Surprisingly good comic tale that stars Wesley Snipes
If it weren't for those stupid trailers and previews, I might have been excited upon seeing BLADE. Unfortunately, I knew Wesley Snipes was in it. I've never thought of Snipes as a good actor, and so my impression of the film dropped considerably. Then, the story sounded ridiculous. That's right... the trailer just sucked. I don't like using that word, but it did. And so, it comes as a great relief that BLADE is not mindless entertainment. It's actually quite fun!
This is very similar to The Negotiator in the way that it is substance versus style, and the latter reigns completely. This is a comic-book film, and the story is inadmissible. There's no point in even describing a plot. As a comic-book, it contains a plot that merely jumps from action sequence to action sequence and finally ending with the hope of a sequel (or, rather, next month's issue). And if it weren't so fun to watch, this movie would be one of the worst of the year.
BLADE begins in 1967 as a young pregnant woman is rushed into the ER for an emergency C-section. Bleeding profusely from the neck, her baby son gets born just as she dies. Jump ahead a couple of decades, and now watch Blade (Wesley Snipes), a half-vampire, half-human hybrid try to rid the Earth of the vampire race. His mother was bitten by one, and so he now contains the best of both worlds, except for his insatiable thirst for blood. He is introduced during a bloodbath scene as a young man is led into a party held inside a meat locker. Blood showers from above, and this man soon realizes that he is in the midst of vampires. Blade comes to the rescue, literally dissolving vampires with silver bullets and blades.
BLADE takes a rather intelligent move by removing the common myths of vampires and creates new ones. Sure, the vampires still can't go out in the sunlight (without a strong SPF sunblock on), and they are hurt by garlic. But stakes through the heart and crosses just don't work anymore. Now, you need silver or a medicinal drug that makes vampire blood explode. But this is merely just a setup for the incredible amount of gore and violence that permeates the film. Instead of pretending that the violence is real, it is ludicrously fictional. Staying true to the comic-book origins, the film never seems to be about anything. It's a bunch of scenes pasted together to form a visually-stunning film. The violence merely serves as a form of entertainment (albeit, bizarre) that adds to the overall energy.
The film runs about with a coherency that is suitable but not distracting. Screenwriter David S. Goyer (mostly known for his brilliant Dark City screenplay) is intelligent enough to know that a plot would have ruined part of the tone and mood. Things move along at a steady and rapid pace. The main plot (oh, okay... I'll describe it to you) concerns a group of vampires who own and control the rest in the city. They also have a pact with the police department so they can do whatever they want without getting in trouble. One vampire, Frost (Stephen Dorff), doesn't like the way they run things. "We're supposed to control the humans, not be pawns for them," he says. Being a vampire bitten, instead of born that way, Frost is looked down upon. But Frost has his own plan... he wants to summon the vampire god and rule the Earth. But there's a problem: the instructions are coded in an ancient language in the vampire bible. Of course, Frost decodes the message and begins preparations for armageddon. This brings up yet another problem: you need the blood of a vampire who can walk in the daylight.
Blade is a perfect match, but he's trying to destroy the vampires. Along the way, he picks up Karen (N'Bushe Wright), a hematologist. Sure, the plot trickery here is obvious to smell (Blade relies on injecting himself with a mixture of blood and garlic to suppress his urges, and she's a blood doctor) but this is just a comic book. His best friend is Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who raised Blade and supplies the weapons. These two join Blade in fighting the vampires.
Director Stephen Norrington hasn't exactly had a high-profile career. With only one movie under his belt (Death Machine, a comic book tale about a madman who invents a killing machine to get back at his employers), Norrington shows that he has a real knack at getting and maintaining the perfect visual sense to move the story forward. Since comic books rely on incredible and unrealistic stunts, trying to get that on the big screen can be difficult. But Norrington realizes that comic books are like cartoons. BLADE is almost a live-action cartoon, which animated blood, characters who jump all over the place, and disintegrate when hit with a silver bullet. The film creates an alternate universe so that these elements seem plausible (as with every good comic book film), and yet maintains a connection to our world so that we are not completely estranged from the story. Norrington is well on his way to becoming one of the best comic book directors around (though, not quite achieving the level of Alex Proyas).
The sets are stunning, including an underground temple which is a glorious example of what these types of films can show us. Kirk M. Petruccelli has done an incredible job here, making everything seem dark and drab. Cinematographer Theo Van de Sande hasn't been known for his cinematography with films like Volcano and Exit to Eden, but here he proves that he has a lot of talent. His rapid camera movements are jarring but evocative. Some of these shots are visually exciting without drawing attention to themselves. Paul Rubell should get special attention for his quick and impressive editing job. He maintains a level of confidence that many editors lack (and frankly, screw the film up). His cuts are strong and sensible. They don't lose you in confusion whatsoever. As a film completely made of substance, these are the most apparent elements. The screenplay was by David S. Goyer, of course, wrote that poetic and outstanding film Dark City so it's rather a surprise to see no story whatsoever here.
Wesley Snipes was probably the only thing that kept me from seeing this one. But he does a very good job as the flawed hero. Snipes knows that as a hero cursed with this affliction he won't be a happy, charming fellow. He's a broody pathetic creature, and Snipes does a great job. But it's Stephen Dorff that steals the show here. Calm, charming, evil, and scary all wrapped up in one, Dorff (whom I have never seen before) dominates the screen with his animated presence. I really hope we see more of this guy, because his rugged good looks are bound to make him a star. N'Bushe Wright is strong as the female lead and one of our only connections to reality. Kris Kristofferson is very funny as Blade's friend and father-figure. Newcomer Arly Jover is impressive with a very appealing accent. And that's Traci Lords, the ex-porn star, giving a good performance (albeit a brief one)! Of course, she's proven herself before, with such films as Serial Mom and Cry Babe (both John Waters films).
BLADE is rated R for excessive and continuous gore and violence, language, nudity, and sex. Trust me, this is not for those with weak stomachs. Though the violence is mostly comic-book in nature, it's still quite violent and gruesome. This is definitely not a children's comic book. The resurgence of vampires is apparent with the TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and the new film by John Carpenter, Vampires (incidentally, the trailer of that film was attached to BLADE). BLADE is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining vampire film that is sure to do well at the box office. After leaving, everyone was satisfied. I even overhead one person who says they've seen it twice already (this was on the second day of release too). It's having that effect on everyone.
**** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie