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Blade (1998)
Rated R

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, and Kris Kristofferson

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Comic book adaptations are one of my love/hate relationships when it comes to movie genres. Last year brought the rather good Spawn and the rather bad Batman & Robin. I had said in my review of Spawn that it was a good comic book movie because it gave more screen time to the hero than the villain and wasn't full of silliness. Well, Blade has taken that formula and fixed a few things, but it loses a few other things. Still, it's the best comic book adaptation to hit the screen since 1979's Superman.

Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a vampire hunter. His mother was bitten by a vampire while she was pregnant with him and, as a result, Blade possesses the strengths of a vampire without any of the weaknesses. He isn't affected by silver and can go out in daylight (which earns him the name The Day Walker in vampire circles), etc. He still has a thirst for blood, which he keeps under control with a special serum, injected by his partner and former mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson.) Blade's vengeance is fueled by the search for the vampire that bit his mother.

Vampires, it seems, exist in great numbers. So many of them, in fact, that they control the police force and have made non-aggression pacts with the world's governments. They possess large financial resources and look upon humans as "cattle" to be fed upon.

We first encounter Blade immediately after the opening credits as he rescues an unwitting human from an all-vampire rave party. The action comes fast and furious as Blade dispatches vampires with martial arts, guns with silver ammunition, boomerang-like blades and, of course, his trusty sword. Blade severely burns one vampire, named Quinn, before the police arrive. Blade escapes and Quinn is taken to a hospital to be pronounced dead.

While at the hospital, Quinn revives himself as Dr. Karen Jensen (N'Bushe Wright) examines him. It seems she's a hematologist and she's interested in Quinn's odd blood-type. Quinn attacks and kills Karen's co-worker before biting her. As she's being bitten, Blade arrives and attempts to finish Quinn off, unsuccessfully. Noting that Karen looks oddly like his mother, Blade takes her back to his lair to try to stop her from turning into a vampire. Blade and Whistler warn her that she will be followed by vampires because she knows they exist and hasn't been turned completely to serve them. Blade uses her as bait to find out the location of a vampire named Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), who he's been tracking for years.

Frost has also been attracting attention within the vampire world. He's tired of the vampire policy of living unobtrusively in the world. He feels that the old ways are obsolete and attempts to put himself into power using an old vampire text that can unleash the power of a "blood god" named La Magra. Can Blade stop him before it's too late?

The opening action sequence has more action than all of the Batman movies combined. Blade makes for an exciting hero with his martial arts techniques and his mannerisms. Wesley Snipes is perfectly suited to play him in terms of both physical attributes and emotional delivery. In other words, Snipes can play "pissed off" very well. Other performances are pretty much by-the-numbers. Kristofferson is adequately gruff and lovable as the old sidekick, Whistler. Wright is strangely asexual as Blade's not-quite-love-interest, but she manages to not be whiny. She can kick butt at Blade's side when appropriate. Dorff seems a bit too wimpy to be a villain worthy of a match up to Blade's physical prowess. He looks like an angry Calvin Klein model doing a Christian Slater imitation most of the time.

The interesting storyline and the action carry the bulk of the movie. Thankfully, Blade bucks the trend of most recent comic book movies by having several good action sequences. The film also serves up lots of blood, gore, violence and jump-out-of-your seat cheap thrills too. While this obviously won't make a good impression on some moviegoers, it does mean that the film makers didn't have to worry about the "Is it too violent for the Happy Meal crowd"-factor that most summer blockbuster movies seem to cowtow to these days.

Director Stephen Norrington gives the film a stylish look that has qualities of noir as well as some music video techniques. The "vampire vision" camera shots, with their hyperkinetic movements, are quite interesting. A car chase is filmed in this style and it gives something as cliched as a car chase a new look. It's not a major scene, but it's quite interesting nonetheless.

Blade isn't perfect, but it's the best movie of its kind to come along in a long time. As with Spawn before it, if you know what to expect, you're likely to have a great time.

Trivia: The budget for Blade was $45 million. Nearly half of that was made back in it's opening weekend. (The film took in approximately $17 million between August 21 and August 23, 1998.) (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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