Blade vs. Dracula. It had potential. It could have been interesting. It wasn’t.
After the unprecedented sleeper success of 1998’s Blade started the ball rolling on the whole comic book superhero furore – a path which would eventually lead to Marvel’s epic ensemble blockbuster Avengers – and after the follow-up, Blade II, defied all expectations by being one of those very rare great sequels, a third movie was inevitable, fast-tracked to be made in just half the time it took to get Blade II off the ground.
Continuing my retrospective look at the Blade Trilogy, after my reviews of the first and second movies, here and here, respectively, we now investigate Blade: Trinity in an attempt to figure out just what went wrong.
“In the movies, Dracula wears a cape, and some old English guy manages to save the day at the last moment with crosses and holy water. But everyone knows the movies are full of sh*t. The truth is, it began with Blade, and it ended with Blade. The rest of us were just along for the ride.”
Hang on. That voice is familiar. But it’s not Wesley Snipes. It’s not Blade. No, it sounds like... Ryan Reynolds! What’s he doing narrating this movie?!
The first, original vampire has been awakened. Dracula. A group of ambitious vampires have woken him from his Centuries-long slumber. And he’s not happy. Indeed he’s well moody. And hungry.
Meanwhile, Blade’s out kicking ass as normal, only this time bigger and bolder than ever. He blows up a warehouse. Or rather a small rodent sets off a charge that blows up a warehouse. Then he dispatches a few vamps and chases down some of the fleeing ones (he lets a couple go for no apparent reason). As they hurtle along some crowded city streets, he takes each one out in a successively spectacular way. Explosions, car crashes, UV blasts galore. Wow. Then, on a street full of people, Blade shoots the last one in the back with a stake. But it turns out it wasn’t a vampire – it was a human familiar, recruited by the vamps to trap Blade. He’s on camera. He’s on camera killing a human.
Retreating to his hideout to brag about his exploits, his tired old mentor Whistler warns him about the unwelcome publicity that is going to be his downfall. Blade shrugs it off – he finds such things boring – he wants to talk about his fun new weapons instead. Surprise, surprise, the FBI come calling, mob happy. They assault the hideout – they kill Whistler – and they capture Blade, mainly because he just gives up: his father-figure/mentor is dead, after all. He roars into the night sky. He’s well moody too.
Handed over to some corrupt cops who work for the vampires, Blade is rescued by the Nightstalkers, a group of vampire hunters who Whistler had a connection to – namely, one of them is his illegitimate daughter, Abigail Whistler. The leader, or the loudest of the group, is Hannibal King. He’s good at cracking jokes. And getting beaten up. He warns Blade about Dracula. Blade doesn’t believe him. He’s read all the silly folk tales. Why should he believe him?
The Nightstalkers have been working on a global cure for vampirism – the Daystar virus – which, if successful, will rid the world of the fanged fiends. Conveniently, they just happen to need Dracula’s blood to perfect the virus. How’s that for coincidence? The guy hasn’t been around for thousands of years and turns up just in time to donate some blood. The vampires need Dracula too. They want him to kill Blade. Or they want him to help them overcome their intolerance for sunlight. Or both. Who knows? Either way Dracula is on the warpath, and he’s planning on stomping Blade into the ground. Once he’s picked out a cute tube-top to cover up those moobs.
“You’re not immortal. I musta’ heard hundred of you rodents make the same claim. Each one of them has tasted the end of my sword.”
Why is it that threequels have quite such a hard time retaining the magic of the first two films? Aside from those franchises obviously designed to be trilogies (The Lord of the Rings, Nolan’s Batman Trilogy), it is a rare second sequel that proves to be a good, let alone great, entry in the series. Die Hard with a Vengeance, Toy Story 3, and Mission: Impossible III spring to mind, but they’re arguably the exceptions to the rule, with the likes of Robocop 3, Superman III, X-Men: Last Stand, and Spiderman 3 merely proving it.
Blade: Trinity isn’t an awful movie, it just isn’t very respectful towards the films that came before it – a little like Batman Forever, Terminator: Rise of the Machines and Lethal Weapon 3, only not quite as good as any of them – toning down the adult violence, and ramping up the comedy factor, in a bid to appeal to a broader audience. Perhaps it’s only 20:20 hindsight that shows this was a bad decision and, even then, with the Box Office numbers that these sequels still pulled in, the Studios were still unlikely to concede their mistake.
It’s easy to offload a huge amount of the blame for what went wrong with Blade: Trinity at the doorstep of franchise writer David S. Goyer, particularly since, of all people, he should have known better. Certainly he deserves most of the blame. Unfortunately he was making his ill-advised Big Screen directorial debut with this feature (well, he had done the indie flick ZigZag – also with Snipes – a couple of years earlier, but let’s just forget about that one) and there’s no doubt that the Studios had him locked down.
Sorry, David, that’s too violent. It’s got to go. No, no, we can’t have too much blood, audiences may be surprised by this much blood in a vampire film. Dracula? Make sure he kills people off-screen, we don’t want audiences disliking that newbie Dominic Purcell too much. Oh and sorry that you blew your entire budget on the opening sequence, but we don’t really want to spend any more money on this film, so how about you pad out the runtime with a few montages; like, a Dracula montage – that’d be cool – a fighting montage, you know, like in McG’s Charlie’s Angels, with the trio going out together kicking ass; and maybe a montage with just that hot Jessica Biel chick. She could be, like, firing arrows faster and faster into a target. How awesome would that be?! And by the way, we don’t want a dark, bloody horror action film like that Toro guy did last time around. Must’ve been a fluke that that one was so successful. This time round we want Blade wandering around more in daylight. He’s immune to sunlight, right? Well, go with that then. What do you mean Ryan Reynolds can’t stop cracking wise? Is that a bad thing? We need more humour. Blade definitely needs more comedy.
Who knows how much pressure the Studios put on Goyer to turn in a soft-R production? (i.e. the kind of R-rated production that would only get a 15 certificate in the UK, rather than the 18-certificate hard-R of Blade and Blade II). The extra features would reveal that it was Goyer who wanted to go with a more comedy-influenced script, and cast comedic actors in straight roles. Who knows how much the Studios really called the shots and what the effect was? Maybe somebody needed to rein in the unruly director/writer combo?!
Certainly what we do know is that Goyer originally had a great idea for a third Blade movie. Remember that deleted scene from Blade? A brief, unfinished effects shot which plays out as the villain, Stephen Dorff’s Deacon Frost, is talking about the blood god La Magra turning the whole world into vampires? It’s just a second or two long, and – by today’s standards – looks like something you’d expect from a cut-scene on an N64 game. But it hinted at a whole new world for Blade. A dystopic, post-apocalyptic world, where the streets were running red with blood; where the sky had turned red from all the blood in the ecosystem; where zombie-like human vampires crowded the streets, and Blade was the only one left to save the remainder of the human race.
This was Goyer’s original idea: Blade, 20 years down the line, making a last stand in a world where vampires have taken over (maybe a little more like Daybreakers, crossed with something from golden era John Carpenter). Now that’s a story fans would have liked to have seen.
Blade vs. Dracula? How did we get from vampire apocalypse to Blade vs. Dracula? You see Dracula, despite being the King of vampires, is a real tough nut to crack when it comes to cinematic interpretations. Really, how many times have they gotten it right? Not counting the Hammer Horror classics, or films even before them – just looking instead at the last 30 years in cinema – how many decent Dracula representations have there been? Francis Ford Coppola’s take, with Gary Oldman bringing Bram Stoker’s Dracula to life, is just about the only contender. And even that was over a decade before Blade: Trinity even went into production. Who knows why Goyer thought it a good plan to introduce Dracula into the world of Blade. In any event it wasn’t. At least not this Dracula, and not with Goyer behind the helm.
“I can tell you two things. One, your hairdo is... ridiculous. And two, I ate a lot of garlic, and I just farted. Silent but deadly.”
Indeed the unholy marriage of writer Goyer and director Goyer was almost certainly part of the reason why so many bad ideas in his own script went unchecked – there wasn’t a Guillermo del Toro, or even a Stephen Norrington, on board to keep him from going off the rails; to tell him when his ideas were just too silly; to tell him that Dracula shouldn’t have man-cleavage that would make Khan proud.
There were some nice ideas that he had, but there were also a lot of bad ideas, and, at its heart, the Blade: Trinity script threatened to tear up everything that was Blade, forgetting the mythos and lore that he had built up over two excellent entries; forgetting everything that he had previously taught us about these characters, and flying off in random directions without ever really showing a clue as to what the plan was – other than a Blade vs. Dracula final fight. That was his endgame, and the rest of the script just bulldozered along to get there, any semblance of substance going straight out the window on the way.
Bringing Blade into the media spotlight might have worked, if he had the satirical edge of Verhoeven (think Robocop or Starship Troopers). Making Blade public enemy number one might have worked, had he taken the Chris Nolan (The Dark Knight) approach. Even Guillermo del Toro had successfully incorporated Blade into a team in the last film. Goyer wanted to do all of that – and kill one of the core characters from the franchise too – and this plan was simply too ambitious for an inexperienced sophomore director who already had his hands tied by the Studios.
The Studio interference may have given Goyer an excuse for why Blade: Trinity was so tame in the violence department; for why it simply didn’t have the same bite as the previous two movies, but it didn’t fully excuse him for screwing up the story – particularly when he was in control of the two before it – and it certainly wasn’t the reason why he was such an inept director with almost no style. There’s a painful lack of interesting shots in Blade: Trinity. Perhaps the only impressive ‘style’ comes from the credits sequence, and even that is over-used, and was arguably nothing to do with Goyer anyway. The man has almost no idea how to frame shots, when and where to use slo-mo (walking down an empty corridor when you’ve just been broken out of custody is not a good use of slo-mo), how to stage fight sequences and, perhaps most importantly, how to direct his cast.
Maybe he figured that, being so involved in the process of making the first two movies, the skills required to be a director would just rub off on him – you could argue that he had earned his shot at the title after being the franchise writer for two successful instalments (Bourne: Legacy suffered the same fate, although at least Bourne franchise writer Tony ‘Michael Clayton’ Gilroy was a least a slightly more accomplished director to begin with – albeit not of action movies – so it wasn’t a terrible failure, just a disappointment) but was it worth risking a successful franchise over?
“We call ourselves the Nightstalkers.”
“Sounds like rejects from a Saturday morning cartoon.”
“Well, we were originally going to go with the Care Bears but that was taken.”
Of course Goyer’s endgame wasn’t just to have Blade face off against Dracula, but actually to introduce the Nightstalkers characters with a view to making a spin-off franchise based on them. Imagine that? A franchise helmed by Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel, where they go around incessantly cracking jokes, posing, pouting and making MP3 lists on their iPod? Wow, it definitely sounds like it was worth sacrificing Wesley Snipes’s successful Blade franchise just for the opportunity to get that awesome idea off the ground. If you’re an idiot.
Trawling through the film you find yourself watching the good bits but remembering the bad. Why? Because almost every scene – no matter how good – was plagued by poor ideas, bad execution and a terrible supporting cast. Take the opening setup. Even forgiving the unnecessarily cheesy – and wholly out of place – Ryan Reynolds voiceover, the prologue sequence to establish Dracula’s retrieval is a decent scene. But why is the wrestler Triple H there?! It’s bad enough having Parker Posey leading the vampires in this chapter (I don’t think there’s a single shot where Posey looks comfortable in the role), but why have this long-haired bulldog ex-wrestler there to mess things up even further? Are we supposed to be taking this scene seriously, or laughing at his comedy hair?
Then we get arguably the best scene in the entire movie – bringing us back to Blade himself; introducing him in the third movie. It’s almost perfect. Sure, there are annoying touches – Blade suddenly seems so desperately inefficient at killing vampires; instead resorting to tearing up the crowded streets just to kill them – but it’s still, essentially, Blade, through and through. Yet, after the big twist – that Blade has been set up to kill a human on videotape, and thus immediately put on the wanted list by the FBI – Blade just returns back to his hideout, ignores the warnings of his old friend and mentor, Whistler, and starts talking about his weapons. It’s just poor plotting. It just paints Blade as a petulant ADD adolescent. It’s so poor in fact that when the hideout gets raided a couple of minutes later, you don’t feel any tension, you just think: well, Whistler told you so.
“I’m sorry I got old on you. I see you alone, surrounded by your enemies.”
Then they go and kill Whistler. Off-screen, no less. It’s not tragic, or traumatic. You don’t feel the way you should when a character that has been so important in the series is suddenly killed – a character who Blade spent the last movie trying to save – you just feel... robbed. It’s not wholly unlike Fincher’s decision to kill Newt over the title credits of Alien 3. It’s such a waste, and you wonder why the same guy who was so heavily involved in the first two films – who scripted them, for God’s sake – would do such a thing. Honestly, ask yourself why he died, and whether it made any difference to the story other than it meant Blade had to go and team up with the Nightstalkers. It’s appalling. Killing Whistler just for plot progression. When, actually he could have surrendered, as Blade had done, and the Nightstalkers would have just rescued them both. It’s a terrible death, for a character that’s already had one spectacular, painful and moving death in the first Blade movie. Shocking.
Up until now everything has been played relatively straight, but the next stage is to introduce Ryan Reynolds as much loved comic book character Hannibal King. Reynolds is Reynolds in almost everything he does (Buried notwithstanding), and it’s a sarcastic comedy routine which is often welcome, certainly tolerable, but sometimes just plain infuriating. If this were another movie – a movie which wasn’t about blood-sucking vampires – then maybe there would have been a place for him. But he’s just the comedy element here, injecting a witty retort into almost every single scene. Sure, it’s funny; it gives the movie a witty edge and, consequently, some entertainment value previously unexplored in the franchise, but there’s a reason why it wasn’t explored previously – it wasn’t appropriate. And his routine gets tiresome pretty damn quick; he just doesn’t seem to know when to shut up, which is a shame because he does have a couple of great lines. Honestly, I’m surprised Blade doesn’t just throw him through a window (everybody else does).
“You know, one of these days, you might want to consider sitting down with someone. You know, have a little share time. Get in touch with your inner child. Also – just a thought – but you might want to consider blinking once in a while... Uh... sorry... I, uh... I ate a lot of sugar today.”
By the time we get to exploring Dracula, the movie’s fate has pretty-much been sealed. The warrior Dracula – trussed in armour like young Oldman was in the flashback scenes of Bram Stoker’s – is actually reasonably effective, but, after revealing that his mouth rather randomly opens up like a cross between the Predator and one of the Reapers from Blade II, all of a sudden he shapeshifts and we’re confronted with the Dracula that we’re going to have to tolerate for the next two hours. And he looks like Steve Carrell. Sorry, I mean, Dominic Purcell. Sometimes I get the two muddled up – I shouldn’t, because one of them is funny and can act; the other can’t, but does have bigger muscles. Was that a pre-requisite to playing The Original Vampire? Seriously, why the hell did they pick Purcell? He doesn’t have anywhere near enough presence to bring the Original Vampire to life – he’s not threatening, he’s not menacing, and he’s not impressive. He’s just that guy from Prison Break trying to look tough whilst wearing increasingly ridiculous outfits.
What’s with all the daytime scenes too? Since when was Blade a daytime soap? Sure, a couple of daytime scenes make a nice contrast (del Toro handled it best, infusing the daytime shots with cool blues and the night scenes with thick yellows; giving the scenes style) but here we’re lucky if we get even a couple of night-time shots. I mean, why are they even called the Nightstalkers if all they do is go out hunting in the day? Honestly, did you ever expect to see Blade on a foot-chase across the rooftops, through buildings, and down the crowded streets in broad daylight, chasing down some guy who thinks he’s Dracula? And I say ‘thinks’ because I have no idea why Dracula: The First Vampire would ever need to run from anybody.
Honestly, by halfway through the movie you’re just plain tired; you’ve probably given up hope. The characters aren’t particularly likeable, they’ve pretty-much wasted their two biggest weapons – Dracula and Blade himself – and the story feels like it isn’t really going anywhere. And that’s a shame, because that’s around the time that things start to get a little more interesting.
“There is an old saying: kill one man, you’re a murdered. Kill a million, a king. Kill them all, a god.”
Dracula’s slaughter of the tertiary Nightstalker characters is a little darker and more appropriate for the Blade name (ironically, more menacing because Dracula takes the form of Kris Kristofferson’s Whistler to do the killing – and, even mute, Kristofferson has infinitely more presence than Purcell). And the whole blood harvest concept (which was from the script to the first movie – as can be seen from the Deleted Scenes on the Blade disc – but which they could not afford to fully realise back then) is a great idea; again, wholly tonally appropriate to the Blade franchise, explaining how the vampires would survive a war which saw all humans turned.
Unfortunately it’s far too little and far too late, particularly since, from there on out we’re just a couple of training/arming montages (including the making of an iPod playlist, no less!), and a bit of video-blog exposition, away from the grand finale. Which, to be honest, isn’t all that grand.
To think that the original script had Blade and Abigail Whistler get it on at this stage. I guess Studios may have been concerned about pairing up Wesley Snipes with Jessica Biel – one was a hot young rising star, and the other was an ageing action star desperately trying to keep himself out of DTV hell – but it’s a shame, because it would have been a much more interesting direction to go in.
Casting Biel was just one of the many mistakes in casting, as you can probably tell from my review already. Biel has seldom fitted any role she’s been given – at best she’s great eye-candy, at worst she looks totally out of place. Here it’s something of a middle-ground, but they get her to ‘act’ in all the wrong places. I mean, where’s the emotion when she realises her father’s dead?! And then, later, what’s with the random scene where she’s curled up in a ball, sitting naked in the shower, crying and letting the blood wash from her dirty body? Where did that come from? Has she been assaulted? Was she nearly killed? There’s simply no build-up to this scene and poor Biel puts her all into it, despite the fact that the audience is mouthing WTF at the screen. You want to know when that scene might have worked? When half the nightstalkers get slaughtered and she discovers their bodies. Seriously, who let Goyer ruin this movie?!
“What did the one lesbian vampire say to the other?”
“Shut up, King!”
“‘See you in 28 days.’”
Reynolds has already been torn a new one – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t normally mind his comedy schtick; here he’s just incessant though, and painfully so – and we’ve already talked about Purcell and Triple H being terribly cast villainous vampires. But what about Parker Posey being the head of the vampires? Sure, make a woman the head, change things up a little bit, but at least cast an actress with some kind of stature and presence. Not an actress who’s more familiar with comedy, and who then goes on to play it as a comedy. Indeed if you watch carefully, there isn’t a single scene she’s in where she plays the character in an assured way – so much so that if you played a scene to a mate who hadn’t seen the whole film, and said this was her audition tape for the movie, your mate would probably go: “well I hope they don’t cast her, she just keeps fluffing her lines and acting like she doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
The TV show host at the beginning? Bad casting. The psychologist? Bad casting. You know it’s got to be bad casting when the highlight on the host, Eric Bogosian’s, resume is a Steven Seagal film – Under Siege 2 – and when the psychologist, John Michael Higgins has a filmography which is 99% comedies. Why’d they get so many comedians to play straight roles in a second sequel in a previously very dark film series? Even the FBI guy chasing Blade – James Remar – looks far more confused than determined.
Strip out and re-cast these poor choices, reshoot the daytime scenes at night, and get another director – even a skilful second unit director (like using Steven Soderbergh to give The Hunger Games a raw edge) – to give the film some style. Ramp up the violence and blood to levels consistent with the previous two films, so fans won’t be disappointed, and maybe, just maybe, you’d have a decent sequel.
Oh, and fix the lacklustre final fight, which just feels like a poor man’s version of the brutal battle at the end of Blade II. The run-up is ok – not on-par with the last two, but better than anything we’d seen since the opening Blade intro sequence – and has a few nice moves, but the final fight between Blade and Dracula just feels like Blade vs. Nomak from the second movie, only with less impact. Which is shocking when you consider that Blade is fighting knowing he will probably die even if he beats Dracula (the Daystar virus may wipe him out too) – yet there isn’t a second of tension; not even a hint of significance to the moment. What a wasted idea.
“Funny, isn’t it? My people were trying to create a new kind of vampire when one already exists. I don’t need to survive. The future of our race rests with you. You fought with honour. I respect that. So, allow me a parting gift. But know this: sooner or later the thirst always wins.”
There’s also some confusion over the epilogue – which remains the biggest difference between the Theatrical Cut and the more violent Unrated Version. Dracula’s final words? “Allow me a parting gift.” What is this mysterious parting gift? Um, well, in the Theatrical Cut, the gift is that Dracula morphs into the shape of Blade, thus allowing the FBI to discover the body and presume Blade to be dead. Makes sense. Nice gift. Seriously: thanks. The Unrated Version – which is the ONLY version that we get on this release – ends with the same shot of Blade’s body in the morgue. Only, rather than turning back into Dracula so we realise the gift he’s given Blade, there’s no indication that it’s Dracula at all. The man, who appears to be Blade, just gets up, kicks the hell out of the hospital staff and then stands brooding menacingly at one of them, as if he’s about to drink her blood.
The only logical explanation – which is supported by the closing narration from Reynolds again which starts “and Blade? Blade was still out there, doing what he did best...”, the ‘and’ seeming to indicate that we weren’t watching Blade in that scene, but somebody else – is that it was Dracula pretending to be Blade, and that he wasn’t really dead at all. So, what’s the big parting gift thing all about then? If his gift was to get Blade off the FBI list then that didn’t work: if anything, he’s made Blade look even more dangerous. If, of course, we’re supposed to believe that this was Blade, waking up, and finding himself overcome by the thirst, then why immediately cut to a scene with Blade calmly standing on a rooftop, sunglasses back on, as Reynolds explains what happened to him after the end of the fight? Has he just quenched his thirst with a couple of nurses, and, now he’s feeling a bit better, he’s gone for a breath of fresh air? Either way it’s just deeply dissatisfying and, whilst I prefer the additional touches of the Unrated Version – especially the more punchy fights – the twist at the end is terrible. I guess we just have to be grateful that they didn’t go with the werewolf epilogue that you can find in the extra features. Wow, talk about looking for a silver lining.
You may be wondering – why am I being so negative? Well, honestly, what did you expect? After taking so much pleasure out of revisiting the first two great movies, the third one came as even more of a disappointment. Perhaps if I’d watched them separately, with some time in-between. Like a couple of years. Perhaps if, in that time, I’d watched Snipes do some terrible DTV movies (as he had done in the intervening period), and yearned for him to return to the role that he was born for. Frankly, when enough time has passed, and you need your Blade fix, you’ll take whatever you can get – even if that means spinning up Blade: Trinity. Unfortunately you’d probably be better off seeking out the darker and more consistent Blade TV series instead – I sure as hell know that’s what I’m going to be watching next to get the taste of Trinity out of my fangs.
“So, can we just go right ahead and sign you up for one of our secret Nightstalker decoder rings?”
Now can you see why Snipes sued New Line over Blade: Trinity? Both he and Kris Kristofferson, who had become good friends over the course of the three movies, were positively angry with the way in which Blade: Trinity had gone. And rightly so. I wonder whether he realised that the movie had jumped the shark before or after Goyer told him to say “cootchie-coo” to a baby? The public may have been upset with Snipes for taking a stand, and assumed it was just sour grapes, but – ignoring the financial aspect (Blade Trinity made less money than the previous instalment, a rarity, even for bad sequels – imagine the damage it did to his career? In the decade since the first movie, Blade was the one constant in his filmography – it was the one thing people knew he could do right. Wesley Snipes was Blade. It was a role which, if handled right, could just run and run. Hell, even now, even with a prison record, he’s not past the role, not too old for it. But Trinity pretty-much single-handedly destroyed that. And, afterwards, the TV series – which was supposed to star him as well – went to somebody else instead, leaving Snipes to fester in DTV hell until his tax evasion caught up with him.
I’ve no idea what the future is for Blade – the property rights have now reverted back to Marvel, so who knows what they’ll do with the character. Will they tone him down and try and tie him in to their grander Marvel Cinematic Universe? Will they reboot the franchise independently, with a new actor and a reasonably dark tone? Or will they just shelve it because they figure it’s not worth the hassle? Probably the last of those options. Such a shame. Because it could have been different. It could have been Blade vs. Vampire Apocalypse. It could have been epic.
“Are you ready to die?”
“I was born ready, motherf**ker!”
Our Review Ethos