Film Review - Blade
Starring - Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff, N'Bushe Wright | Directed by Stephen Norrington | New Line DVD WS R 120 min 1998
Review By Eric Shonborn
A young doctor is attacked in the hospital by a burnt corpse that has come back to life - a vampire. She is rescued by the enigmatic Blade, who along with his mentor and partner Whistler, track down and kill any and all vampires they find, hoping to find the creatures who killed their families. But Blade is part vampire and part human, all of the vampire's strengths and none of their weaknesses, except The Thirst. The doctor works to find a cure for Blade's thirst while he and Whistler hunt down Deacon Frost, a young, upstart vampire who desires to take control of all the vampire clans, using Blade as the mysterious linchpin in his devious plans.
The first Blade movie came out in 1998 after Batman and Robin, Spawn, and Steel effectively killed the superhero movie in most people's minds. It was also the first film based on a Marvel Comics character to be released theatrically. Initially it received mixed critical reactions, but was a surprise financial success. I had personally avoided watching the movie for almost three years, finally seeing it on video in 2001. I had, like most people, written off the superhero movie, and certainly didn't want to see another terrible one, let alone a movie about a character I could care less about, or even knew anything about, starring an actor who had mostly made terrible movies and a washed-up country singer. About vampires.
In fact typing that sentence, I've described one of the worst things ever in things that have ever been.
But, nope, Blade was a fantastically gory, fun, action movie. It was super stylish and had a good dose of horror and fun to balance the insane over-the-top action sequences. And now, 10 years later, after re-watching it, it still totally holds up. For the most part. More on that in a bit.
Watching it then and now, it's hard to believe that anyone would forget that Wesley Snipes is a credible action star with some major martial arts chops. He's certainly not a great actor, but he's more than competent and is able to express what the character of Blade needs to do. On top of all that, Snipes simply seems as if he is having an incredible amount of fun playing Blade and making this movie. I think his role in Demolition Man may be the only other movie I've seen him in where he just seems to be enjoying what he's doing so thoroughly. It really makes up for the fact that pretty much every character in the movie is a cliche and one dimensional. But it really is the closest thing the late '90s had to an '80s action movie, and that is not a bad thing at all. Most of the actors are fine in their roles, and everyone seems to be having a good time, but for me, the real stand out is Donal Logue. Logue is (sadly) probably best known as MTV's Jimmy the Cabbie, but has evolved into a weird variety of actor, the lead character actor. He's a "that guy", but he's also headlined numerous films and television shows, including, most recently, FX's late, great (GREAT) Terriers. I love seeing Donal Logue in everything, Terriers was probably my favorite show from last year, and I'm pretty sure that Blade was the first time I ever saw him in anything.
The real star of the show, though, is the movie's action and visual style. Director Stephen Norrington is best known as a special effects guy, having worked on Aliens and Young Sherlock Holmes, and even recently on the first Feast movie, and he brings that to the table when it comes to Blade. This is a movie that did what the Matrix made popular, but a full year beforehand. The action, while incredibly stylish, is also easy to follow and perfectly shot and framed. After Blade, Norrington went on to direct the fairly awful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and a combination of poor reviews, box office and his public clashing with LoEG star Sean Connery, Norrington has not directed anything since, which is a shame. Blade showed a lot of promise for him. He is rumored to be attached to a Crow reboot, but nothing confirmed. If anyone has any doubt that Norrington can't make a fantastic and stylish action film, they need to watch the opening scene of Blade. It's a fantastic sequence that takes place in a slaughterhouse with Snipes as his ass-kicking best amidst a shower of blood and ash. It's amazing.
Oddly, though, where the film falls behind is its special effects. There are a lot poorly rendered CGI effects throughout, and not one of them looks good. Given Norrington's background, one would have assumed he'd push for practical effects (which all look great in this film). Sadly, the poor CGI takes you out of the movie's climax, the final battle between Stephen Dorff's Deacon Frost and Snipes' Blade. The effects are pretty laughable.
The DVD is loaded with special features, including a ton of featurettes, audio commentary, trailers, interviews and artwork.
For a 13 year old, modestly budgeted action film, Blade holds up surprisingly well and is incredibly entertaining. It's success led not only to two sequels and a television series, but also is directly responsible for the current glut of comic book films we've seen in the past ten years. Without Blade, there would have been no X-Men or Spider-Man movies, no Dark Knight, no Iron Man or no Avengers. Not bad for an obscure, minor league c-list comic character. This one is definitely worth a rental if you've missed it until now, and possibly an addition into your collection.