“Movies based on comic books represent one of the last best hopes for visionary filmmaking.” – Roger Ebert
Ebert was thinking of Dark City and Spawn, as well as Blade, when he made that statement. Taken together, these three make a solid foundation for a new genre of movies.
Did You Notice?
These films rely on, and make the best use of, the latest film technology. Innovations in costumes, make-up, set design, editing, and computer effects are integrated more fully in these movies than in films like Godzilla or Armageddon.
In Spawn, the costumes and make-up took center stage. In Dark City, it was the use of models and set design. In Blade, it is editing, fight choreography, and special effects.
Blade is a vampire movie that modernizes the whole mythology. Vampires have been around long enough that science is beginning to understand them. Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) has studied them for years and knows empirically how vampirism works. “Crosses don’t do squat. Silver works. Sunlight, UV rays, vampire mace: silver nitrate, essence of garlic.”
One of the movie’s characters is Dr. Karen Jensen (N’Bushe Wright), a hematologist. When she gets pulled into the story, she is able to shed light on how the blood of vampires reacts. She sees a similarity between the vampire virus and sickle-cell anemia. She may even have a cure.
These two characters are sidekicks, interesting in their own right, but ultimately supporting the comic-book hero, Blade (Wesley Snipes). Where these two are thinkers, Blade is a doer. He makes his living sending roomfuls of vampires to their permanent deaths.
Blade has superhuman powers. A vampire halfbreed (his mother was bitten while pregnant), he has the strength and quickness of a vampire, without the aversion to sunlight and garlic. He is adorned with lethal and inventive gadgets, and he wears black rubber with an overcoat that’s almost a cape.
Blade is tracking down a vampire named Frost. He knows that something big is happening in the vampire world, and he knows that Frost’s power is increasing. He is determined to stop Frost before he and the other vampires gain any more power over the humans.
Frost, meanwhile, is tracking down Blade, whom the vampires call “The Daywalker.” Frost plans to capture him and use his blood to summon an ancient vampire god.
The plot sounds corny and adolescent, but the movie is based on a comic book. The entire production has the look, pacing, and intensity of a comic book. Because the movie went for it whole-heartedly, it is much easier to accept the plot and enjoy the movie on its own terms.
This film is very bloody. In fact, there was a bloodbath scene early on that was reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s gore-fest, Dead-Alive. But whereas the blood in that film (and other horror films) was gratuitously gross, in this one, it serves the plot. In that one, the blood was there for its own sake, shocking in and of itself. In this movie, the blood is not just shocking, it is also frightening because of what it reveals. Not even in Kubrick’s The Shining was a visual bloodbath so effectively used.
Because the blood is motivated, Blade is less gory than a slasher flick, and the movie has a lot else going for it.
The fight scenes between Blade and the vampires are some of the best-choreographed in recent memory, this side of Hong Kong. When Blade’s silver weapons kill a vampire, there is an interesting visual effect of dissipation, almost too quick to see. You have to watch close to see it. And with the audience watching so closely it’s hard to pull off a fight scene where one man takes on a roomful of enemies. Too often, the director uses closeups and quick cuts to distract you while the bad guys pile up. Norrington choreographed the fights, giving you a sense of what’s happening with each individual combatant.
Snipes makes a good comic-book hero. He seems to be aware of how he will look on-screen and exaggerates just the right gestures to make him seem a believably imposing figure. Ebert also credits him with a sadness that accompanies the superhero way of life, and I agree to the extent that sadness and a neurotic drive are intermixed. Either way, Snipes captured that emotion without lingering too long on it.
I would also add that part of Snipes’ success in the role comes from his being a producer of the film. As a producer, he would have more control over how Blade would be presented, better allowing his performance to match the goals of the production.
The music served its purpose well in this movie. It was symphonic enough to be a film score, with enough techno-industrial beats to keep it dark and up-to-date. There are a few scenes of Blade pondering his mother’s fate where the music takes on an eastern mystical sound. The music always sounded good, and it always served the needs of the film.
Blade is well-made and I really enjoyed it. But I acknowledge that it isn’t for everyone. Even though it is R-rated, it seems to be aimed at adolescent boys, the ones who read the comic books. If there are such things as “chick flicks” and “guy flicks,” this is one of the latter, so take my recommendation as you will.
But if you are interested, or if you can allow yourself to enjoy a movie like this on its own terms, by all means go see it.