Screening Log #1: The Blade Trilogy (1998, 2002, 2004)

Blade Poster

In addition to recording/ranting some in-depth responses to films I watch, I’d also like to use this Blog to keep track of the films that I watch day-to-day, casually, and maybe just say a few words about each.

Following the pretty intense experience of watching Inception yesterday afternoon – each of the people who I watched the film with were left impressed, but distracted or pre-occupied in a way by their thoughts – I spent the evening listening to the rain and thunder and needed something a little less consuming for my evening viewing. Earlier in the day, or the day before, I’d come across this feature on IGN about the “Top 25 Comic Book Movies of All Time”. Nestled on this list at #21 was Blade and I am positive that this feature put this series into my mind (or, to keep a thematic through-line strong, IGN Incepted the idea of watching these films in me.)

I have always had a soft spot for vampires movies, werewolf movies, zombie movies and mummy movies;  generally speaking, if it is a cheesy horror or science fiction film I will accept and embrace it. I grew up peeking into my neighbour’s older brother’s room while he watched Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th films; once, when I was a teen myself, my cousin and I spent an entire summer renting one 80’s horror series a weekend and plowing through them marathon style on VHS.

As such, it took little for me to convince myself (in the most solipsistic of dialogues) that the Blade Trilogy was exactly what I needed.

Blade II PosterThe first two Blade films hold up surprisingly well, even after all these years. The first film exists in that pre-millennial milieu  of electronic music and apocalyptic fear; the potentiality of the vampire apocalypse stands in for any number of end of days scenarios that were prevalent at the time – i.e., End of Days, Stigmata, Seven, etc. Wesley Snipes surprises with the dry wit he exhibits in the title role of Blade and Stephen Dorff chews scenery as the “impure” vampire revolutionary Deacon Frost. Stephen Norrington’s direction is efficient and dark (I was, in fact, going to describe it as Crow-esque then saw on his IMDB page that he is listed as the director of the 2011 remake of Alex Proyas’ The Crow); David Goyer’s screenplay is clever and plants its tongue firmly in cheek in many moments, usually involving either Donal Logue‘s vampire Quinn and the re-iterated removal of his hand or Kris Kristofferson‘s grizzled Whistler, Blade’s mentor and vampire-removal hardware supplier. The digital effects of the film have not aged gracefully but the attitude and spirit brought to the screen makes it resiliently entertaining to watch.

The second Blade film, helmed by a pre-Pan’s Labyrinth Guillermo del Toro finds its legs more solidly beneath it than the first film, improving on many elements – effects, pacing, atmosphere, etc. – while retaining much of the slanted and dark charm and characterization that made the first film compelling. del Toro, even here, shows himself to be a wonderful visionary of the strange; Blade II‘s antagonist, Nomak (Luke Goss) is a vampire who has been possessed by a “reaper virus” that mutates him into a being with a bifurcated mandible and lamprey-like feeding mechanism is truly unsettling. This film also sees the first pairing of del Toro and Ron Perlman before their pitch-perfect pairing in the Hellboy films. This film trades the vampire apocalypse for humankind from the first film for a vampire apocalypse this time for vampire kind; the genesis of the reaper virus and its spread internalizes the concern of the film from external sources to a paranoia about genetics, addiction and disease, evening amongst the “immortal” undead. The new strain of vampire is described by the traditional vampire hegemony as being “like crack addicts” at one point, giving Blade’s elimination of the vampires an oddly conservative, if tacitly existing, overtone. The scope of action in the film is increased in proportion to the team assembled around Blade as the reaper vampires proliferate like their DNA was equally indebted to rabbits as much as any species of bat.

The Blade trilogy finds itself, like the other comic adaptation to film trilogies Spiderman and X-Men with its second installment being the most cohesive and interesting piece of the trilogy. In each instance the second film is able to organically improve on the merits of the first, giving the right elements room to grow and time to mature on screen, before the third film seeks to cram too much into the alloted run-time: too many characters, too many villains, too much exposition and development. The third film inevitably undoes the balance struck through the first two films.

Blade Trinity PosterThe third film in the trilogy, Blade Trinity, does away with the – to my mind – indispensable Whistler early on, replacing the charm, wit, and, wryly paternal care of Kristofferson with Jessica Biel‘s undeniable aesthetic charms and a head-scratchingly prominent placement of her iPod. No, I’m not speaking euphemistically here (though she does receive a strange and uncomfortably long vanity shower-to-rinse-the-blood-off scene). Biel plays Whistler’s daughter, Abigail, and Ryan Reynolds plays her hunting partner Hannibal King. Reynolds spends the majority of his screen time cracking one-liners that are more cringe-worthy than cracking; it was this performance that put him in mind for me for the character of Deadpool, which he eventually was given… albeit in a terrible Wolverine movie. Parker Posey‘s Danica Talos joins Reynolds in the parade of camp in the movie, mugging her way through scenes and going overboard in the attempt to make laughs where the first two films in the trilogy struck the correct balance between humour and the grotesquer, darker, elements of the story. The less said about the first vampire’s, Drake‘s (Dominic Purcell), excursion into a Dracula themed novelty store the better. In the end the trinity of Nightstalkers prove to be too much for even the first and most powerful vampire to overcome. Indeed, the theme of genetic mutation is re-visited from the second film as the Nightstalkers synthesize a sort of contagion that exclusively kills vampire DNA. In a way the series comes full circle, moving from humans fearing assimilation into vampires, vampires mutating into stranger vampires, and finally, humans eradicating vampires via the same genetic agency that the vampires struggled against in the second film.

Goyer’s direction illuminates his strength behind the pen of the first two Blade films; this installment suffers under his directing with Batman & Robin-esque Schumacherian angles, a strange and jarring colour pallet as well as issues with pacing. After the – at the time – shockingly vibrant and competent direction of del Toro in Blade II this film’s flaws stand out ever farther.

As it stands the trilogy was an entertaining way to whittle away a rainy Saturday evening; the three films weave an overreaching thematic arc and contain enough moments of humour and charm – in addition to the gore and action – to occupy my time.

One Response to “Screening Log #1: The Blade Trilogy (1998, 2002, 2004)”
  1. Movie Maker says:

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