SHOOTING BLANKS: “BLADE”

Blade, we hardly knew ye (image: herogohome.com)

Blade (1998)

Directed by Stephen Norrington

Written by David S. Goyer

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson

Blade seems like a movie that should have more of a following. At the time of its release, the dark and pulpy flick enjoyed generally favorable reviews, as well as a respectable box office showing, closing out its lifetime worldwide grosses at $131 million. This was a period when all but the most recognizable comic book adaptations carried something of a stigma in the world of entertainment, and in that light, the marketing for Blade positioned the film more as a vampire action flick that happened to draw on a comic book as its source material. In this vein (pardon the pun) too, Blade was something of a tide-turner, belonging to the select group of pre-2000s vampire movies that weren’t completely mired in schlock (its compatriots being Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview With the Vampire). Still, these days Blade is largely forgotten, and I think there are several reasons why.

While Blade may have helped lead the charge towards the future of respectable comic book movies, as a pioneer, the film was bound to be left behind. In 1998, studios were still trying to wrap their heads around the notion of turning comic books, then viewed as kid’s stuff, into films that were marketable enough to all four quadrants to justify their massive budgets. Development executives seemed to struggle especially with the idea of “adult” comics, insisting on layering adaptations with loads of camp that often resulted in strange, tonally confused Frankensteins, such as Joel Schumacher’s Batman adaptations, and Alex Proyas’ reworking of The Crow. While David S. Goyer may have “only” been a writer on Blade, it’s arguably been his baby from the beginning, and helped firmly establish him as a go-to comics guy in Hollywood. Blade still clings to some of the vestigial camp of its predecessors, but the dark and gritty atmosphere identity that would become synonymous with Goyer’s name is present and accounted for. As Tinseltown began to realize the untapped potential of comic book franchises, new marching orders came down and “dark and gritty” became de rigeur. Goyer would lead the charge, contributing writing to Christopher Nolan’s rebooting of the long-dormant and presumed dead Batman franchise, as well as the Nolan-produced Man of Steel. Oddly, Goyer is at least partly responsible for a tonal shift in comic book films that left Blade looking more than a little quaint.

Goyer also penned two sequels, Blade II and Blade Trinity, both of which tried to fall in line with emerging trends but wound up playing as overcorrected, grim-faced nonsense romps (and the addition of the always-annoying Ryan Reynolds didn’t help). A few bad movies won’t always sink a franchise (Batman), but an emerging property with a lot of x-factors couldn’t really afford the consequences of two back-to-back stumbles. The sequels didn’t do terribly at the box office, but by the time Trinity rolled around in 2004, the comic book races were off and running, and the incredibly violent, R-rated franchise based on a lesser known and less than marketable character was soon put out to pasture. In my opinion, the fun and quirky brutality of Blade has been eclipsed by the eye-rolling tedium of its sequels. As such, it’s been relegated to less-than-prestigious cult status, doomed to live on only in the hearts of fedora-wearing neckbeards and guys who regularly attend anime conventions.

Last but not least, the falling star of Wesley Snipes may have sunk the half-vampire vampire-killer altogether. While the actor’s tax troubles weren’t common knowledge until around 2006, chances are that talk of Snipes’ financial philandering had begun to circulate around Hollywood much earlier: a look at the one-time star’s filmography reveals that he sank into the direct-to-video abyss immediately following Blade Trinity, and did not return to theaters until 2009, with Brooklyn’s Finest. It seems more than likely that Snipes was considered too “complicated” to work with by 2005, and became persona non grata in the world of big budget filmmaking as a result.

If we’re going to speak in massively hyperbolic metaphors, it’s important to remember that those who lead the charge are seldom immortalized as heroes. Rather, they’re the first to die facedown in the mud, their backs trampled by the waves of others coming behind them. Blade may not be a masterpiece, and the story of Blade slipping back into the shadows of the public consciousness may not be a tragedy, but as we wrap up a month that saw the box office dominated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s important to remember that thing weren’t always like this.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, well…that’s for another article.

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