Director: Stephen Norrington
Cast: Wesley Snipes, N’Bushe Wright, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, Donal Logue, Arly Jover, Sanaa Lathan
Plot: Born from the dying body of a woman bitten by a vampire (Lathan), Eric Brooks is Blade (Snipes), a half-Vampire who roams the world killing the blood-suckers of the night.
Blade, to the fresh eye, free of the fandom surrounding the character, comes across as the kind of film that is probably closer to a B Movie in the action genre than a superhero flick, as it is branded to be. However, with a vampire mythology and great marketing, Blade has transcended its place in the critics’ eye and become the kind of film immortalised by the fans.
The reason I refer to it as a B Movie action is because there are quite a few beats I recognise from the sort of straight-to-DVD films that Van Damme or Seagal would come out with. Outside of the fight scenes, the story is very lacking. There are a few beats to the vampires here that are unique to the stock monster character. For one, they are closer to an Illuminati villain, a shadowy organisation that thrive in the shadows of society. Cops are bought off to do their dirty work in the daylight and well-placed vamps steer the government away from slaughter dens across the globe. However, where the likes of Underworld created this gritty ethos to their vampires, Blade staples a few traits together. Vampires are either well-dressed businessmen or snarling red shirts. There is a sense that Blade’s vampires are subject to having their traits cherry-picked from the existing canon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as most vampires are similar creations. It is just a shame that when a franchise is built up to this level there isn’t much more beneath the surface that what we have already seen. Whenever the vampires threaten to become interesting, the train of thought is cut short. An obese records-keeper vampire is little more than a grotesque set-piece. The movie hints at revealing a brand new crazed sub-breed of vampire, but that scene ends up being a painfully brief punch-up, before continuing with the rest of the story. Even the big religious vampire ceremony that the plot of this film rests upon feels strangely ordinary. A blood ritual, a Chosen One… this is a filler episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer given a big budget. It is simply frustrating, because there is the sense of a strong movie under the surface, but the script is so worried about rushing to the next bit that everything is under-cooked. Any baddie who isn’t Stephen Dorff is under-used, hinting at being a meaty mid-story fight, but getting offed annoyingly quickly. And whenever the action dies down to a lull, things get heavy quickly. Blade is the kind of film that feels like a thin sheet of ice. Skate quickly across the surface and it is an exhilarating smooth ride, but whenever the speed begins to falter, cracks begin to show. N’Bushe Wright plays the human woman caught in the middle of this war, but she is never any more than a viewpoint for the audience, again frustrating, because the story keeps hinting, her character is on the cusp of doing something interesting.
The B Movie nature of the movie is fine, because these films are very watchable. There is a reason Blade is as well liked as it is and that is because it is a fun movie. Snipes is a well-cast choice. While his character is a little too gruff to bring much depth to proceedings (where emotional revelations should be, tough-guy stoicism stands), he excels in the action. The fights, especially against crowds of vampires, are the film’s strong points, Snipes’ martial arts knowledge taking a routine action and bringing it up a notch. Whenever Snipes is allowed free reign on nameless bad guys, the film is at its best. Gory deaths, limbs chopped off; sometimes the glee comes from simple as a neat combo, performed almost lazily by the muscular Snipes. He looks the part too, shades masking his emotions and black leather becoming the go-to vampire hunter costume. It is up to the cinematographer to make the action feel more than a standard martial arts flick. Some of the scenes are breath-taking, especially ‘that scene’ in the nightclub that is, sadly, very early on, peaking far too soon. But it is Blade at its best, a bloody, thrilling set-piece.
Final Verdict: The cult following seems to have forgotten the many flaws of Blade, but it remains a solid punch-up, if a little routine.