Before the MCU, before Spider-Man and even before the X-Men – there was Blade.
Hardly gifted the most memorable of comic origins, this 70’s blaxploitation throwback assaulted moviegoers with the force of a punch to throat by giving it’s lead a top to toe refresh (no afro or jive talk here), a healthy booster shot of super-bloody, fantasy gore and lots of high concept world building.
The world as we know it is a sham because when the sun drops below the skyscrapers in the cities the vampires take over. That’s right, vampires are not only real but form a shadowy secret society that run businesses, have the police in their back pocket and have ties to the major power bases in the world. As an example on how these modern, world savvy vamps feed we follow a hapless shmuck as he follows a sultry woman to an underground club held in a meat locker. Confused as to the red liquid dripping from the sprinkler system he is horrified to find out that he’s at a “Blood Bath” party and that pretty much everyone in attendance is a fanged bloodsucker who wants to drain him like a cheap keg of booze. However a noticable party crasher in the form of Blade (Wesley Snipes in top stoney faced form) arrives and proceeds to blast, stab, slice and burn as many vamps as he can as if he’s being sponsored for charity.
Blade, we find out later, is on a mission to kill the vampire who bit his mother while she was pregnant with him which gives him all the powers and none of the weaknesses of his pointy toothed foe who dub him the extremely catch “Daywalker”, however, while chasing down a prospective victim who escaped the blood bath at the Blood Bath, Karen Jenson – an innocent doctor, is bitten and infected and will eventually turn if not dealt with. Choosing to try and cure her instead Blade takes her back to his lair and introduces her to his partner Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson virtually dripping honky tonk from every pore), man who found Blade as a child and brought him up to slay vampires in a way that would make Peter Cushing mess in his tweed. Meanwhile, brattish vampire supremacist Deacon Frost (a sweary Stephen Dorff) wants to prematurely force the prophecy of the Blood God into being (vampires seem to stick the word “blood” in front of a lot of things in a effort to make them sound cooler) which would transform the majority of the world’s population into blood suckers instantly and make vampires the dominant species on the planet.
Can Blade and his little band puncture enough ribcages in time to stop him or is his own thirst, barely held at bay by a serum of Whistler’s design, prove to be the key that unlocks the Blood God?
To be honest, I feel Blade has never really gotten it’s full due for how exactly iconic it truly is, with all the bullet dodging, building leaping, black leather coats and more impressive shaded eyewear than a Specsavers summer sale, Wesley Snipes’ stylish skull cruncher pretty much did The Matrix over a full year before The Matrix did and all to a soundtrack that pounds harder than it’s tattooed lead.
Director Stephen Norrington (still absent from helming features since The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen traumatised the shit out of everybody involved) brings a bold, larger than life, feel to this take of neo-vamps, making the daytime scenes seem overly lit and stark, therefore boosting the colours once the sky goes dark and has a fine eye for action to with the opening scene being a perfect statement of intent to what to expect from the rest of the film and yet it’s screenwriter David Goyer who’s blatantly having the most fun. Now, I’ve had an issue or two with Mr. Goyer’s work over the years but even I have to admit that the world building here is tremendously entertaining with weird James Bondian style gadgets used to slaughter the undead (the coagulant used that makes the vamps literally swell up like a balloon and explode is magnificent) and a mafia style hierarchy put in place for the undead to flex their power: no crypts or castles here; no, in THIS world you’re more likely to find a Nosferatu hold court in a boardroom or in a club. We even take frequent trips to the freakish with grotesquely corpulent vampire records keeper, Pearl and a gruesome vampire hit involving a pair of pliers and a lot of sunlight. It’s a hugely appealing world to watch but luckily we also have a hugely appealing lead to tear it all down…
Of course I’m referring to one Wesley Snipes who plays the titular vampire slayer as an incredibly surly and unrepentant badass, bludgeoning his way through both dialogue and fight sequences alike and spitting out some fantastically baffling hard boiled lines with all the intensity of a stare off competition made up of Sean Penn lookalikes. “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate up hill.” may be one of the all time greats when it comes to head scratching utterances from a cinematic tough guy but Snipes makes it work. It’s almost like he’s waited his entire life to play a character such as this and he grabs it with volatile glee, whether delivering an extended beat down on one of Frost’s human familiars (amusingly a policeman, no less) or repeatedly slicing limbs off Donal Logue’s white trash henchman in a gruesome running gag, Snipes is never less than totally believable the entire time he forcefully hands some poor bastard their ass.
The nitpicks are negligible. The rules of the Blood God are iffy at best, as is the majority of Frost’s plan which is so flimsy you suspect it’s been dreamed up by Wile E. Coyote. Plus despite a lot of talk about Blade protecting his “beloved humans”, you really don’t get the feeling he likes ANYONE that much for example after saving a little girl from being hurled across the street into the path of a truck, he kinda just leaves her there all traumatised and shit with only a terse “Go home.”. Finally, what with it being 1998 and all, some of the CGI REALLY hasn’t aged particularly well with the practical stuff faring far better.
But enough of this nay saying! This is a gritty, smash mouth horror/action riot that technically set us on the road that led us to the comic book movie domination we are currently living in now and should be worshiped as such.
Even after all these years, Blade still makes the cut.