Blade is not a subtle movie. It practically runs on the rule of cool. Everyone is in black leather, swords are the best way to kill, and immortal beings somehow still act like twenty-something douche-bags.
There’s a lightness in the plot that’s hard to overlook. Vampires apparently just become evil when they turn, making it easier to cope with the efficiency that Blade kills them with. As a character, Blade himself doesn’t have much depth, although Wesley Snipes brings a certain gravitas to the role that makes this easy to overlook. Less easy to overlook is the pretty-boy villain, who might as well be the trope-maker for the Marvel Villain Who Could Have Been Really Cool, But Fell Short of His Potential.
But as easy as it is to pick holes in the logic of what’s happening on screen, in retrospect, Blade was arguably one of the most influential movies of its day. It came out the year after Batman and Robin had bombed its way onto the screen. Batman and Robin represented the worst way Hollywood could look at comic book movies. It was silly, childish, without weight or import. “See how silly this Batman fellow is!” it said to the viewing public. “That’s because comic books are really for kids, not for serious grownups like us!”
And with that movie fresh in people’s minds, Blade stormed into theaters and set the whole thing on fire.
In some senses Blade shares a bit of its basic DNA with Batman and Robin. The story is relatively simple, the lines between good and evil are starkly drawn, there is very little nuance to any of the characters. This is still “comic book” story telling.
But on the other hand it broke ground for what a comic book movie could be. For one thing it definitely isn’t for kids. The hard R, ultra-violent action is clearly aimed at a more mature audience, and it soared at the box office despite ignoring the younger demographic. the same audience that would flock back to the theaters in the next year to see more heroes in black leather fighting the forces of evil in The Matrix. This wasn’t a comic book movie; this was an action movie.
And maybe more significant is the presence of predominantly black protagonists. This isn’t a “thing” in Blade. They don’t have some point to make about racism. And the fact that it’s so casual about it, makes the lack of black-led superhero movies even today, seem even more glaring by comparison.
It’s also worth mentioning that despite coming on the heels of a comic book movie that nearly everyone hated, and despite being an R-rated superhero movie, Blade did crazy business at the box office, topping 70 million dollars domestically and 130 million worldwide proving there was still life in the genre.
And so, despite not being a great movie on its own merits, when placed in the history of comic book films Blade is a Colossus, standing astride two eras of film-making. It has one foot planted in the silliness of the past, and another planted in another era, an era we arguably still haven’t reached even today, an era where the whitewashed and watered down superhero movie is a thing of the past, an era in which comic books are most decidedly not for kids.
Blade is an echo from the past, an influence on the present, and a vision of the future.
(Editor’s note: I love this freaking movie with zero guilt and no regard for what it did for comic book movies…Wesley Snipes killing vampires with a samurai sword is awesome)
Albert lives in Florida where the humidity has driven him halfway to madness, and his children have finished the job. He is the author of The Mulch Pile and A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.
To hear more of our thoughts on Blade check out Episode 165 of the Human Echoes Podcast.