Today Wesley Snipes celebrates his fiftieth birthday… from prison. Today also marks the end of the vault’s month-long fixation with the superhero genre. As the old saying goes, let’s kill two vampires with one stake, or something like that.
Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) believes humans are little more than cattle and vampires like himself are the top of the fucking food chain, or so he tells his nemesis Blade (Wesley Snipes). Neither fully human nor fully vampire, Blade, known to vampires as the Daywalker, has all of their strengths while suffering few of their weaknesses. With the help of the grizzled Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), he strikes silver-tipped fear into the undead hearts of these suckheads. Frost intends to end Blade’s crusade of annihilation by awakening the prophesied Blood God, La Magra.
Blade has the distinction of being Marvel’s first successful foray into feature films. The human-vampire hybrid Blade was born in the seventies at Marvel comics to the proud parents of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. Everything else I’ve learned about Blade is thanks to screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Stephen Norrington who, very loosely, adapted the story of Blade to the big screen. In their version, Blade was born in the sixties to Vanessa Brooks (Sanaa Lathan) as she lay dying in the hospital from a vampire attack. Thirty years later, he’s waltzing into blood-drenched, underground raves dressed in black leather and an array of lethal weaponry to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s left his gum in his other bandolier.
The world of Blade is a gray, shadowy place, even in the daytime. The dark, muted hues set a stark contrast to the bright red showers of blood spilled by vampires. The vampires all dress hip and cool per the 90s fashion. The shine of the silver stakes and sword against Blade’s all black motif is of the highest cool factor. Even Whistler with his dirty jeans, greasy hair, and scruffy beard makes an indelible impression in the viewer’s mind.
When the characters aren’t strutting around looking badass, they’re talking even more badass. Though Snipes portrays Blade as stoic, his matter-of-fact delivery of the over-the-top zingers nearly makes him the funniest character. Nearly because Kristofferson’s gnarled barking makes even a simple ‘hello’ sound so awesome. Dr. Karen Jensen (N’Bushe Wright), the hematologist who’s saved by Blade, is even quick to throw a little attitude behind her words.
Dorff’s delivery as the eccentric Frost has a sinister theatricality to it, but it’s Donal Logue who chews up the screen as Frost’s right-hand man Quinn. As rowdy and menacing as Quinn is, he repeatedly takes a beating from Blade. The fight choreography, the martial arts, sword fights, and gun play, is massively excessive and gratuitous; exactly what you want in a hard-edged R-rated action film. Blade’s kicks and punches send his foes flying across rooms while his silver bullets and stakes turn vampires into piles of ash and leave their human familiars in bloody pools. His EDTA darts result in what now is sketchy-looking CGI, but it’s a small quibble for an overall sleek film.
Norrington’s vampire-infested vision of the world is more than style and violence. It’s balanced with Blade’s backstory, the history of the prophecy, Karen’s search for a cure to vampirism, and Frost’s plan to initiate the vampire apocalypse. It would have been easy for Norrington to omit such substance and rely completely on style, but as Blade points out, “some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill.” Norrington laced up and despite a few slips, glided to the top.