Blade (1998)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #12

The power of an immortal.
The soul of a human.
The heart of a hero.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 120 minutes
BBFC: 18
MPAA: R

Original Release: 21st August 1998 (USA)
UK Release: 13th November 1998
First Seen: TV, c.2001

Stars
Wesley Snipes (White Men Can’t Jump, Demolition Man)
Stephen Dorff (Backbeat, Immortals)
Kris Kristofferson (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Heaven’s Gate)
N’Bushe Wright (Zebrahead, Dead Presidents)

Director
Stephen Norrington (Death Machine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)

Screenwriter
David S. Goyer (Dark City, Batman Begins)

Based on
Blade, a Marvel comic book character created by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan.

The Story
When hospital haematologist Dr. Karen Jenson is bitten by a living corpse — actually a vampire — she encounters Blade, leather-clad badass vampire hunter. He mercifully takes her to his lair, where she hopes to create a cure for her impending vampirism. Meanwhile, mid-ranking vampire Deacon Frost aims to take over the world, for which he needs Blade’s unique blood…

Our Hero
The Daywalker — half-human half-vampire Blade, who can go out in sunlight (hence the nickname) and controls his bloodlust with injections. Passes his time helpfully killing vampires.

Our Villain
Being born human, turned vampire, and consequently looked down on by the purebred elders, probably gave Deacon Frost a chip on his shoulder, which may be why he believes vampires should enslave humanity. Which, despite his betters’ disapproval, he sets about doing.

Best Supporting Character
Blade’s mentor and Q-like gadgetmaster, Whistler. According to Wikipedia he was created for the film, but made his debut two years earlier in the Spider-Man animated series (voiced by Malcolm McDowell, no less). 20 years hence, apparently he still hasn’t appeared in any comics, which is very unlike Marvel.

Memorable Quote
Blade: “There are worse things out tonight than vampires.”
Karen: “Like what?”
Blade: “Like me.”

Memorable Scene
The opening action sequence sets the tone: a vampire nightclub, where the music pounds and blood pours from sprinklers, as the Daywalker slaughters everyone inside in a display of gleeful ultra-violence. Hard R indeed.

Letting the Side Down
Computer-generated liquid is still hard to do, so in 1998 it must’ve been a nightmare. Some CGI blood plays a key role in the climax — it looked terrible then, and I bet it looks worse now.

Next time…
Two direct sequels, the first directed by Guillermo del Toro, the second designed to launch a spin-off (it failed). A semi-related live-action TV series lasted one season in 2006, and an unconnected animated series was part of the Marvel Anime project in 2011. The rights have since reverted to Marvel, so there’s talk (largely from fans) of Blade joining their Cinematic Universe, with or without Snipes and possibly on the Netflix side of things.

Awards
2 Saturn nominations (Horror Film, Make-Up)
1 MTV Movie Award (Best Villain, tied with… There’s Something About Mary.)
1 MTV Movie Awards nomination (Best Fight, for “the fight against vampires”. Oh, that one!)

What the Critics Said
“Sure, the story is pretty standard, and the dialogue is laughable or worse. But creative cinematography and non-stop, decently choreographed gratuitous violence make watching this comic-book movie — Blade is a minor, almost-forgotten Marvel comic — entertaining. In fact, it’s arguably the best comic-book movie of the year” — John Krewson, A.V. Club

Score: 54%

What the Public Say
“Stephen Norrington’s direction is superb here, and he handles most of the action scenes very well, mixing some beautiful establishing shot with tighter, jumpier shots during the film’s immersive fight scenes. Fight scenes are well-choreographed and never feel like they are going on for too long, and thanks to the superb stunt work, feel thoroughly brutal.” — thatfilmbloguk

Verdict

Before comic book movies were the all-conquering box office behemoth they are today, Blade was a Marvel Comics adaptation in technicality only. A violent, dark, appropriately bloody (’cause, y’know, vampires) horror-tinged late-’90s actioner, Blade isn’t big or clever, but it has style and a glorious commitment to its extremeness. Some say the Guillermo del Toro-directed sequel is even better, but for me that came a little too far into the era of CGI dominance and comic book movie popularity — the original has a kind of analogue purity that can’t be beat.

#13 will have… moments lost in time, like tears in rain.

The Expendables 3: Extended Version (2014)

2015 #77
Patrick Hughes | 131 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & France / English | 15

The Expendables 3Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sylvester Stallone continues his examination of masculinity and machismo amongst older men in this trilogy-forming instalment of his Expendables franchise.

You think I’m joking… because I am. But there is actually an element of that in this latest action-fest, as the leader of the titular band of mercenaries, Barney Ross (Stallone), chooses to retire his team of ageing soldiers (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and new re-recruit Wesley Snipes) after one of their number is put in critical condition, and replace them with younger models (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, and Ronda Rousey). It’s all in aid of capturing the team’s latest target, international arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who Ross thought he’d killed years ago…

That said, if you’re looking for any commentary on… well, anything… you’re going to have to read it in there yourself, because co-writers Stallone, Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger, and director Patrick Hughes (now attached to The Raid remake, incidentally) are more focused on providing the simple ’80s-throwback action thrills and bad one-liners that genre fans expect from The Expendables. There’s certainly an abundance of both, to varying degrees of success: there are plenty of lines delivered in a knowing way that don’t seem to contain even a trace of humour, while the plot is naturally built to string together the combat scenes.

Fears about the PG-13 rating — lower than the R of the first two, in a misguided attempt to improve the box office — are largely misplaced. Well, unless you really like CGI blood spatters (there are none, not even added in for the ‘unrated’ longer cut) or other such special effects. The action choreography is fairly slick, Mogadishu actionthough occasionally obscured by camerawork and editing that turns it into a cacophony of violence. The Blu-ray release helps expose this: the special features include an extended version of Statham’s main battle from the climax, and in that focused form you can see how it’s been carefully constructed and designed. In the film itself, it’s chopped up into ten-second chunks and intercut with everyone else’s duels. It becomes like an impressionistic painting of shooting, punching, kicking, stabbing, running, jumping… It’s a war, as the now-double-sized team of heroes takes on a literal army, and some will revel in the over-the-top-ness of it all. The sheer excess does have a certain charm.

The best bits come a little earlier on, though. A car/van/truck chase around the Port of Mogadishu is the action highlight, in my opinion; later, the young team attempt to infiltrate an artsy modern building in a sequence that seems to emulate a Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film, which is at least a different style for this series. Elsewise, the supporting cast of cameos provide good value — in Harrison Ford’s case, literally, as he replaced Bruce Willis after the latter demanded $4 million for four days’ work. Ford just has to turn up on screen to be cool, though he has his moments beyond that. There’s also Kelsey Grammer as a merc talent scout who seems to have a habit of kicking off whole non sequitur conversations; a bigger role for Arnie, though still on the sidelines; and a pointless appearance by martial arts expert Jet Li, performing no martial arts whatsoever. The new kids are adequate but nothing to write home about.

Parkour-performing blabbermouthThe best addition, unquestionably, is Antonio Banderas. He’s a parkour-performing blabbermouth who keeps pestering Grammer for a job, but no one wants him because he won’t stop talking. And he’s hilarious. Of the 93 changes in the five-minutes-longer extended version (yes, ninety-three), most are split-second action beats, the vast majority during that big final battle, but a handful are more of Banderas just chatting away, and those are welcome. He takes a while to turn up, but when he does it lifts the whole film. His performance is the best thing to come out of the entire franchise. I mean, it’s not a reason to watch the films if you weren’t going to, but if you are anyway…

The Expendables 3 is, for my money, much for muchness with the previous two films. They all have different pros and cons, sliding different elements up and down on the series’ mixing board with various degrees of success, and this third entry is no different. It seems Stallone intends to keep producing Expendables flicks, with talk of who might appear in a fourth outing taking place even before the third was released (Pierce Brosnan, maybe? More recently, ex-wrestlers the Rock and Hulk Hogan), though the box office of this instalment throws that into question: off a $90 million budget, it only made $39 million in the US… but then it did take almost $167 million from everywhere else — surely enough to consider a sequel? Especially if next time they can stop it leaking on the internet several weeks early…

Ageing action actorsI kind of hope they do make more. The Expendables movies aren’t great films — heck, they aren’t even really great action films — and they’re a bit too cheesy and in-joke-y for the own good — and yet, somehow, I can’t resist them, and I’ll be happy to keep watching them for as long as Stallone and co can keep making them. After all, there are an awful lot of ageing action actors who’ve not appeared yet…

3 out of 5

The Expendables 3 is available on Netflix UK as of yesterday.