ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Blade’ (1998), Part Two
Over the past year, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri have provided ComicsAlliance with in-depth reviews of the final season of Smallville and the Batman film franchise. Now, in this season of spookiness, they turn their attention to a comic book movie with a supernatural edge: Blade.
David: Happy Halloween, everyone, and welcome back to Ice Skating Uphill with Chris Sims and David Uzumeri! We're here to take a look at the second half of 1998's 'Blade' starring Wesley Snipes and Steven Dorff, arguably the first big modern superhero movie despite the relative obscurity of its origins.
Chris: When we last left Blade and his newfound love interest/sidekick, they had straight up tortured a big fat vampire to death and discovered that Steven Dorff was plotting to raise the Blood God! Now, Blade and his ladyfriend are caught in a trap. They can't walk out. Because they love you too much, baby.David: They're in the chamber of the Book of Erebus, or Vampire Bible, where every page is suspended in a Jason Todd-style glass display case. Blade's expositing to Karen when he catches sight of a young girl, who turns out to a vampire who summons the endless wrath of Donal Logue!
Chris: Usually, that wrath is only directed at network executives who cancel sitcoms, so I honestly have my doubts as to whether Blade can withstand it, even with his awesome Daywalker powers. Donal Logue has brought along a few of his sidekicks, including one who starts waving around Blade's sword, which of course is booby trapped to explode your hand if you touch it without being Blade, giving us one of the movie's more hilarious gross-out moments.
David: Unfortunately for Logue, Blade is Blade, and when he's finally cornered our hero, Whistler shows up with a huge gun and shoots the hell out of everybody. We cut back to the Bladecave, as Karen's figured out that Blade himself is part vampire, with some of their strengths but none of their weaknesses other than the thirst for blood. Talk about a hemophiliac! Apparently Whistler found Blade feral roaming around feeding off the homeless at age twelve.
Chris: This was during the crucial "First Session Character Creation" segment of the vampire lifestyle known to mere humans as "The Masquerade."
David: Back with the new douchebag vampire overlords, Logue and "Deke"'s girlfriend are yelling at each other about being unable to capture Blade again, when Mr. Frost himself shows up and proclaims that they actually need to take Blade alive, not dead. Which freaks Donal Logue out completely. Frost keeps telling Logue to stop trippin', bro, we need you, and then the douchebag vampire sect put on a bunch of sunblock and murder the old vampire head dude by leaving him in the sun.
Chris: This is, to say the least, a fairly liberal interpretation of vampire lore. Like, seriously, what makes Blade so special if they can all get by on SPF 50 and parasols?
David: And sweet motorcycle helmets!
Chris: Ah, right, I guess they do have the full body suits going on. Still, when do these guys sleep in their ridiculous hyperbaric pressure chambers? The vampires also take a pair of pliers and pull the fangs out of the guy they kill, which, to this movie's credit, is a pretty awesome bit of old-school gangster meets supernatural villain bit of symbolism.
David: That is pretty cool. Blade takes the segment from the Book of Erebus to Whistler, where he deciphers some of the Blood God ritual and Karen, with hospital machinery that she personally threw into a truck and brought to Blade HQ, in her attempt to create a vampire cure happened upon a compound that makes vampire blood explode. This will be used to great effect later.
Chris: The fact that this movie just cold introduces an item that makes vampires explode is hilarious both because it's like getting that last upgrade in a video game, and because Blade has this and yet the movie goes on for another 40 minutes, with two more sequels. You'd think that would be the game changer.
David: Meanwhile, Karen's figured out that Whistler has cancer, because Whistler coughs a lot. Whistler, in return, points out that Karen has a few days at most to go before becoming a full-fledged vampire with his compassionate bedsite manner. Blade goes out to buy a newspaper and ends up in a standoff with Deacon Frost who's taken a little girl as a hostage. When Blade refuses to come in willingly, Frost cold throws the girl into traffic and Blade basically ignores her until a car is like five seconds away from hitting her.
Chris: Those were the dangers you faced before you could get your news on the Internet. Say what you want about print dying, but at least it cut down on vampire hostage crises.
David: Back at Blade HQ, Karen's developed a cure for people who've been turned into vampires, although it won't work on born vampires because born vampires have it as part of their genetic makeup rather than a biobabble bla bla. Then Frost and a bunch of vampires show up, steal Karen because the movie needs a damsel in distress, and completely ruin Whistler and screw up the majority of Blade's HQ. When Blade gets back, he finds a bunch of bodies of Frost's familiars and a completely messed-up Whistler, who makes Blade leave his gun there so he can shoot himself out of the enormous amount of pain Donal Logue and his boys rolled him into.
Chris: Again, in retrospect, this is maybe the most hilarious part of this entire movie: They DESTROY Whistler. He is a bloody mess and they give him the choice to either become what he hates or kill himself, and he chooses the latter. There's this actually really awesome moment of Blade walking away and you hear the gunshot of Whistler committing suicide, and it's this one huge emotional touchstone in this movie. Blade's mentor, one of exactly two people that he considers his friend, and he's taken away by this cruelty.
Chris: And then he comes back in BOTH SEQUELS.
David: Ha, he does?!
Chris: Oh, totally. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I'm pretty sure that the opening sequence of Blade 2 is about bringing Whistler back to life and curing him of vampirism. I do think he finally dies in Blade: Trinity so that Blade can start hanging out with the Nightsalkers, but hell, who's to say he wouldn't come back in Blade IV: OblIVion?
David: Blade gets really mad and uses his materials in the Bladecave to create syringe darts containing the formula Karen created that blows up vampire blood.
Chris: He also cuts the roots off of his bonsai tree, forever rejecting Mr. Miyagi's teachings of peace. Sh*t just got real, Stephen Dorff.
David: Karen's in Frost's chill lounge waiting for Blade, and she decides to start provoking him by pointing out that she's deduced he wasn't a born vampire, even offering him the cure she's created before he flips out and talks about how La Magra's going to make everyone into a vampire, across the world. Which sounds like a pretty awful deal for vampires, since now they don't have a damn thing to eat. He also points out that Blade's blood is the key ingredient, I guess since vampire philosophers thousands of years ago figured a Daywalker would show up at some point.
Chris: See, that's the thing: Vampires having 100% accurate prophecies divined by magic? Fine. That's totally acceptable because just by introducing vampires, you're establishing that magic exists. But when you make Vampirism a virus that can be cured if a reasonably intelligent phlebotomist bothers to think about it for LITERALLY TWO DAYS, and say that they're just allergic to garlic and have really sensitive skin so that it's ultraviolet light that hurts them and not the purifying light of day, then you kind of lose the ability to go "oh but ancient magic prophecies are totally real." Unless they just figured that the odds were pretty good that somebody would bite a pregnant woman eventually, I guess, which seems like a safe bet given a long enough timeline.
David: Yeah, the movie is totally inconsistent in its relationship between science and magic. Blade shows up at Frost's compound to rescue Karen, loaded with vampire-killing serum darts, and crashes through the front door on a motorcycle like Cloud Strife before shooting up the entire lobby, even the humans who work for them. He fights some kung-fu vampires and gives them the serum, and they pustule and explode in a totally gross fashion. He goes through a door and enters a white room to meet the Architect, I mean, his now-vampire mom, and then he because it's a superhero movie, Frost shows up, has him beaten with taser nightsticks, and tells him that he bit his mom and actually created Blade as well.
Chris: And this entire sequence happens in the blank white world from the Mac commercials.
David: "Have you ever danced with the vampire devil in the pale vampire moonlight?"
Chris: This... Man, first of all, the sheer mechanics. At least they've already established that Blade has, for whatever unholy reason, a perfectly clear memory of his birth, so he can remember what his mom looks like, and she hasn't aged because she's a vampire. But how does she know Blade's her kid? She hasn't seen him in thirty years! How does Stephen Dorff know? I mean, is it common knowledge among vampires that Blade is really some dude named Eric Brooks? Did he go by "Eric" before he decided on a sword?
Chris: Also, for real, Blade is kind of dumb for not realizing that his mom, who was killed by vampires, might come back to life as a vampire.
David: Everyone gets shipped out to the middle of some random desert to an underground dungeon where the Ritual of the Blood God is to be performed, the one described in the decoded VRML animation from the Book of Erebus. Frost pontificates about how awesome the Blood God rising is gonna be while Blade stands there looking sick from his taser beatdown. Frost demonstrates that he can use Blade's sword without suffering the time-release blades in the handle, and then gets Donal Logue to stand up to get his hand cut off before revealing that he's "just f***in' with him." Frost and Donal Logue drag Karen down to some pits in the floor and send her in, where she ends up having to club her vampire ex-boyfriend to death, the one who seemingly perished earlier in the film.
Chris: Again, everyone in this movie seems to have absolutely no idea how vampires work. Like, they all know that there are people who get bitten by vampires and become vampires and THEY ACTUALLY HAVE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT IT, but then they are always totally surprised when people bitten by vampires turn out to be vampires.
David: Back at the Temple of Eternal Night or whatever, they stick Blade in this obelisk sarcophagus Carbonite-looking thingie for his part in the ritual. Then his mom hits on him for a while, which is pretty weird. She closes the sarcophagus, which of course has razor blades to induce bleeding and power the crazy magic ritual.
Chris: No joke, the Iron Maiden type thing they use on Blade (Iron Bladen?) is virtually the exact same thing Dracula used to get Hercules's blood in that episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which would've come out about a year after this movie was released.
David: The leaders of the Twelve Clans or whatever are all placed in a circle, and as Karen finally claws her way out of the vampire ex-boyfriend pit, the Ritual begins. Frost's girlfriend gets pissed with a smart-talking clan leader and straight up stakes him, which you'd think would screw up the ritual, while Karen goes and saves Blade after he's already given a whole ton of blood, forcing him to feed off of her to regain his strength. However, Blade's blood is already moving through the circulatory Rube Goldberg vampire machine, with the drops fall on the leaders' heads. Meanwhile, Karen's repeatedly asking Blade to stop sucking her blood, except he won't, which is kind of uncomfortable.
Chris: Well, she didn't use their safeword ("Donal Logue"), so we can assume she was actually okay with it. And if nothing else, it's not quite as uncomfortable as Blade's VMILF trying to seduce him and rubbing her face all up on his mouth while he's tied up in the Iron Bladen.
David: Just as Blade stops sucking blood and regains his strength, a big joined drop of blood falls on Deacon, transforming him into La Magra. Blade fights his mother as Karen goes to try to stop the ritual, which is now causing a bunch of crazy electricity to come out of everybody's forehead. Then, as Blade stakes his own mother, the twelve clan leaders all turn into flying skeletons that enter Frost and transform him into a Deacon Frost with red eyes.
Chris: It's like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but with vampires. And somehow nowhere near as good as that sounds.Although to be honest, I would probably pay decent money to see a version of Raiders with Wesley Snipes as Indy and Stephen Dorff as Belloq. Not as a movie, but definitely off-Broadway.
David: Then Blade shows up, easily decapitates Donal Logue with a tripwire, and gets into a badass karate fight where he totally preens around the room. Like, everybody in this scene fights like one of Joker's goons from Batman '89, and Karen kills Frost's girlfriend with vampire explodey mace.
Chris: The girl's head exploding because of pepper-and-garlic spray is seriously one of the best moments in this entire movie. There is nothing about it that is not pure, ridiculous insanity. Her head explodes! Because of having pepper spray squirted into her mouth! I can't even write a joke about it because I'm paralyzed by all the possibilities!
David: After he's beaten up all the goons with sweet 25x combos and double grapple takedowns, he gets into a sowrdfight with Deacon Frost and cuts him in half, except his blood pulls him back together. This is accompanied with some amazing late-'90s CGI.
Chris: And then Blade gives the single greatest "what the f***?" in the history of cinema.
David: When Deacon pulls himself back together with his blood?
Chris: Yes. He doesn't even say it. He just mouths it, with this super huge kid-in-class-looking-at-his-friend-in-the-desk-behind-him exaggeration, which is somehow even funnier because this is an R-rated movie and we've been getting f-bombs dropped on us for like two hours by this point.
David: Blade swordfights with him for a bit, and eventually throws his sword hilt-first into the crack in the wall next to his vampire explodey juice, so that the hilt safety eventually goes off and cuts both the sword and the serum free from the wall. Blade throws some of the serum at Frost, poses, and gives the movie's unquestionable signature line: "some motherf***ers are always tryin' to ice skate uphill." Frost explodes, Blade and Karen go outside, and Blade asks Karen to make him a new serum instead of taking the cure, because someone needs to be around to kill asshole vampires, especially in Russia, where we have an epilogue where Blade saves a woman from a Russian vampire. THE END!
Chris: Yeah. To be honest, it's a pretty anticlimactic ending, although it does continue the movie's theme of absolute bat-sh** insanity and hilariously cool moves. Like, Blade cutting off Donal Logue's head and catching his own sunglasses as the dude's head disintegrates around them, and the fact that Frost pulls a katana out of frigging NOWHERE so that they can have a swordfight. Apparently Goyer's original draft involved La Magra, the Blood God, just showing up as a new monster for Blade to fight rather than possessing Frost, but they (rightfully) realized that maybe the guy who's been the villain for the entire movie shouldn't just leave at the climax.
David: I think they actually have a draft of the scene on the DVD.
Chris: It was the right choice given the alternative, but the flipside to that is that this movie's big ending is that we watch a dude who has been karate-fighting vampires for two hours karate-fight a vampire. It's just a fight that goes on a little longer than the others, has the added bonus of having their swords explode into sparks every time they hit each other like it's the first season of Power Rangers, and it ends with a last-minute McGuffin rather than anything that has to do with the two characters doing the actual fighting. On the other hand, it gives us the line "some motherf***ers are always trying to ice skate uphill," which is maybe the best thing that anyone in a movie has ever said.
David: Have no doubt: we are those motherf***ers.
Chris: Honestly, the cast in this movie is great. Like, it's nowhere near the murderer's row of great actors that was The Dark Knight, but everyone in this movie is absolutely perfect for their role. Snipes is great as the tough-as-nails badass, Dorff plays smarmy and insufferable perfectly, and Donal Logue is just great as the guy you want to punch in the face for the entire movie.
David: Vampire Big Lebowski was a pretty inspired idea.
Chris: The scene where Logue is telling Deacon Frost what a super badass Blade is and talking about all his awesome moves and Dorff goes along with it for a second and then just snarls "SHUT THE F*** UP!" is a genuinely hilarious villain moment.
David: Blade is just FUN. It's relentlessly paced, there's no fat, every element comes together -- not unlike Goyer's later work on Batman Begins. And much like that film's obsession with fear, this one has an obsession with blood. Kristofferson, Lem, everyone in this movie maybe isn't good, but they're fun.
Chris: You'd also be hard-pressed to knock the sheer style of this movie. It's full of great stuff on that front -- I mean, the blood rave at the beginning is dumb as hell, but it's such a great visual of crazy vampire decadence. I love how it blends good ol' fashioned wirework with all the crazy head-exploding special effects, too. In a way, it's doing horror elements as over the top as, say, Batman & Robin did super-heroics, but it makes it work.
David: There's no actual horror in this movie. It's a fun action romp. The vampires are never scary, nor are they ever really even played as scary.
Chris: Mostly because they're just the kung fu movie extras that get brutalized by Wesley Snipes for two hours.
David: The vampires aren't even really seductive, they just come off more as trashy.
David: The CGI's a bit dated and some of the fight choreography is a bit obvious, but honestly, it wouldn't be Blade without those.
Chris: That's true. Also, the plot is hilariously awful.
David: To say it hangs together on a thread is an insult to threads. It has this super-science conception of vampirism but then it throws in ancient blood gods. I'm not saying you couldn't pull off marrying ANCIENT PROPHECY and STERILE SERVER ROOMS like Blade tried to, just that this probably wasn't the way.
Chris: Yeah, it has absolutely no idea what it wants vampires to be, or really what it wants its villains to be. Like, what exactly does Deacon Frost want? To show the old pure-blood vampires he's better than them? To turn everyone into a vampire so they're all on equal footing? To somehow carry on a thirty-year romance with Blade's mom just to stick it to him in case he somehow grows up to become the most ruthless vampire hunter in the world?
David: The "turn everyone into a vampire" plan is the worst plan ever. Who the hell benefits from that? "Let's turn our entire food supply into other predators! This isn't going to end badly at all!"
Chris: There are like eighty coincidences in this movie, which averages out to about one every 90 seconds. I mean, not to knock Karen or anything, she seems like a smart person, but it takes her literally two days to come up with a cure for vampirism. Is that all it takes? If so, why are there still vampires in Blade 2?
David: Well, the cure's only for new vampires, right? You'd think they'd distribute that globally, though.
Chris: Yeah, but just thinking about it for five seconds, there would almost have to be more "turned" vampires than "pure-blood" ones. I don't want to bring math into this, but if you have two groups, and something they both do (feeding) only adds to the second group, you're going to see a noticeable population difference. And the thing is, you can tell me I'm thinking too hard about this movie, but I'm not the one who made a movie where people talked about all of these things.
David: I guess vampires f*** a lot.
Chris: Terrible plot aside, Blade succeeds purely on just being fun to watch. And again, we cannot overstate this enough: This was Marvel's first big film success. It led directly to the revitalized X-Men and Spider-Man franchises, which in turn led to the current Avengers mega-franchise, and considering David Goyer's involvement, you can also make a good case for it leading right up to the Christopher Nolan Batman films, too.
David: This movie just has so much charisma. There's a palpable sense that everyone involved was actually having a lot of fun.
Chris: And the crazy thing is, by conventional movie-making logic, it shouldn't have happened. It's an R-rated movie about a fairly obscure non-super-hero genre character, and to cap it all off, he's a minority character to boot. You'd have a hard time getting that pitch made today, when comic book movies are actually big, let alone a year after Batman & Robin's $100,000,000 "flop."
David: But just pitch it as Wesley Snipes stakes a boatload of vampires, and suddenly you've got major studio funding.
Chris: I really wish studios would take another look at what they did with Blade and learn a lesson from it about taking those characters that they don't think work because of whatever reason and doing something with them. Every time I hear someone say "oh they won't make a Wonder Woman movie because they don't think there's a market" or something, I'm like "There were three Blade movies! THREE!"
David: Unfortunately, this would be director Stephen Norrington's last contribution to the Blade franchise, as he'd get replaced on the next film with Guillermo del Toro and later went on to do the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. And we all know how that turned out.+
Chris: You know, when you put it like that, it really makes sense that I've always thought this one was the worst of the trilogy.
David: So tune in next time for the first part of Blade II!
Chris: That's right, everyone: We were only going to do this one for Halloween, but because you demanded it, we're going through the whole franchise! Well, the movies, at least.
David: SAME BLADE-TIME, SAME BLADE-CHANNEL!