When people talk about R rated superhero movies (or 15/18 over here in the UK), there’s one example everyone thinks of: Deadpool. I’m sure you’ve heard this all before by now, but as much talk as there was about it being ‘the first superhero movie given an adult rating’, that is clearly not the case. Watchmen, Judge Dredd, Constantine, The Punisher, Spawn, all examples of these. Sure, the quality of these movies aren’t thought to be the best (though with Watchmen it depends on who you ask), but there is one example I believe is pretty unanimously agreed on being good. Blade.
This isn’t just a thought held by people when thinking back on their favourite movies as kids. It did well financially, having the 29th biggest gross at the American box office in 1998 and leading to a Blade trilogy being made, and it was popular with both audiences at the time and today, apparently giving it a cult following. However, critics reacted with much less enthusiasm. Not at all that film critics must have the final say, they are individuals as opposed to a group conscious, but it seems likely that there must be *some* reason Blade is a whole percent lower than Osmosis Jones when it comes to Rotten Tomatoes’ critical response.
Blade is a 1998 superhero movie following the titular Blade, a ‘daywalker’ half-vampire born after his mother was bitten. Having all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses sans a thirst for blood, he and his father figure Abraham Whistler hunt down and kill vampires. After meeting Karen Jenson, a hematologist, they eventually uncover a plot by vampire Deacon Frost to resurrect the blood god from vampire folklore and turn the world into a killing ground.
In all comic adaptations, how they make the main characters look is a big factor. Some movies nail bringing a character to live action (such as 2016’s Deadpool), others manage to give a new take while still remaining faithful to the character (such as The Dark Knight’s Joker), and others end up messing it up entirely (such as 2004’s Catwoman and 1997’s Steel). Here, I think they managed to do all three. I have yet to read a Blade comic, but from a quick Google image search they have seemed to give Wesley Snipes a costume very similar to his comic counterpart (at least to some of his appearances). And yet, none of them exactly match what we see. Is it enough to give a breath of fresh air to the character? No, the differences from the main design seem minimal, but it’s still a perfectly good redesign. As for the final category, ‘messing it up completely’ is overstating it, but there is a notable detraction for me. The reason I named Shaq’s Steel under this category is that his entire costume, which is meant to be comprised of metal, looks extremely fake, almost like spray painted plastic. Blade’s chest piece, which I can only assume to be something akin to a kevlar vest, is the same only with less textural detail, and yet is supposed to be able to block bullets with no ill effect. I don’t know, this is probably me being nitpicky, but it’s something I found myself unable to ignore throughout the movie.
Speaking of poor effects, the CGI in this movie has not aged well. As a vampire hunter, Blade, as you might imagine, ends up killing quite a few bloodsuckers in this movie. And each time he does so, they end up almost burning away into a skeleton before that dissolves too. Neat idea, on paper, and would likely be really striking were this movie made today. But here, with each death comes skeletons which I’m pretty sure you could get as stock models today. That being said, Blade only goes on major vampire killing sprees at the beginning and the end of the movie, so even if you can’t put how bad it looks aside (I could), it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. However, even I couldn’t put aside the sentient flying skeletons just before the movie’s final battle, which just look terrible for what I’m sure was supposed to be taken seriously. But it’s not all abysmal. There’s a couple of times where vampires end up swelling and blowing up (likely being why this movie received an 18 rating as opposed to a mid to high 5 over here) which look kind of alright, and whenever a vampire slowly burns away due to being exposed to UV light, I think it still holds up.
While I don’t know how it was exactly originally received or currently viewed, or how it was originally pitched, there is one truth about Blade that the above aspects only accentuate: This film is two hours of amazingly goofy fun, and it’s that in the way only the 90s can really be. Blade’s set up from the moment we see him as the most badass man alive, fully capable of slaughtering a room full of vampires, and yet he gives this awkward little fist pump after pinning a vampire to the wall and responds to police shooting at him with an indignant “Motherfuck, are you out of your damn mind?”. The editing speeds up randomly in places, from following a vampire’s familiar in a car to Blade sheathing his sword, giving the movie this over-the-top ridiculousness. The fight scenes are full of dumb little touches that would never be taken even remotely seriously in a modern movie. With all this in mind, the flaw in Blade’s costume and the terrible CGI end up not detracting from the overall experience (except for the aforementioned flying skeletons), but instead improving it.
Obviously, this is not a movie you should watch if you want something particularly clever. Thinking about it, some of my complaints about Osmosis Jones ring true here. The characters aren’t the most complex, the story isn’t the most unique. The difference, though, is that this is a script that clearly has effort behind the cliches. I struggle to think of any really meaningful character development Blade or Karen go through, but the roles they fill are more unique to begin with. They’re not just “the street-smart cop in a buddy-cop” and “the book-wise cop in a buddy-cop”. They’re a half-vampire vampire hunter who’s starting to struggle to keep his vampire side at bay and a strong smart woman who, even though she is used as a damsel in distress relatively often, is still shown to be very capable of holding out for herself in a world she’s only learning about along with the audience. Just how many more words I need to describe them shows how much more interesting they are to follow. And for the plot, it’s more there as an excuse for Blade to get into all of the fight scenes than something meant to intended to get you thinking deeply about the universe, a framing device opposed to the main attraction. It’s a pretty predictable pattern for the sort of movie Blade sets out to be, but it’s different enough that I wasn’t subconsciously putting together every plot point before it happens, while in Osmosis Jones you could work out roughly what happens through the entire thing just from the first 5/10 minutes.
Given that there’s only so many possible ways to say “This movie is so goofy it’s amazing”, that’s about all I can say on this movie. The acting’s perfectly good, I fully believe each of them in the roles they were given and there were no duff moments, but I struggle to point at it and say it’s truly a masterclass of the art. The music, too, isn’t particularly noteworthy. It certainly isn’t bad, but it doesn’t bring scenes to new heights. If anything the fight scene camerawork I have the biggest issue with, employing a shaking camera and at points frequent cuts which can end up distracting in an age where I’ve been spoiled by the straight takes of John Wick. But really, it doesn’t take away from the otherwise very entertaining fights. It’s almost certainly just a nitpick.
A great movie to watch when you just want pure entertainment for a couple of hours. Blade’s strengths may not have entirely been intended back when it was made, but even it faults come together to bring about a very fun movie. After watching nothing but bad or tedious things for too long, this was a very welcome break.