BLACK PANTHER’s out, and that one fanart picture of John Boyega has been getting some coverage lately. So, let’s take a look back at BLADE, Marvel’s first film to have a non-white protagonist. It’s also the only Marvel film where the protagonist uses a flashlight to torture a morbidly obese woman.

But more on that later. Believe it or not, Marvel’s first box office success was a rated-R action-horror movie with an African-American lead. It’s also still more or less a superhero movie plotwise. Blade, a superhuman in a goofy outfit, tries to stop another superpowered guy from taking over a New-Yorkish looking city. There’s no giant laser-firing into the sky, but there is a blood god summoning ritual, which is basically the 90’s equivalent of that sort of thing.

That said, let’s cut to the chase. BLADE came out in 1998, meaning that it’s been almost two decades since it hit the silver screen. So, as someone who practically grew up with the current MCU since it began in 2008, I got curious. In comparison to the blockbusters of today, how well has BLADE held up?

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BLADE And The Superhero Genre

Well, if you’re sick of modern superhero films, BLADE is probably not the film for you. Since it was Marvel’s first successful film, Blade did leave a mark on the superhero film genre. There’s a reason why the X-MEN films had them all wear black leather, and it didn’t stop there. 

You may have noticed that the MCU and DCEU both have their fair share of darkly colored leather/armor plated costumes. Though they might be a bit more gimmicky, they certainly seem to be taking design cues from Blade’s outfit.

Images courtesy of Marvel Entertainment and DC Entertainment

It’s not just the costumes that are familiar. The screenwriter for BLADE, David S. Goyer, would go on to be one of the head writers for the DCEU. Specifically, he was a main creative head for the Snyder-led films like MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V. SUPERMAN. Those films weren’t exactly critical darlings, but that hasn’t stopped Goyer.

He’s currently one of the showrunners for the upcoming KRYPTON series. In any case, the rather grim and jaded tone seen in those projects is clearly on display in BLADE. However, given that BLADE is about murderous vampires, the darker atmosphere does suit the film. At least it’s better than when it’s being applied to someone like Superman.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. For a supposedly grim and angsty horror action movie, BLADE doesn’t seem to take itself all that seriously. 

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There are a couple things in BLADE that haven’t aged too well. Cartoony looking CGI blood bubbles get involved during the final fight scene. The opening titles are done in impact font, which I believe is still the go-to typeface for out of date memes. Also, Blade looks like a PlayStation 2 character.

To be fair, DEUS EX came out two years after BLADE did. Images courtesy of Marvel Entertainment and Eidos Interactive

Besides that, there are other elements that make BLADE seem a little less intense than it could’ve been. There are ridiculous one-liners. Blade wields weapons like garlic vials and stake launching shotguns. The vampires Blade fights against generally look and act like fashionable partygoing 20-somethings. Oddly enough though, this somewhat lighthearted approach to the material actually reminds me of the MCU a bit. 


Tonal Similarities to the MCU

The MCU generally has a quippy, self-referential, and somewhat down-to-earth tone in regards to its characters and settings. Now, BLADE is certainly grittier than, well, the entire MCU catalog put together. But the sort of tone I just described is present in BLADE.

Head vampires hold conferences in boardrooms and look like bored businessmen in suits. The more rebellious vampires led by the film’s main villain, Deacon Frost, generally act like stereotypical hedonistic young adults. Frost’s main henchman even has a recurring gag about his arm getting blown off.

Blade himself is supposed to be this serious angsty stoic, even though he’s the only character wearing some sort of costume. But while his outfit and arsenal may be comic book-ish, there is this sort of goofy self-satisfaction in Snipes performance that seeps through. It’s almost as if the character is somewhat self-aware about how over-the-top the situation is.

Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Like IRON MAN and ANTMAN, BLADE isn’t making up a whole new fantasy setting or trying to set up a grand-scale story. It just takes place in a world that’s more or less our world, but with vampires.

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What Makes BLADE Work

Now, if you’re the sort of person who likes to nitpick movies in general, BLADE’s got more than just outdated special effects and 90s fashion. There are several scenes and plot points throughout the film that come off as bizarre: in one scene, a little girl gets smashed through a metal hot dog stand and ends up totally unharmed.

The same can’t be said for Pearl, the naked and morbidly obese vampire I mentioned earlier who got tortured with ultra-powered flashlights. The whole point of that scene was just to provide some exposition about the blood god ritual, so a naked fat lady getting horribly burned really was totally unnecessary. In other words, like most films, this one isn’t perfect. 

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

But it’s still a lot of fun. Wesley Snipes perfectly embodies the stoic ridiculousness of black trenchcoat wearing half-vampire vampire hunter, and he knows karate in real life, so the fight scenes aren’t just CGI fests. Everyone else is convincing enough at acting out their parts, and there’s plenty of fun setpieces to go around, like the aforementioned stake launching shotguns, or the rave where blood starts raining from the ceiling.

Sure, the effects look a bit fake when the vampires disintegrate. But the film is what it is:  an accessible action-packed movie that you don’t have to think too hard about.

BLADE VS. Modern Movies

In other words, as a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, BLADE works just fine. Unfortunately, that in itself is what I think holds the film back in comparison to more recent movies. There’s plenty of violence to go around in this film, but it never reaches the over-the-top schlockiness of, say, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN or the intensity of something like THE RAID.

The special effects aren’t bad, but they do look shabby if you put them next to heavily stylized CGI filled blockbusters like THOR RAGNAROK, or even JUSTICE LEAGUE. As far as rated-R superhero movies go, BLADE was one of the first to reach mainstream success, but in hindsight, it doesn’t have the emotional depth of LOGAN or the creative self-awareness of DEADPOOL.

And, well, if we have to compare the two, BLACK PANTHER at least tries to address pressing social matters that go beyond the world of the film, whereas BLADE never really goes anywhere past vampire hunting. Now, I’m not saying that BLADE should’ve been more socially conscious; but something like Wakanda is certainly going to stick in people’s minds more than trendy-looking vampires being jerks.

The main villain of BLADE, Deacon Frost. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

To be clear, BLADE is not a bad movie. It is preferable to the blander MCU films, or the particularly inept entries in the DCEU. But if you’re an avid watcher of superhero and/or action movies, BLADE might not as impressive as it was in 1998.

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Other Recommendations

Recent Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro was the director for BLADE 2, so if fish-man romance isn’t your speed, why not watch a movie where a half-vampire vampire hunter teams up with vampires to hunt down super evil mutant vampires? Also, BLADE 2 is, in fact, considered to be superior to BLADE. This should come as no surprise considering that Del Toro was in the director’s chair and that Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen did the fight choreography. 

However, if you’d rather watch a rated-R superhero movie that came out before the turn of the century, you’ve got choices like THE CROW, THE TOXIC AVENGER, DARKMAN, and one of my personal favorite superhero movies of all time: ROBOCOP. THE CROW’s the only one that’s based off a comic book on that list, but they’re all pretty unique takes on the superhero formula.

Superhero movies have plagued cinema for quite some time now. Images courtesy of Miramax, Troma Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and Orion Pictures, respectively.

In sum, BLADE is a solid action movie that is a bit dated by modern standards. It’s not as innovative as it was in 1998, but it does deserve recognition for shaping modern superhero films. So, if you want to know why Wesley Snipes is the only possible actor for any potential BLADE reboots, BLADE is worth a watch.

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