A weekly look at all the Marvel movies, right from the very beginning…
Based on characters by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan
Written by David S. Goyer | Directed by Stephen Norrington
Starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, Donal Logue
It was a time when DC ruled cinematic comic adaptations. All Marvel had managed to offer up in response to the juggernaut Superman and Batman franchises were the universally (unfairly!) reviled Howard the Duck, Dolph Lundgren’s wooden take on The Punisher, the direct-to-video Captain America — “Gee whiz, we gotta get going, Mr. President!” — and the deservedly unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four (which we will not be covering here at Marvel Movie Monday, except to say that its version of Victor von Doom and Reed Richards are a slashfic waiting to happen).
Then came Blade. Pitting Wesley Snipes, at the height of his ass-kicking appeal, as vampire hunter Blade against the hottest-of-the-hot, ninetiest-of-the-nineties Stephen Dorff as his arch-nemesis Deacon Frost was a master-stroke, and despite not staying true to the in-print character hardly at all (what the hell’s a half-vampire?), it racked up an impressive showing at the box office and ushered in a new age of Marvel cinematic supremacy. At a time when the DC side of the fence had just gifted us with the turgid excrescence that was (and remains) Batman and Robin, Marvel Studios, in their first co-production, proffered a bona fide action-fest that drew a wide audience among both comic fans and non-.
After all, prior to his movie, Blade was hardly well-known outside comicville. In fact, he wasn’t that well known in it, either, being one of the more obscure heroes to come out of Marvel’s 1970’s monster books, and having spent pretty much a decade in exile after Dr. Strange killed off all the world’s vampires in 1983. While DC’s biggest successes (so far… still) have come from Batman and Superman, their two leading lights, Marvel has been able to field such a depth of talent that it brought a second — or even tenth — stringer off the bench here, and made him a star.
(Not for the last time, obviously.)
Rewatching Blade now, it remains a slick, thrilling, compelling battle between good and evil, between the nightcrawlers and the Daywalker. There is romance, with N’Bushe Wright’s Karen, the medical attendant who finds herself dragged into a nightmare underworld. There is solid bro work, with Blade and his Q-like mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) taking the fight to the vampires who killed Blade’s mom. There is a genuine anti-hero, in Blade, and an almost anti-villain, in Frost, whose old, vicious soul peeps through the beauteous Dorff’s piercing eyes and signature smirk. There is angst, and action, lots of cursing and a silly world domination-y scheme that just might’ve worked, too, if it weren’t for that meddling half-vampire. Donal Logue is in it, which I had totally forgotten – Terriers forever! It’s just still a really good time, even if Blade doesn’t wield twin wooden swords, like his comic book progenitor.
I was also struck anew by Deacon Frost’s clever notion of just slapping on some sunscreen and wandering around outside in the daytime—which no one in any other vampire mythology seems to have previously considered. And that’s why he’s an anti-villain. Because it’s hard to hate a guy – even a guy who wants to raise an ancient vampire blood god and kill everyone – when he’s not only smart, but sun smart.
BLADE: When you understand the nature of a thing, you know what it’s capable of.