I’ll be honest in saying that when I sat down to watch Blade, I wasn’t expecting much. After picking up the entire Blade trilogy for 25p at a car boot sale, I could tell that I wasn’t about to watch the vampire-slaying equivalent of Citizen Kane, but what I did watch not only pleasantly surprised me, but gave me a new comic-book film to fall in love with.
Starring Wesley Snipes as the eponymous half-human half-vampire, Blade follows a nurse who is dragged into the underground world of modern-day vampires after a freak accident. She meets Blade, a superhuman tasked with removing the evil vampires from society, and together they try to stop Deacon Frost, a young human-vampire hybrid who wants to rule the world by wiping out humanity and summoning La Magra, the Blood God.
From a late-1990’s action film, I wasn’t expectant of a lot by means of plot, but luckily I was wrong. The film’s beginning is quite light on the story, but as Karen, the film’s female protagonist, is introduced to instrumental elements of this film’s mythology, so are we, with the filmmakers cleverly using the Karen as a window for the audience, introducing us steadily to this fascinating universe. Unfortunately, for all this to be accomplished with enough time left for action, some heavily expository dialogue is required: a shame, but in this case, understandable, for the film itself comes in at around 115 minutes, pretty long for an action film of that era. However, there are still some elements which viewers are expected to find themselves, giving us a certain amount of responsibility to figure out what’s what in the world of Blade. Some good plot twists keep the plot fresh and entertaining, with a few being truly unforeseen.
Unfortunately, the third act crumbles, mostly due to the film’s subject matter: a film focused around modern-day vampires is zany to say the least, but once Deacon Frost’s plan is laid out and starts being executed, the campiness gets ramped up. There are some scenes that were really ludicrous and it was hard not to laugh at certain parts due to ridiculousness of what was previously quite a dark and brooding film. Another issue with the plot is the blatant conveniences, particularly with Blade’s blood being used as a MacGuffin, used only so Blade and Frost could fight, which dragged the film down a bit.
Characterisation in Blade is really one of the film’s strongest points. The title character, played sublimely by Wesley Snipes, has the perfect mixture of snarkiness (Snipes certainly knows how to deliver a joke or two) and brutality, with plenty of gory moments and brutal action scenes involving Blade ruthlessly murdering his opponents. Although I haven’t read any Blade comics, I really warmed to the character, which leaves me greatly excited for the next two instalments. Deacon Frost is also a particularly good character, with a well-visualised – if zany – plan, played well by Stephen Dorff. In a film where the lead character is a brutal killer, it could’ve been hard for Frost to stand out as a truly evil antagonist, but this is luckily not the case thanks to the writing of David S. Goyer. He is deliciously evil at times, committing horrendous acts of murder, but he is also incredibly endearing. I’d liken him – to a certain degree – to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: evil yet undoubtedly charming.
The film’s biggest issue is its tone. It feels like a battle between the filmmakers, clearly going for a darker, more brooding and violent film, and the studio, perhaps looking for a more marketable and approachable film, due to the sparsity of material we’re given. There are some pretty gruesome moments scattered throughout that really impressed me, but these moments felt redundant when we were given some of the zanier aspects in the final act, at times feeling campy like Batman Forever rather than brutal like Dredd. The film is at times pretty terrifying thanks to a few truly shocking scares and an eerie, creepy soundtrack, but these moments feel cancelled out by comically bad characters such as Donal Logue’s character Quinn and Deacon Frost’s girlfriend Mercury.
Technically, the film also feels like a mixed bag. Stephen Norrington’s direction is superb here, and he handles most of the action scenes very well, mixing some beautiful establishing shot with tighter, jumpier shots during the film’s immersive fight scenes. Fight scenes are well-choreographed and never feel like they are going on for too long, and thanks to the superb stunt work, feel thoroughly brutal. However, these are partly marred due to some of the horrendous shaky-cam segments, which were at times so poorly handled that they felt truly unwatchable. Unfortunately, some of the special effects really haven’t aged well. In a scene towards the end, a series of skeletons fly out of some bodies, which was easily the worst section due to the god-awful CGI. In the special features there is an alternative ending, which features Blade fighting a massive blood creature, which was nearly impossible to watch due to the awfulness of the special effects. However, some of the effects, such as when the vampires disintegrate, still look great, and perhaps the production team were being a bit too overambitious when planning some of the fights.
Some poor CGI, a dodgy tone and exposition-filled writing aside, Blade is a bloody romp through a vampire-laden world that is thoroughly enjoyable. It tells a story that is engaging and truly unique, and thanks to good direction, solid performances and brilliant fight scenes, is one of the best action films of the 1990s.