Saturday, February 5, 2011

What Went Wrong - The 'Blade' Series

Just as a preface for this article and, indeed, every article of the "What Went Wrong" group, I'll be deconstructing whatever it's about, which means spoilers will be abound.  So if you have an interest in whatever it is, today's installment being the three Blade movies, then you'll want to be skipping these until you've experienced them for yourself!  That said, let's begin!

Where it started:

The first Blade movie, released in 1998, was the pinnacle of action movies for me for a very very simple fact:  Blade used a sword.  Obviously, right?  I mean, his damn moniker is Blade.  But, well, I was also 11 in 1998 (and while I didn't watch the movie when I was 11, I did see it while it was newish) so I was easy to please.  I still am, but that's beside the point.  As I've grown, I can still appreciate the first Blade movie, and do, even despite the flaws, and I'd still go out and say that it's one of the better action movies of its type; certainly one of the better Comic-to-Film adaptations as well.

Why though?  Well, the cast is fairly well-done:  Wesley Snipes, even though he may not be the best guy to work with, and you certainly don't want him managing your money, plays the character they wanted him to be very well.  As far as the movies go, Blade is obviously supposed to be the cool, confident, badass guy who wins, even when it looks like he may not, and he pulls this off well, so that even when he's been weakened by the Vampiric Thirst (which he subverts with a manufactured serum his mentor, Whistler, came up with), you're just watching and waiting for that badass switch to get flipped once more so he kicks back into the swing of things.

Deacon Frost is amused by his own antics; a Pureblood vampire is about to burst into flames from direct sunlight.
Rather than listing the characters and their actors as I was going to do, I'll just throw the blanket statement out there that every character manages to convey their archetype without being one-dimensional; a feat to truly be envied by some of these other Superhero flicks.  Stephen Dorff is convincingly conniving while showing that he is also a fairly immature vampire, Kris Kristofferson is believable in not only his age and how that bears on his character, but also the impact of his backstory in regards to the fight against vampire kind, and Donal Logue does astounding at being an appropriate foil to Frost; where Frost is serious more often than not, Quinn is truly enjoying the life (or un-life, depending on how your views of Vampires are), and is almost never serious.  Where Frost is inflexible, Quinn nearly changes on the fly, and where Frost obviously has plans, Quinn is just the guy who's there to help out when it's convenient.  If nothing else, I can honestly tout that they did characterizations correctly, which I've just gone on about for two paragraphs now.

But that wasn't all it did right; there was a very real style to the movie and one that was consistent with itself.  The camera angles and the general mood throughout never felt disjointed, there was no jumping about, and everything was done with consideration to the rest of it.  The big example of this that comes to mind is how the workshop is shown off; whenever it's introduced in the movie, you always get a feel for just how big it is, and that never changes.  So near the endpoint, when you're given Whistler's Last Stand and then apparent demise, it's not hard to imagine that he was so easily surprised and taken down.  They could have been hiding just about anywhere before they finally sprung out into action.

The choreography is top-notch as well, as the fight scenes rarely get too indulgent, too flashy, but still remain impressive.  It's hard to find a movie these days as far as action goes that doesn't try to incorporate some sort of wire-fu, CGI and/or bullet time anymore which is a real shame as those tools are really just crutches that should have been cast-off almost immediately.  They might have been fine for their originators, and some things have incorporated them well, but as a standard, they're almost unnecessary and end up detracting more than they add.  Though CGI is used quite liberally in the end-fight, it's really the only example, and it's used less for the fight and more for the flash.

In all, Blade is, in my opinion, one of the quintessential Action movies from that era, and, as I've mentioned, assuredly a quintessential Comic/Superhero movie that is a need-to-watch if you're interested in either.  It hasn't aged poorly, I'd say, because it doesn't rely too much on effects or the like (outside of Vampires crumbling), though the ending animation of Frost bulging out and eventually exploding, thanks to CGI, may be a bit laughable.  YMMV on that.

So, reading all that, you may be wondering, 

How did it go wrong?

And the answer is really quite simple:  They made a sequel.

Sequels are never inherently bad.  That has to be said and truly, a sequel to Blade didn't have "bad" written on it on principle.  But, while not being bad bad, it did manage to differentiate itself from the first movie in ways that aren't, well, good.  For starters, the character of Blade was changed; while still a definite badass even when he's not, he also had a little comedic effort pushed onto him which was wholly unnecessary, and though there's no indication that he's much of a team player or a leader, he's thrust into both roles and basically excels in them for little reason, despite the odds stacked against him.  Not only is he leading a group of Vampires, but he's leading a group of Vampires that exist solely to destroy him and are only working with him because something 'worse' has reared its ugly head.

Which, if anything, that would be what would make someone shy away from a Blade sequel, would be the fact that a sequel generally tries to one-up the first in ways that it doesn't really need to, in an attempt to ensure it's not painted as "the same film, but different".  After all, why make a sequel about Blade killing vampires, when he could be killing different vampires, the Reapers, is what I imagine the general thought was behind it.  The first movie's plot didn't really lend itself to a sequel in its' nature:  Deacon Frost stumbled upon an ancient prophesy and works towards fulfilling it to gain ultimate power, succeeds, and is still thwarted by Blade.  Of course reading that, you can't say "Well, that again in different ways would be so much better or just as good!" because it's not built for a re-do.  But the answer to that isn't "The head vampire made a new strain of vampire with science and it went totally wrong" in the classic Man vs. Machine plot archetype.

Jared Nomak, sympathetic villain, and straight up ugly as sin.  His chin opens up into a second mouth, if you're curious about the seam there.
While not a machine, Jared Nomak is a created being, and thus fills the role well enough for a comparison.  The reapers, as is quickly shown in the film, are unique in that A) They don't give a damn and will not only drink, but be sustained by human -and- vampire blood, but B) they are more unsustainable than normal Vampires as they're likened more to Crack Addicts in their need for blood and in fact, die out much faster and more dramatically than normal vampires from thirst.  Which should be a red flag as far as their supposed role as the true vampire successors goes, as was the intent of Damaskinos in creating Jared, or rather, making Jared a Reaper.  The goal being, more or less, to create Daywalkers like Blade; all the strengths, none of the weaknesses.  And while the Reapers developed an immunity to garlic and somewhat to silver, as well as an arbitrary skeletal upgrade to make staking them more difficult, the sensitivity to sunlight/UV light was cranked way up to a degree that borders on insulting to the viewers.

In the end, what you end up with in Blade II is less Blade and more Dawn of the Dead; the Reapers are too much like zombies in their single-mindedness for blood, only showing brief flashes of anything that could be considered a higher brain function, despite the fact that Nomak is smart and likely stronger than most of the other characters in the movie, and the movie itself is too wrapped up in showing a team against this 'crisis' rather than showing Blade just kill a lot of them and be completely badass.  On top of that, there's a 'reveal' section of the movie, where there's about two too many face-heel turns and double/triple-crossings that ultimately just exist to get rid of characters.  Which Blade II is really, really concerned with doing.

Most of the Bloodpack.  I would say the ones that do more than suck and die, but, well, Verlaine and Snowman are in it.
Within minutes of revealing The Bloodpack, the 'elite team' of Vampires put together with the intention of killing Blade, the numbers start dwindling after being shown just how poor they really are.  Not only are two of their members not much of a match for Blade together, but they're quickly beaten into submission with mind-games and a sort of insurance policy administered following the typical "Group superiority Mentality" moment.  And all in all, only about two of them amount to anything before dying.  They exist almost solely to show that they had a varied group ready to take Blade on, and then to die unceremoniously to random Reapers for being overconfident, vain, or just plain stupid.

For example, Lighthammer, the stereotypical "big guy who doesn't speak the same language as anyone watching the movie" character gets into a one-on-one with a Reaper, gets bitten and, rather than admitting it or dying, merely covers the wound and, I guess, tells himself that logic be damned, he wasn't going to turn into one of those.  He then goes on to turn into one in the very next battle, kills Snowman (the mute samurai of the group who does absolutely nothing prior to this point) and tries to kill his girlfriend, Verlaine, who kills him and herself by exposing them both to direct sunlight.  That's three members of the Bloodpack dead in ways that not only could have been avoided (Snowman was even killed off screen), but are, honestly, arbitrary.  Their inclusion just seems like padding.

In the end, after a lukewarm love sub-plot is extinguished, the movie just sort of ends after a great call-back to the start of the film.  It was a wacky adventure and then it was over simply because every single person involved, Blade excluded, was dead.

And then, well......and then They made a third.

In one of those moments where you can only go "wait, what, how did that happen?" Blade Trinity was announced, and right away, it's clear that they didn't learn their lesson.  The team aspect was back and though arguably better-executed this time, more members of it than not were frivolous at best still, and it again boiled down to only a few mattering whatsoever.  The film then continues on to destroy the semblance of universal continuity with the other two movies and, instead of portraying the war between Humans and Vampires as something that happened on an underground basis as it had been, brought it directly into the forefront of everyone's minds.  The film basically starts with a talk show of people talking about vampires and Blade in a way that just shatters everything created by the first film and especially the second.
Early on, Blade is tricked into killing a human (a familiar, but whatever) which is played up to be a bad thing, which, given that there's a focus on the police and the media for that very specific area of the film, is understandable.  And then almost immediately, Blade informs the viewers (and a psychiatrist who borders on schizophrenic) that he's done it 1,161 times prior.  All of them familiars as well.  Just that, well, he wasn't on tape those times, apparently.

The three best parts of Blade:  Trinity.
Essentially, the movie is everything the first is not; I said the first had a specific style and stayed consistent throughout, whereas Blade:  Trinity hearkens back to the ages of Evil Dead 2, where the horror genre was so over-the-top it started making fun of itself, and makes a mockery of just about everything involved.  It's hardly even consistent within itself, much less than with the Universe it had created with the first two films, and jumps around entirely too much.  At the start of the film, the 'bad guys' uncover Dracula's tomb and reawaken him and bring them back to their corporate office, er, I mean, secret lair, and at one point it's mentioned that that was months prior than when the bulk of the movie takes place, despite no real time lapse being shown or even hinted at.  Nor is it relevant at all.

The plot moves in a way that if you stop paying attention, as you are wont to do during action movies, you actually will get lost, as the bulk of it is touched on, then never mentioned again.  The group Blade ends up working with after Whistler is killed within the first twenty minutes of the movie, the Nightstalkers, has come up with a bioweapon that will take out every vampire in the world just because but they need a perfect sample of vampire DNA or something, which, despite some Vampires being able to procreate and create pure blood vampires, means they need Dracula's blood.  And by they need Dracula's blood, they mean they can create the weapon, but it needs to touch Dracula's blood before it goes into the air and then apparently spreads throughout the entire world.  So that's what they do; they put the weapon (which is a vial of some sort of liquid) in a special arrow shaft and give it to Abby Whistler (as in Whistler Whistler, she's his illegitimate daughter, which just ruins his character's remorseful and resentful nature towards his family being killed by vampires) and say "Shoot Dracula with this".

She tries and, as anyone could have expected, given that it's freaking Dracula, fails when he whips around and grabs the arrow right out of mid-air, dropping it afterwards because, well, why would he destroy the MacGuffin, I guess.  And then Blade being, well, Blade, grabs it, stabs him with it and wins for all mankind somehow and survives because he's Blade.  (Also a half-vampire, but, well, I guess not enough half or something, as he stays half-vampire)  With his dying breaths, Dracula congratulates Blade on defeating him and gives his respect, but warns Blade that "the thirst always wins".  Drained from the fight and affected somewhat by the bioweapon, Blade passes out, and then promptly awakens during his autopsy and almost immediately appears to be turned to the way of blood-sucking (specifically, stalking towards one of the nurses menacingly) before the movie just ends.

As a series, Blade starts well before clearly going off its own tracks and then flying directly into a city for a glorious train-wreck.  I will say that all three movies are entertaining, which is key, but by no means is the third good, and the second even, is questionable in this aspect.  You could certainly do worse things with the time that one spends watching all three movies, and there are plenty of lesser quality movies you could watch, so if you're looking to be entertained by Action and then less action and more Comedy, the Blade Trilogy should be right where you want to be.  But if you're looking for a series that exemplifies what a comic book movie should be, well, you know where to stop watching.


  1. Interesting read. I got the boxset of the three on dvd several years ago on the recommendation of a friend.

    It's hard to really describe my opinion on them since I haven't watched them in a while, but I remember watching the first two movies, and not thinking a lot of them. I didn't think they were bad, and I remember liking the character of the old guy, Whistler, but I never really bought the character of Blade himself, or liked him much, or the dark, serious atmosphere of the flicks.

    Then I watched the third movie and yes, it was bad as a movie, but I actually -enjoyed- it. Why? Because Blade was less the focus, and because Ryan Reynolds was the life of the movie, IMO, and not bad eye candy to boot.

    Interesting to see how different people take different things out of movies. I don't think any of the Blade movies were particularly great (altho maybe I need to re-watch them), but as a young adult female who didn't really know much about the Blade character, I can't say they impressed upon me much back then, except for the character of King, whose freshness, sense of humour, beard and biceps were the most entertaining and memorable thing out of the entire franchise for me.

    But you're totally right, it's not really a comic book movie or trilogy, and I can imagine if you're a Blade fan, this trilogy is probably torture to watch, lol.

  2. I will say that, even though the thing is called "What Went Wrong" and I do kind of downplay the second two movies, they are very very enjoyable on their own merits. Ryan Reynolds, like you said, was the life of the third by far, and makes it a great movie on its own -if- you're looking to laugh. Which I think my be why I don't appreciate the latter two; the tone shifted from being a (perhaps too) serious action flick, to two movies that didn't know what they wanted to be.

    The humor was more present in the second than the first, and was, arguably more of a draw to the third than the actual action part of it. And, considering the first movie in the series, action is what I wanted, going into them. (I'll admit, I'm liable to call a movie one of my most favorites if it shows me a single guy being just completely badass for a good portion of it. See: The Protector.)

    I'd enjoy to hear your opinion of the movies again if you watch them again; since the character of Blade himself didn't really draw you the first time around, you might not like them still since he's the main focus of the first two, but there's also a chance that you'll enjoy him more this time around!

  3. I think in general I'm kind of turned off by overly serious action movies. I have a whole rant bottled up for Underworld and similiar movies, where everything is always so dark - the characters, the story, even the lighting and design. There's no contrast, and I guess a lot of people like that, but it's not for me. I like my 80s action heroes, badass but with a sense of humor, quirky adventures and a happy ending (mostly, of course there are exceptions to any rule), but I guess on this basis, Blade was never really gonna be my sorta film, and why I found the 3rd movie entertaining when the other two weren't as much.

    But I can totally understand how Blade could be a very impressionable badass dude, especially on an eleven-ish year old boy, and keep a fond place in your heart thereafter. I'll be sure to let you know what I think if/when I revist the series. ;-)