Blade ★★½

I've always felt the first Blade movie is the one most people forget, recognising the second one to be the standout and the third an absolutely horrendous mess. Wesley Snipes' first outing as 'the Daywalker' sits squarely between the two, hence why it can get overlooked - it's never bad but then it's never particularly great either, in fact Stephen Norrington's comic book adaptation may actually be one of the blandest, more nondescript comic-to-movie tales. It just... exists, rather than spreading its wings, a shame as the components were definitely here.

I don't consider Norrington much of a director, so that's a problem right away - he never feels particularly at home telling this story, certainly not with the more fantastical action beats; he seems to want them done fairly quickly and while it provides moments of frenetic, bass pumping Blade kicking ass it doesn't really give us anything to stay long in the memory (though a well-executed subway tunnel battle comes close). The narrative and the texture never entirely sits right next to each other - Norrington's world is Nolan-esque, very dark and real and etched in gloom, and the corporate commenting through the suit-wearing, staid vampire fraternity is very fitting - but when we start edging into prophecies, texts & ancient vampire Gods it goes a bit off the rails. One has to rest the blame there a little with Stephen Dorff - he's such a hackneyed, smug, leering villain as Deacon Frost it becomes hard to really take him seriously (you never doubt Snipes could just twat him and be done with it) while Donal Logue is immensely irritating as a henchman; in a way they're TOO comic book for this world, too gurning and OTT. It's telling the film is most interesting when Blade is on screen (and that's not always enough either) because Snipes plays him well - tough & badass yet quiet & vulnerable all at once, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role these days. Equally Kris Kristofferson doesn't get enough to do as his cool mentor Whistler, providing a bit of needed gravitas around the constant mugging from the villains. It all builds to a suitably epic climax, but the journey getting there plods more often that not - N'Bushe Wright (who?) dull as ditchwater as the female lead with zero chemistry with Snipes leaves scenes to be dragged through.

By no means a bad film, Blade remains a disappointment to me. Stephen Norrington never makes it blend despite creating a good sense of atmosphere, and injecting this with a greater dose of visceral horror than you're used to in most comic-book movies; the narrative just doesn't fit the tone and the villains are among the most annoying I've seen on film. Snipes, however, is excellent throughout and whenever Blade is on screen, especially in battle, it sings. The piece as a whole though is never as good as the promise within could have made it. Thank God, then, for Guillermo del Toro...

A. J. liked this review