Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company’s attempts to turn its comics into a successful movie franchise were mixed at best. But one trilogy, in particular, captures both the highs and lows of pre-MCU Marvel cinema.
After Wesley Snipes was unable to produce his version of Black Panther in 1998), his BAMF vampire hunter Blade kicked off our prolonged superhero movie boom while keeping one combat boot firmly in the realm of edgy action movies.
Snipes’ stint as Blade ran in the same zeitgeist that also saw The Matrix, Pitch Black, and Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil. Owing more to its time and place than its comic book origins, the Blade trilogy is as much a superhero movie as Taco Bell is Mexican food. It knows its DNA; it’s just not keen to honor its heritage.
In 2004, Snipes’ Blade came to an end with Blade: Trinity, a mid-budget affair that laid rest to Blade’s daywalks in movies for the next 15 years. (A spin-off series starring rapper Sticky Fingaz lasted for one season in 2006, on the now-defunct Spike channel.) With the rights to Blade back at Marvel Studios, that confusing new Eternals movie features Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali as Blade in his very first appearance in the role via voiceover cameo in the post-credits. But it’s still evident Blade will soon walk among the living again.
But was Blade: Trinity that bad? Was it so awful it deserved to kill a franchise for a decade and a half? Yeah. It kind of was. But it’s also a remarkably fun movie you need to stream on HBO Max before it leaves on November 25.
The third in the Blade trilogy, Blade: Trinity pits Blade against the father of all vampires: Drake (Dominic Purcell), a 7,000-year-old bloodsucker who is, in fact, also Dracula. Ditching the cloak and eastern European accent, Drake is like the cursed knight on a nu-metal album cover. He’s coated in bling and half a suit of armor. It’s amusing to see Purcell play straightforward evil in 2021 when, for most kids these days, he’s better known as the lunkheaded Mick on Legends of Tomorrow. (Another comic book thing that, like Blade, gleefully ignores anything to do with comics.)
Anyway, a group of Drake fanatics wakes him up from his slumber in Afghanistan to use his pure blood to turn all vampires into daywalkers. That would not only plunge the Earth into a place ruled by vamps, but it would also make someone like Blade less special. Thankfully, Blade has support from The Nightstalkers. They are a vigilante group of vampire hunters led by Abigail (Jessica Biel), the illegitimate child of Blade’s closest friend Abraham (Kris Kristofferson), and Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds), a gun-toting wisecracker whose name somehow isn’t “Wade Wilson.”
Blade: Trinity is a bad movie; make no mistake. It’s a film that wastes its shockingly top-tier cast made up of a pre-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds, Jessica Biel at the height of her teen TV fame, a way-out-of-place Natasha Lyonne and Parker Posey, and a perfectly-in-place Patton Oswalt. The presence of WWE titan Triple H, as the secondary villain who is attached to a mutated Pomeranian, only serves to make the film’s comical goth masculinity more obvious.
But Trinity’s dated, jagged edges make for a worthwhile viewing — and a yearning for movies to look like this and to be interesting again. The flat color palettes of the MCU and Netflix originals pale to Blade: Trinity’s colorful, mixed montages of artificially layered images and time-lapse photography. It may not be technically good or artistically pleasing, but it is at least commanding your attention.
Directed mercenarily by David S. Goyer, a regular presence in the genre space (in everything from Apple’s Foundation to movies like The Dark Knight and Batman v Superman), Goyer lacks the panache and proficiency of a true artist like his predecessor, Guillermo del Toro, who helmed Blade II. Not that Goyer wanted to direct this movie. Originally set to direct was Oliver Hirschbiegel, who left this film for the 2004 picture Downfall, which not only got a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars but inspired the “Angry Hitler” meme. All told, Hirschbiegel made the better call. He got the accolades and left an unintentional legacy on the internet. What Goyer got was an allegedly difficult Wesley Snipes.
In a 2012 interview with A.V. Club, Patton Oswalt — who wears a Fantastic Four shirt in the movie, lest we ignore his ability to bring actual nerd cred to anything — revealed the making of Blade: Trinity was so troubled that the rest of the cast and crew found ways to “make it fun.”
“It was a very troubled production,” Oswalt recounted. “Wesley [Snipes] was just fucking crazy in a hilarious way. He wouldn’t come out of his trailer, and he would smoke weed all day.” Oswalt added Snipes and Goyer did not get along and that Snipes wanted to “strangle” Goyer occasionally. Oswalt further described a working relationship that was so shattered Snipes would only communicate in Post-It notes that he would sign, “From Blade.”
“A lot of the lines that Ryan Reynolds has were just a result of Wesley not being there,” says Oswalt. “We would all just think of things for him to say and then cut to Wesley’s face not doing anything because that’s all we could get from him. It was kind of funny. That was an example of a very troubled shoot that we made fun.”
The hard work of making a movie like Blade: Trinity is all done, and most likely, it was never your responsibility. In 2021, the only thing you have to do is press play. And if you’re in the right frame of mind, you might catch a glimpse of the fun Oswalt said they had.
Blade: Trinity leaves HBO Max on November 25.