchors his humanity, stopping him from loosing all moral grounding. Stephen Dorff has a wonderful time as the main villain of the piece, arch vampire Deacon Frost. Chewing any available scenery with a wry and knowing relish, Dorff does a superb job as the radical who is trying to disturb the vampiric pecking order.
Due to its violent content the movie stays very true to the comic books’ roots and thankfully doesn’t try to dilute it to receive a more child-friendly rating. Blood, from vampire and human alike, spurts, gushes and oozes with aplomb. Crimson viscera constantly streaks the screen. The colour palette of the film is used to fabulous effect. Along with the aforementioned bloody rouge, the whites are sharp and bright while blacks are thick and dense. These shades add to the feeling of grim foreboding and that things are lurking in the dark shadows.
This film was a movie benchmark as it was the first time that a Marvel comic book was transferred to the big screen effectively. The film is wonderfully kinetic largely due to its sensational action, but it simply would not work as well if it weren’t for its main actor. Wesley Snipes infuses the character with a quiet strength, but also a wounded sensitivity. With great casting and a fantastic script, Blade doesn’t fail on any level. It is a tight and focused movie that sees a complex and conflicted character come to life and off the page. We need this character back in our super hero movie-loving lives. Bring back Blade, bring back Snipes and bring back the blood!