The Blade Reboot Is Proving Marvel’s Harshest Critics Right

The MCU has always needed talented actors. But does anyone need Marvel anymore?

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You can never rush a good thing, but how long is too long to wait? It’s been about five years since Marvel Studios announced its most anticipated project, a reboot of Blade starring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. Now, with Marvel’s cinematic universe in creative freefall, it’s less a matter of when we’ll see Ali’s take on the Daywalker than if it will happen at all.

Granted, some of the circumstances that delayed the film were way out of Marvel’s control. The industry on the whole suffered two blows in the form of a global virus and an industry-wide strike. But even without those setbacks, Blade has never been in great shape. Two directors have come and gone, as have a handful of screenwriters. Ali himself was reportedly ready to walk away from the project last year. The actor’s career hasn’t exactly suffered from his commitment to Marvel, but the franchise’s shadow has loomed large over the actor.

There was a time where the relationship between talent and studio was symbiotic. Marvel needed great actors to legitimize its films, and those actors could count on their star to rise by association. But as Marvel stumbles through an identity crisis, the MCU is starting to feel less like an opportunity and more like an albatross around the industry’s neck.

Blade has become the problem child of the MCU, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

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With any major film, timing is everything. One scheduling hiccup can prevent an actor from appearing in their dream project. It’s why Harry Styles appeared in Don’t Worry Darling over Shia LaBeouf, and more recently, why Steven Yeun had to drop out of Marvel’s own Thunderbolts.

A deal with Marvel is also no small thing. Many actors have signed multi-project contracts with the studio, which makes scheduling other projects more complicated. It’s not clear what kind of contract Ali has with Marvel, but it might have been substantial enough to limit any extracurricular projects.

Since Ali was first attached to the Blade reboot in 2019, he’s only appeared in a handful of films and shows, including a voice-acting role in the Spider-Verse movies and a lead part in Netflix’s Leave the World Behind. That he’s in talks to star in the upcoming Jurassic World sequel was considered a surprise, especially with Blade still caught in production limbo. Paired with comments from Shelby Weiser, Ali’s lawyer, it’s clear negotiations with Marvel have soured.

“That deal was in 2019, and they still haven’t shot it, which is pretty much the craziest thing in my professional experience,” Weiser told The Hollywood Reporter.

This all sends a clear message: Ali clearly isn’t pleased with the progress on Blade, and he’s not interested in putting his career on hold while Marvel retools behind the scenes.

Marvel’s been monopolizing the industry for years now, but its collaborators are beginning to push against that in favor of other projects.

Marvel Studios

Ali wouldn’t be the first A-lister to grate against the Marvel machine. Elizabeth Olsen, aka the Scarlet Witch, has been surprisingly outspoken about her deals with Marvel. The actor’s initial contract included two starring roles and a cameo, which doesn’t sound too involved on paper. But scheduling conflicts forced her to turn down a part in The Lobster, the edgy indie romance directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

“It took me away from the physical ability to do certain jobs that I thought were more aligned with the things I enjoyed as an audience member,” Olsen told The New York Times about her Marvel commitments. “I had this job security, but I was losing these pieces that I felt were more part of my being. And the further I got away from that, the less I became considered for it.”

Then again, this might be a different scenario. A follow-up article in The Hollywood Reporter reveals that much of the behind-the-scenes issues facing Blade might actually be Ali’s fault. The article states:

Ali has, at times, exercised an inordinate amount of influence over the project, in a way few other actors have on Marvel movies. Part of it stems from Blade’s inception, which began when Ali called the studio after winning the Oscar for his work on Green Book and said he wanted to do Blade. Ali has envisioned Blade as his Black Panther, according to sources.

It’s possible the actor’s own sky-high ambitions are the main culprit behind Blade’s production woes. That’s not to say Ali’s career hasn’t taken a bit of a hit, but Marvel Studios and its iron-clad contracts may not be too blame.

Mahershala Ali and Kevin Feige at SDCC 2019 shortly after announcing Blade.

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The idea of Marvel holding its actors back has existed from the dawn of the MCU itself, and while there are definitely exceptions to that theory, it’s not easily debunked. Back when Marvel was something of an underdog, it felt like a lot of actors were doing the studio a favor. As Marvel grew in notoriety and began chasing prestige in earnest, it made more sense for high-profile actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Brie Larson (then fresh off an Oscar win) to join its ranks. Now, the franchise is seemingly in the midst of a steep fall from grace. It’s not a sinking ship, but it’s not as appealing as it might have been five years ago.

Marvel will always need bankable names and brilliant actors, but as the industry pulls away from established franchises and embraces diverse, original storytelling anew, actors are probably better off without a Marvel contract weighing them down. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Ali made the decision to depart from Blade altogether. After five years of anticipation, it’d be a true disappointment — but it also doesn’t feel like a worthwhile investment anymore.

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