Blade

I know this review is a tad late, but I saw the film Blade for the first time just a few weeks ago. I haven’t quite figured out why I avoided the film when it first came out last August, but apparently I didn’t particularly care of vampire movies or just wasn’t appealed by the trailer. I think I may have been into Star Wars or Star Trek at the time, or maybe I was just busy. Anyway, I didn’t see it until I rented it on video, and boy, did I make a mistake last August.

Blade comes from the same family of neo-comicbook films as Spawn, Dark City and the recent The Matrix. For a more in-depth discussion of this class of film, read my review of The Matrix; now I’m going to talk about Blade, and only Blade.

My original decision to see the film arose from my desire to buy the Blade action figure. This 6″ figure from Toy Biz has 16 points of articulation–an insane amount for a six-inch figure, let me assure you. Add to that a dead-on likeness of Wesley Snipes and an awesome pleather trenchcoat and you’ve got one of the best true action figures ever made.
Deciding to get that figure was one of the wisest decision I’ve made this year. Heaven knows when I would have finally seen the film, but I’m glad I did.

The opening scene sets the stage for the entire film [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!]. A suspiciously enthusiastic clubber (Traci Lords) leads an unsuspecting young man into a slaughterhouse, where a bunch of twenty-somethings dance to hypnotic techno music. Of course, they’re all vampires, and pretty soon the kid is getting knocked all over the place while blood pours down from the sprinkler system. Will he die? You’d think…until he begins to crawl away and finds himself at the feet of a trenchcoat-bedecked savior.

The following action sequence, like most in the film, owes much to the classic kung-fu films of the ’70’s. But this is kung-fu in slick Hollywood style, and it’s even better that Wesley Snipes is a 5th degree black belt and actually knows his stuff. And unlike all the various Batmen, Snipes doesn’t need any special ab-enhancing armor.

I’ll be frank with you: there’s not much plot here. This is a comicbook film. A comicbook film based on a comicbook. There’s the usual archetypal characters–Snipes’s heroic Blade, his mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), the unwitting bystander Karen (N’Bushe Wright), and of course the villains–here it’s upstart vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) and his sidekick Jimmy the Cabdriver (just kidding)–his sidekick Quinn (Donal Logue).

Snipes does as good a job as can be expected with a character like Blade. Basically, he only needs to be able to deal out whoop-ass–and he does, in spades. Kristofferson is fine as Whistler, and Wrighte seems like a promising rookie, though she’s clearly kind of new at this. Dorff is delightfully irritating as the maniacally insecure, devilish Frost, and Logue is always a treat.

But the real meat here is the action sequences, and basically, they’re some of the best I’ve ever seen in terms of martial arts combat. Each shot is brilliant; each fight is perfectly choreographed, and moves with a pace not too fast to follow (like most of Armageddon) nor too slowly to be interesting (like The Matrix).

Blade is not a classic movie, by any stretch of the imagination. But it is one of most entertaining movies I’ve seen in ages. It easily outclasses all the Batman films in my mind (except perhaps the first), and it never drags. If you like action films, comicbooks or especially kung-fu films, run, don’t walk to your nearest video store and check out Blade.

The Matrix

First, an admission. I went into The Matrix expecting a bad film. I was extremely biased against it, for several reasons. First and foremost is the starring presence of Keanu Reeves. After his horrific performances in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Devil’s Advocate, I knew I would be exposed to a series of monosyllabic commentaries with each passing revelation within the film. I wasn’t disappointed. The Matrix contains such vintage Keanu lines as “Woah” “Okey-Dokey” (four syllables, there), and “No!” Great stuff. I’m as big a fan of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as anyone, but that’s really the only role Mr. Reeves is made for. He should have gone on to star in a series of goofy twenty-something direct-to-video beach romps, like National Lampoon’s Spring Break: movies where the psychogically damaging effects of his inability to change expression–even when under extraordinary levels of pain (even Shatner thrust his arms out)–can only harm the members of society as emotionally and intellectually defunct as himself.

Phew.

All right, now that my anti-Keanu rant is over, I’ll mention the other points that biased me against the movie. I’d heard something about the plot, and went in thinking it would be similar to Dark City. It was–even more than I thought it would be, in both style and plot. I’d also just recently seen Blade, and some of the effects in Matrix come from the same stock as those in the vampire film. Finally, I hate Keanu Reeves. Did I mention that already?

However, The Matrix did have something going for it, in my mind. I’ve been following Roger Ebert’s slowly growing fondness for comic-book style movies, and the impact he believes they will eventually have on the film industry. Citing Dark City as the flagship of these new films (he picked it as the best film of 1998, and even contributed two hours of uncompensated commentary to the DVD edition), as well as Blade and Spawn, Ebert has finally come to value what legions of film geeks (myself included) have for years. In any event, I had recognized The Matrix as being from this family of films (as Ebert indeed supported in his review, which I read afterwards), and in that respect, I knew it might hold some promise.

A film review is always tough without a summary. The Matrix, as a film, would suffer from too much exposition, so instead I’ll provide a vague outline. Reeves’s Neo is a brilliant computer hacker and society-shunning geek who, for some reason, has heard of something called the Matrix and is looking for it. He hooks up with an equally antisocial and darkly garbed woman named Trinity (Carrie Ann-Moss), and is soon confronted with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, slumming it), the apparent emissary of this Matrix thingamabob. Morpheus tells Neo, as you’ve doubtlessly heard dozens of times on the ads, that “the Matrix is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Without getting too more explicit than that, Neo decides to open his eyes and is plunged–quite literally–into the “real world.” What follows from there is an interesting experiment in questioning the nature of reality that ultimately deteriorates into a cliched action extravaganza.

Now, to give you some idea of my experience of watching this film, take the scene where Morpheus and Neo meet. The dialogue here is just terrible. Awful. To make matters worse, Fishburne swipes Kiefer Sutherland’s stilted speech patterns from Dark City. I saw this movie with two friends. One was giving it the benefit of the doubt. The other was laughing so hard, biting his hand to keep the noise down, that tears streamed down his face. Needless to say, I joined in with the latter. Thankfully, my 6’8″, 250-lb friend who was trying to listen didn’t break us both in half on the spot.

Upon reflection, and after reading Ebert’s review, as well as those of several other sources, I’ve decided that I didn’t really give The Matrix its due. It’s not just the valid points these critics make; I’m the type of person who has a difficult time taking a hard-line, fully polarized opinion of anything, particularly in disliking something.

I’ve spent enough time harping on the bad points of The Matrix. What about the good ones? Well, the stark similarity to Dark City, in terms of plot, can be somewhat minimized with the information that the Wachowski brothers wrote it way back in 1993, possibly before Alex Proyas even set pen to paper on City. Seen in that respect, The Matrix is as original as any sci-fi film fare is these days–perhaps more so. Stylistically, while there are lots of parallels with the dark tones and special effects of City and Blade, Matrix is cooler than the former and smoother than the latter.

Overall, in this group of neo-comic-book style films that Ebert mentions (the Batman films are excluded because they’re more a refined and jazzed-up version of the type of film created by the Superman series than a member of this new generation), my personal favorite is Blade, followed by Dark City, and then probably The Matrix before Spawn (Todd McFarlane may be a great artist and make cool toys, but he is an awful writer–I’d almost put Spawn in the same sub-genre as Batman). So I’m giving
the film its due. If you’re into science fiction films, then you might as well see this–I don’t think there’s going to be any other good sci-fi flicks this year, do you? I didn’t think so.

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