“There’s a war going on out there. Blade, myself, a few others, we’ve tried to keep it from spilling over onto the streets. Sometimes, people like yourself get caught in the crossfire.” — Whistler, in the movie Blade, talking to a person who just found out that vampires exist
“There’s a war going on out there. Blade, myself, a few others, we’ve tried to keep it from spilling over onto the streets. Sometimes, people like yourself get caught in the crossfire.” — Whistler, in the movie Blade, also maybe secretly talking about how hard it has been historically to get a person of color into the lead role of a superhero movie
Do you know what’s great about Blade?
Or, first: Blade is a movie that came out 20 years ago this year that is relevant right now for reasons I’ll get into in a moment. It’s about a half-human, half-vampire named Blade (Wesley Snipes). The way Blade became half-human and half-vampire is his mother (a regular human) was attacked by a vampire while she was pregnant with him. (This, I would argue, is unacceptable behavior, even for a vampire.) Blade somehow remembers her dying as a result of the attack, so he grows up to be a very angry and motivated vampire hunter. The main villain in the movie is a vampire named Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff).
There are two types of vampires in the Blade universe. There are the pure-blood vampires (the ones born as vampires of ancient ties and nobility). And there are hybrid vampires, which are vampires who were born as humans and then turned into vampires at some point in their lives. (Deacon is a hybrid vampire, and, as he grows in knowledge and power, he draws the ire of the pure-blood vampires. He hates them because he thinks they’re complacent. They hate him because they believe he’s too disruptive to the Vampires Living Among Humans ecosystem.) There are a few other plot points in the movie — there’s a vampire archive where sacred records are kept; there’s a way to turn yourself into a “Blood God”; there’s the implication that human politicians are working hand in hand with vampire royalty; there’s a very vibrant community of rave-music enthusiasts — but the Blade vs. Deacon vs. Purebloods thing is the bones of it.
And while parts of it sound odd or silly (in fact, I’m going to point out a few of the better odd and silly parts of it below), Blade is an important pivot point in movie history. To keep things concise, it: (1) is the true origin point of the billion-dollar superhero movie industry we are in the middle of, and which will see the release of its newest installment, Black Panther, this weekend to record-breaking numbers; and (2) proved that a person of color could take a superhero movie mainstream and not only have it do well critically, but also commercially. Here’s a good article on “An Unsung Hero: How Blade Helped Save the Comic-Book Movie” that Krystal Clark wrote in 2014, if you want to know more about the first thing. And here’s a good article on the history of black superhero films that my coworker Justin Charity wrote earlier this week, if you want to know more about the second thing.
But so: Do you know what’s great about Blade?
There’s a part in it where, as he’s fighting his way through 20-something henchmen to get to Deacon for the final battle, he rips out a person’s throat and then throws it at a guy before knocking him out with a single punch. That part is great. Look:
Imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the guy who got hit with the other guy’s throat and then knocked out. You’re at work the next day at the Henchman Staffing Agency (or whatever it’s called), and you’re sitting there entering your hours worked into a spreadsheet so you can get paid. Some other low-level henchman you’re friendly with comes over and asks how work is going, and so now you have to have that whole conversation. He’s like, “Hey, hey. You were working the Blade assignment for Deacon Frost, right? How’d that go?”
YOU: Aw, man. Not great.
HIM: No? What happened?
YOU: [sighing] Well, Deacon’s dead, so I’m out of a job again.
HIM: Sure, sure.
YOU: I’m beginning to feel like maybe I should not have majored in villain henchmaning in school. The turnover rate for these assignments is just too high. You think you lucked into a long-term gig and then, like, a week later the person who hired you has been thrown into a volcano or exploded with an anti-vampire serum or something.
HIM: [as he begins to sip his coffee] Ain’t that the truth.
YOU: [staring out into nothing] You know, my dad was a henchman. His dad was a henchman. I just couldn’t outrun that pressure, I suppose. That’s how I ended up here.
HIM: I hear ya. I was actually supposed to be a dentist, but it just didn’t work out. Did you at least get close to catching Blade? You could put that on your résumé.
YOU: No. He tore some guy’s throat out and then threw it at me. I don’t remember anything after that.
HIM: Gah. Well, don’t put that on there.
There’s a part where a hybrid vampire named Quinn gets set on fire, is assumed to be a dead human, gets taken to a morgue, wakes up as two doctors are inspecting him, bites one in the neck, then busts out into the hallway of the hospital as he chases the second doctor. While doing so, Blade shows up (it was Blade who set Quinn on fire in the first place). Quinn sees him, then shouts, “Get out of my way, you freak!” And I’ll remind you here that this is a vampire who has been set on fire, so he’s all the way charcoaled but still alive. This is what he looks like when he calls Blade, a handsome man in an impressive coat, a “freak”:
That part is great.
Shortly after this, two police officers rush in to try to get ahold of the situation. They shoot Blade in the chest several times. The bullets bounce off of his Kevlar armor. He scrunches up his face and says, “Motherfucker, are you out of your damn mind?” Then the police immediately run away. That part is great, too.
The way the movie ends is great. (Blade and Deacon have a big fight. Blade slices Deacon in half, but Deacon has essentially become a vampire deity by that point, and so Deacon’s body fuses itself back together instantly. Blade sees it happening, mouths the words, “What the fuck?,” and then they keep fighting. Blade finally figures out that these poison darts he had made can kill Deacon, so he throws a bunch of them at him. As Deacon stands there stunned, the poison working its way through his body, Blade looks at him and says, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill,” then throws the last dart up into the air and karate-kicks it into Deacon’s forehead.)
The way the movie begins is great. (A human gets tricked into attending a vampire rave. It’s held in a slaughterhouse, which is cool because foreshadowing is cool. As he dances, the fire sprinklers above come on, except they’re spraying blood instead of water. He realizes he’s in a vampire den and so he starts trying to escape. That’s when Blade shows up, and it’s the best thing of all. The crowd of vampires slowly separates, revealing him standing there, looking exactly perfect, not a drop of blood on him, only anger and steel. Two minutes later 30 vampires are dead.) (A quick, funny thing is a vampire walks up to him and shouts, “Hey, I’m gonna rip your fucking head off!,” which at first doesn’t seem like a thing a vampire would say, but then you remember that the movie is set in Detroit ,and I’ve been to Detroit a couple of times, so let me tell you something: A vampire from Detroit would absolutely say that to someone.)
The middle of the movie is great (there’s a great scene where Whistler, Blade’s main partner, explains Blade’s origin story, and I’m just such a sucker for exposition); the parts of the movie where they build the characters are great (there’s a scene where, as a way to establish that Deacon Frost is truly evil and capable, we see him try to broker a peaceful truce with Blade, only to have it end with Frost dodging bullets at close range and then throwing a small Asian girl 40 feet through the air, crashing through a snack stand, and landing on a busy street); and the parts of the movie where the characters do wild things just to do wild things are great (during part of an escape, Blade grabs onto the back of a moving subway car as it speeds by and nearly yanks his own arm out).
So: Do you know what’s great about Blade?
A lot of it is.
Most of it is.
All of it is, maybe.
All of it is, probably.
All of it is, definitely.
All of it is.