Considering it’s cheesy, lacking in subtlety and, yes, very 1990s, it might seem strange to suggest that the original Blade could teach the Marvel Cinematic Universe a thing or two in 2023.
After all, the MCU has become the biggest movie franchise on the planet, gaining a massive global fanbase and releasing films that have consistently banked billions across 15 years and over 30 releases.
And it’s not like Blade was a huge hit itself back in 1998 - it took a hit from critics (its Rotten Tomatoes rating still sits at 57%) and brought in just $52 million at the domestic box office (a cool 16 times less than Avengers: Endgame).
Yet, while the MCU appears to be collapsing before our eyes, the Wesley Snipes-led vampire flick is having something of a renaissance, establishing a cult following and experiencing a resurgence critically - with film journalist Amon Warmann describing it as "one of the most influential comic book movies of all time".
So, against all the odds, could Blade - the schlocky superhero movie that was so long overlooked - actually provide a useful guide for the future of the MCU? Ahead of the release of the much-anticipated Mahershala Ali-led reboot, could Kevin Feige glean some insight from its original source material? Yes, and an emphatic yes.
Hell, a useful lesson comes in the very first major scene of the movie, after all. During the now-infamous 'Blood Rave' sequence, as a nightclub full of vampires is brutally dispatched by Snipes’s Daywalker - who blasts, slashes and kung-fu kicks countless undead into oblivion - viewers are instantly immersed in something that has been largely absent from the MCU for a long time: some proper, pulse-racing (or pulse-ending) action.
As the camera pans from one bout of combat to the next, director Stephen Norrington crafts a breathless sequence that is stylish, slick and a lot of fun. This commitment to the action is consistent throughout the film, with Norrington taking every possible opportunity to lay the thrills on thick, delivering plenty of fist-pumping moments of madness.
It wasn’t long ago that this level of excitement was a regular feeling one would experience when sitting down to watch an MCU movie - although it may feel like it.
Think back to 2014 and the Russo Brothers’ grounded, gritty Captain America: The Winter Soldier - which is still a prized jewel in the Marvel crown. As Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers goes toe-to-toe (or first-to-metallic-fist) with Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, and the pair try to take each other down with increasingly mind-blowing stunts and tricks, it’s genuinely edge-of-your-seat viewing - every punch, stab and throw of the shield feeling visceral and real.
Now, compare that to the grand finale of this year’s Secret Invasion and it’s easy to see how far the mighty have fallen.
That show, which was teased as an equally gritty, equally gripping political thriller, should logically echo the themes and tones of The Winter Soldier - after all, they even share a core character in Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury.
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However, what we end up with by episode 6 is a messy, fan service-filled flood of CGI, a nonsensical climax that’s so ineffective it’s easy to believe it was "cobbled together" in the editing room. It’s lazy and lacking in tactility, and a far cry from the early days of the MCU - or, indeed, the fun and freneticism of Blade.
Would a potential move to construct a more mature branch of the MCU help to reverse the franchise’s decline, as many have called for? Will the arrival of Deadpool 3, which Feige has promised will have an R rating, provide a breath of fresh air? Perhaps.
It’s certainly difficult to deny that the 18 rating of Blade enables it to push boundaries and take risks that current MCU films are unable to - butchering swathes of enemies as blood rains from the ceiling would be difficult to pull off in a 12A like last year’s Doctor Strange outing, after all.
While pushing the envelope of action can undoubtedly be enjoyable in and of itself, though, it’s ultimately the creativity of Blade’s choreography that makes it truly memorable.
Of course, blood sprinklers are cool as, um, hell, but it’s the film’s decision to focus on Snipes working his martial arts magic in carefully constructed scenes, and the gleeful gun-toting antics of a Terminator-level marksman, that helps it to truly thrive.
Committing to a clear vision for the use of violence, utilising action to complement and elevate the story, is what matters - not how many heads roll as a result of that action. Attention-to-detail and a care for the craft, rather than simply adding gore for gore’s sake, is what must return to the MCU.
Speaking of the story, while Blade’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its bone-crunching action, it surprisingly has a lot to offer from its approach to the narrative, too. Sure, the plot is paper thin and predictable, but this simplicity arguably helps to make the film more effective.
In an era when Marvel is taking Ant-Man into the Quantum Realm to go head-to-head with a deranged flying head in Quantumania, or dragging Doctor Strange into a Multiverse of Madness to, for some reason, battle a zombified version of himself, or forcing crossovers that make literally zero sense in Secret Invasion (why do the Abomination’s powers play any role in the finale?), having a narrative that keeps things streamlined would feel like a blessing.
Blade is about a semi-vampire who kills full-on vampires, and has to stop one particular vampire from bringing an end to humanity. No messing.
This stripped-back, uncomplicated storytelling allows the movie to focus on what really matters - the action - all while establishing lore and legend around Blade as a character that instantly makes the audience care about him and his fate.
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Much like with John Wick in 2014, the reaction of enemies to the mere utterance of Blade’s name tells you a lot about the man. Seeing him in action straight away encourages the viewer to root for him from the off. And the camera actually spends a bit of time focusing on Snipes and his stoic performance, resisting the urge to shift its attention to something new and shiny at every turn.
There’s no surprise Snipes has established a cult fandom over the years - continuing to crop up in the likes of What We Do in the Shadows.
In many ways, Blade feels reminiscent of the early golden days of the MCU. Of course, Feige was looking to build an extended universe from day one, but that didn’t stop each individual movie from telling its own compelling tale, without the need to crowbar in other characters or brand new concepts each time.
Iron Man 3, for example, took place after the major crossover event of The Avengers, but it’s still Tony Stark’s story - an exploration of him dealing with the trauma of the near world-ending events of 2012.
The Winter Soldier brings together a mix of heroes like Black Widow and Nick Fury, but barely a scene goes by without a focus on Steve Rogers and his struggle to distinguish right from wrong.
And Thor introduces plenty of new players, but never loses sight of its purpose - to tell a fantastical tale of one man’s quest to prove himself as a worthy leader.
Now, though, there’s none of that. No recent big-screen Marvel offering has spent significant, substantial time with just its main character. Whether it’s Thor: Love and Thunder jumping straight from unnecessary cameos to silly jokes, or Multiverse of Madness throwing characters from one place to the next without any notable beat of emotion, it all seems confused and convoluted.
In short, it feels like some motherf*****s are always trying to ice skate uphill.
Twenty-five years on, Feige and Marvel should take a note out of Blade’s book, take things back to basics and re-discover what made people fall in love with their films in the first place. Otherwise they might wake up one day and find themselves extinct.
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