Blade turns 20 this year, and while that may be hard to believe, a look at any CGI scene in the movie makes it age pretty obvious. However, two decades later, Blade still holds up as a great comic book movie.
In 1997, the fourth installment in the Batman movie series, Batman & Robin, came out and was panned by both critics and Batman fans. It was the second Batman film directed by Joel Schumacher, and for many comic book readers at the time, it felt this would be the last attempt at a comic book movie for the foreseeable future. The bright lights, dayglow attire, and atrocious costume design coupled with an asinine story made audiences hate superhero movies. Despite the reception, New Line Cinema released Blade in August 1998. This was the first adapted superhero movie to star a black actor that took itself seriously, as others in that specific genre–like Spawn and Steel–came off as goofy or cheesy.
Blade distinguished itself because it wasn’t trying to be a superhero movie. It wasn’t trying to be the precursor to the Marvel-movie factory. Blade wasn’t even trying to be a good comic book adaptation because it was more concerned with being a cool vampire movie. When it was released, Americans were at the tail-end of a vampire-craze, which started with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and gave us such films as Interview With A Vampire and From Dusk Till Dawn. However, being that it was the end of the era, Blade was surrounded by rushed and poorly made vamp films that were the real-life equivalent of your grandparents learning about memes: it’s a cute attempt, but they’re doing it wrong. For its time, that’s why it stood out: it was surrounded by really bad movies.
The film didn’t destroy box office records. While it cost $45 million to make, Blade raked in $131 million globally; however, this was a rated-R movie, which limited its audience. Many critics hated Blade. Some didn’t like the movie because it wasn’t enough of a horror film, others for it not being more like Interview With A Vampire, and some spent too much time comparing Blade to screenwriter David Goyer’s previous work, Dark City. What they, and even those involved with the film, failed to realize is that Blade was a complete reboot to the superhero genre.
It became a template for how to create a superhero movie that isn’t cheesy or handcuffed to its source material. Sure, Blade contains some incredibly cheesy moments, like when Blade and a vampire are throwing multiple roundhouse kicks at each other like two people practicing their capoeira routine for their upcoming showcase on a Travel Channel show. There is also the fact the CGI has not aged well, and while the movie relies much more on practical effects, a scene towards the end of the film where winged skeletons fly around Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) wouldn’t have held up in 2001, let alone 2018.
And like most movies from the late ’90s, Blade contains a rave scene, but at least Blade makes it interesting with a rainshower of blood. What makes this movie work is that it effectively mixes genres and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are a few witty one-liners laced throughout, but unlike later Marvel movies, Blade isn’t trying to be a comedy.
The character Blade on his own wouldn’t make for an exceptionally interesting movie. He’s a daywalking, half-vampire who kills other vampires. Where this movie shines is with Deacon Frost’s story. He’s a younger vamp who finds the ways of the vampires in charge to be apathetic and complacent with their role in society, so by reading into some old vampiric prophecies, Frost brings in a changing of the guard by destroying the elders and empowering himself with La Magra, the blood god.
The story of a villain turning on his allies isn’t something new by any means. However, the way Blade incorporates the Marvel Comics villain and some of his storylines, and adapts it to the big screen, making it stripped down and more palatable for the average moviegoer, was incredibly fresh for the time, and something we’re much more used to seeing today, like with Loki. Loki sure does love betraying his friends.
In many ways, Blade is better than many comic book movies from the past decade. There’s no origin story, and viewers aren’t bogged down with the same “hero’s journey” tale they’ve seen time and time again. There is no “call to arms” for Blade. He’s already killing vampires, and he’s really good at it. This is yet another reason it’s so watchable two decades later–it puts us right into the action, as Blade isn’t a complicated character. The audience doesn’t need an expositional scene of Blade running through all his powers and why he is like he is: it’s sprinkled throughout the film, rather than treating the viewer like a simpleton who won’t understand what’s going on without an explicit explanation.
Sure, Blade is one of the few comic book adaptations from the mid-to-late ’90s that’s watchable in 2018. If you’re ever wondering how comic book movies got so popular and what started the superhero craze, look towards Blade, as it is the movie that kicked off this current trend with X-Men and Spider-Man following in its footsteps a couple years later. Blade is currently available for purchase on Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Video, and YouTube. For a couple dollars more, you can buy all three Blade movies, on Blu-ray, on Amazon.
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Author: Mat Elfring
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