Rewind

Blade 1998 review: The best Marvel movie origin story ever?

Blade was the real first R-rated Marvel movie -- and it pushed comic book movies in the right direction.

When Deadpool came out in 2016, fans hailed it as a novelty due to its R-rating, but Deadpool wasn’t the first comic book movie to be rated R.

That honor goes to the 1998 movie Blade. At the time, Blade was a slightly lesser-known Marvel character who premiered in 1972 in issue #10 of The Tomb of Dracula. A vampire hunter, Blade’s mission is to destroy all vampires, especially the one who killed his mother while she was pregnant with him — causing Blade himself to be born a half-vampire.

Even before the movie's release, Blade had quite the following. He had a fascinating storyline: a half-vampire vampire hunter who has all a vampire’s strengths, yet none of their weaknesses — except for the vampiric thirst for human blood. So we get to see a very dark superhero who wants to save humanity and struggles to keep his inner thirst in check.

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In 1998, Wesley Snipes starred in the Blade live-action film, which was really the first nudge towards well-made superhero films. Comic book movies didn’t have a great reputation back then, and it was high time to see if a superhero story could be adapted to film in a way that was engaging and exciting with a heavy touch of darkness.

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The film opens with a pregnant woman attacked by a vampire being rushed to the hospital — with baby Blade’s dhampir ass ready to come tearing through that birth canal. Blade’s mom presumably goes the way of many a movie and TV mom before her by dying in childbirth.

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Jumping thirty years ahead brings us to a club with an... uncomfortable scene. But this club is special. Why? Because it's a vampire club that sprays its patrons with blood (or cherry Jell-O) from the sprinkler system!

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This causes any human in the club to naturally freak out, while the vampires are super into it. Of course, a human’s shrieking alerts the vampires to the presence of a walking value meal in their midst.

But Blade is here now, and you know it’s going to be a supernatural blood bath. And it is awesome.

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There’s blood spraying everywhere. Vampires are getting disintegrated left and right — it is truly an incredible spectacle to behold.

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Notice how the vampires just crumble on silver bullet impact. No muss, no fuss, no clean-up.

Unfortunately, Blade missed one who just burned into an overdone t-bone. So, the police take the remains to the hospital where the doctors examine the corpse.

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Except the vampire isn’t completely dead ( just a little undead)— it springs back to life, attacking a hematologist named Karen Jensen.

Luckily, Blade shows up at the hospital to finish the job and brings Karen to his safe house — and his mentor, Whistler.

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Whistler is confused by Blade bringing a stranger home. Blade says she was bitten. Whistler tells Blade he should have killed her. Blade very astutely remarks that he did not, in fact, kill her. Whistler’s expression clearly says, “Damn it, Blade, we’d better not get killed because of your boner.”

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Karen hasn’t shown signs of vampirism yet, so she sticks with Blade to find a cure because that bite has suddenly made her a walking undead magnet.

We find out that a bunch of local vampires are planning something big. You see, in this world, vampires have a definite hierarchy where natural-born or “pure-blood” vampires are considered socially superior to turned-vampires. The born-vampires don’t seem to have any stronger abilities or powers versus the turned-vampires — they’re just better because...they say so.

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But one turned-vampire named Deacon Frost decides he’s had it with these snooty “pure-bloods,” and he’s going to execute the elders and use whatever pure-bloods are left to resurrect an all-powerful blood god and infuse himself with the power.

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Deacon’s missing a key ingredient to resurrect his blood god: dhampir blood. And guess who he needs?

Honestly, I’m surprised this hierarchy wasn’t overthrown a lot sooner. It doesn’t seem as though the pure-bloods had any particular failsafe in place to prevent an uprising. They already on shaky ground.

I admit Deacon isn't the most compelling of villains. He's just too goofy to be taken seriously, and he looks like that frat boy who stays out all night snorting cocaine and ordering Doritos Locos at Taco Bell. Blade will forever be memorable, but Deacon Frost won't go down as one of Marvel's greatest villains.

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In the meantime, Karen creates a vampire cure for infected humans, like herself. And she invents a serum that can make other vampires explode. At this point, my inner child can’t wait to see some vampires go kaboom.

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We shouldn’t have to wait much longer because Deacon and his minions kidnap Karen and bite Whistler — which means Whistler needs to die before becoming a vampire.

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After helping Whistler join Dumbledore, Gandalf, and Mr. Miyagi among the dead movie mentors’ ranks, Blade goes to rescue Karen.

When he arrives, Blade finds out that his mother wasn’t totally dead after all — she was just undead all this time! And she’s so happy to see her little boy! Because she’s going to help sacrifice him to a hell god!

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Yeah...Mom’s getting just a little too...intimate with sonny boy here. I’m getting a very disturbing Jocasta-vibe over here.

But with Karen’s help, Blade takes down a juiced-up Deacon and his crew (including Mama Blade) with the vampire-kablooey serum, which makes these vampires blow-up in possibly the most hilariously (and yet utterly delightfully) gruesome way possible. And I do not get tired of watching it.

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The movie ends with Blade continuing his vampire war and Karen becoming his new Whistler.

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Blade has all of the darkness and gratuitous violence you would expect to see in a vampire superhero movie. Don’t expect much in the way of humor like Deadpool — Blade keeps a pretty serious tone most of the time.

It's also very peak ‘90s so expect to see a gloomy atmosphere, leather coats, and fight scenes set to ‘90s techno music. I wouldn’t call this movie especially deep, but it’s highly enjoyable to watch. All in all, Blade is a fun, dark, delightfully violent action movie. And more importantly, it’s a well-executed comic book movie that proved the genre was worth resurrecting.

Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten performances we love.

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