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I recently heard Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige describe the first "X-Men" movie as "the dawn of the new Marvel cinematic age." This isn't completely true. "X-Men" may have been the dawn of the Marvel [superhero] cinematic age, but it was "Blade," released just two years earlier, who deserves most of the credit for the Marvel cinematic age we currently find ourselves in.
To understand this logic, you have to back it up a year earlier. The camp catastrophe known as "Batman & Robin" had destroyed all thirst in superheroes. But like the vampires in "Blade" will tell you, the thirst never really goes away.
Based on the comic book character appearing in the 1970's comic book "Tomb of Dracula," the movie version of Blade (thankfully minus the afro) is a stolid, no-nonsense vampire hunting machine played by Wesley Snipes. He doesn't have much time for nonsense when he's in a constant struggle with own vampire tendencies, earning Blade the nickname "Daywalker" by his enemies for his half-vampire nature.
Blade leads a solitary life hunting vampires and fleeing the authorities - who are often times on the vamps' payroll. Blade's only companion is his mentor and armorer, the curmudgeonly Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). Blade gets a dose of human contact when he saves Dr. Karen Jenson (N' Bushe Wright), a vampire victim whose research may hold the cure Blade has been looking for. He'll have to move fast though, as the Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), the vampire which killed his mother and made him half-vampire, is mounting a coup within the Vampire Nation - one which bodes even worst for humankind.
"Blade" is noteworthy because it's one of the first films to depict vampires with a scientific edge as opposed to a mythical one. Much like Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," vampirism is shown to be the result of a blood disease. Vampires are shown to be allergic to silver and garlic, and Karen's research to prevent blood clots turns into a vampire-killing bio weapon in the hands of Blade. This isn't to say the film ever becomes too heady - as Frost ultimately becomes a "blood god" which resembles T-1000 if he was made out of cherry Jello.
Admittedly, the movie plays out pretty much like you expect, and is largely devoid of either the plot twists of Guillermo Del Toro's superior follow-up (or the weightless wisecracks of the inferior third film). Despite this, Stephen Norrington's first film is probably the most enjoyable. His direction is seamless and easy to follow, and the entire movie blends dialogue and action in just the right balance.
The movie was successful enough to launch a trilogy, a short-lived TV show, and reportedly, an upcoming Deacon Frost prequel. More to the point, "Blade" taught studios there was more to comic books than just capes and cowls. It also taught studios second and third-stringer comic book characters could indeed translate into box office gold. Marvel has been recently keen to use this B-list strategy to line-up more comic book films to follow the release of its headlines "Avengers" next summer.
Still not convinced? Do you think it was a coincidence the X-Men wore just as much black leather as Blade in their first movie?
Own "Blade" for $5.97 shipped at Wal-Mart.