Saturday, July 16, 2016

Blade (1998) review


    Blade is definitely one of my favorite vampire movies. It benefits from the fact it really was a product of its time and embodied a kind of combination Highlander, Matrix, and The Godfather mentality. I often use this movie to illustrate what Vampire: The Masquerade Second Edition was like in the Nineties. It was a time of trench coats, katanas, shotguns full of dragonsbreath, and an army of evil vampires out to destroy the world in the name of ancient gods.

The Blood-Bath scene is one of the best in the movie.
    Really, re-watching the movie today, it's not really all that good. It's entertaining as hell but it's kind of hilarious I'm more interested in the world-building than I am in the titular character and his journey.

    There's a lot of interesting tidbits like the fact vampires rule the world behind the scenes, have their own ancient religion, have noble houses, mark their slaves with tattoos, and generally a bunch of stuff which I'm not going to say was ripped off from Vampire: The Masquerade but feels suspiciously similar enough I'm going to say someone played the game before when writing the script. Yes, I mean you David Goyer.

Snipes is amazingly badass. If nothing else, he's this.
    The premise is Blade (Wesley Snipes) is the world's greatest vampire hunter, possessed of all the powers of a vampire but none of their weaknesses. Exterminating whole swaths of the undead one techno-nightclub at a time, Blade hasn't yet rid New York of vampires let alone the rest of the world.

    Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), meanwhile, has decided the background manipulation of the so-called Pureblood vampires isn't to his cup of tea and that he needs to perform a ritual which will turn him into the avatar of the vampire god La Magra. Blade, with the help of Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) and Karen (N'Bushe Wright), is going to stop him.

    It's interesting in this age of faithful comic book adaptations that Blade is almost nothing like his Tomb of Dracula characterization and only barely like his Midnight Sons reboot. If either of those things make any sense to you, congratulations on your knowledge of Marvel comics occultism. Hell, there's no reason for the vampire god not to be Chthon other than some idiot didn't think to buy the rights to an obscure evil deity from Doctor Strange's back pages.

There's so many Traci Lords jokes which could be made.
    Ultimately, it's to the film's credit that they ditch all but the bare essentials of Blade and give him a dramatic power upgrade. The faux World of Darkness in the movie is much more interesting than the old cape and cowl vampires of Marvel comics (which exterminated vampires entirely for a few years). It all comes crashing down in Blade 3 and has Wesley Snipes physically threaten David Goyer but here? Here, it's extremely fun.

    So what are the movie's flaws? Well, Blade doesn't have any mode other than "Grr, kill vampires." Karen is a character who has very little chance to do anything other than be imperiled as well as throw jibes at Deacon Frost. Then there's really silly moments like the fact the only thing needed to protect vampires against the sun is sunscreen. Really, if that's all they need, it seems like a rather weak-tea weakness. Just what La Magra will do when he rises is also questionable and changes from scene to scene. Still, how can you dislike a movie which has the line, "Some mother****ers are always trying to ice skate uphill."

Too cool to kill--and yet, Blade did.
    A major part of the movie's appeal to me is Stephen Dorff's Frost, who is one of the coolest vampires since The Lost Boys' David. His sardonic 90s bad boy performance is very-very entertaining as well as a decent deconstruction of the archetype.

    At the end of the day, he's a selfish self-absorbed pig who isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is with a short-sighted goal. I also love his gang of henchmen who are deeply entertaining despite being cannon fodder. Given vampires do nothing but screw, kill, and hang out in luxury all night--you understand the appeal even if you respect they're monsters.

    Some of the best moments of the film are watching Blade's stone-cold stoicism against Deacon Frost's sardonic anarchism. The films would attempt to replicate their onscreen "chemistry" for lack of a better term. Really, for a movie about katanas and silver bullets, it is really a film which thrives on its relationships. Blade's association with Whistler and Frost with his henchmen are all shallow but strong.  Blade never develops any sort of relationship with Karen other than contempt but the fact there isn't a romance, shoved in or not, is to the movie's credit.

Throwing children is a great exit strategy.
    Blade is an experience and while I think the second movie improves on it significantly before dropping everything in the third, it's still something which has aged rather well. Katanas, silver bullets, stakes, and exploding undead are rather hard to screw up. I also think the techno-music is quite good.

    In conclusion, Blade is a fun movie even if it's not the best in the franchise. I've watched it over and over again. The little bits of mythology, the fight scenes, music, and more were all well-done. Wesley Snipes would become synonymous with this role for a reason even if I hope they recast him for the inevitable Blade 4. The vampires are great in this movie and one of the best models you could use for a modern vampire society.

8/10

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