“The truth is, it started with Blade, and it ended with him. The rest of us were just along for the ride.”
I find the opening line of ‘Blade Trinity’ extremely ironic. In reality, the film begins and ends with Ryan Reynolds and it is Blade is along for the ride, reduced to being a guest star in his own film. While most threequels suffer from a simple deterioration in quality after their second outing, ‘Blade Trinity’ goes for broke and ticks every single box on the checklist for how to completely destroy a promising franchise.
The formula is tired. The main character has stopped being interesting. Beloved characters like Whistler are dispatched in an insultingly cheap way. New characters are barely introduced and then killed off. The lead actor looks completely bored. The tone of the piece has descended into comedic camp. The villains are complete buffoons. The film repeats beats from the previous two. There is no theme. There is barely a plot. And all of it is wrapped in a foul smelling cloak of droaning techno music.
I think the main reason that most threequels in a science fiction/fantasy context are doomed to failure, regardless of the specific mistakes that may be made in regard to character and story, is that the concept is out of gas by that time. Even if ‘Spider-man 3’ hadn’t completely butchered the black costume/Venom storyline, we had already seen every permutation of his superpowers. There was nothing left to show us.
The character of Blade enters his third film in an even worse position than that. Where as Spider-man at least has a journey to venture on, lessons to learn, characters to fall in love with, and great villains to conquer, Blade has nowhere to go. Blade is not a beloved A-tier Marvel character with a definitive comic book storyline waiting to be adapted. There is no cliffhanger ending from ‘Blade II’ that the audience is waiting to see conclude. The character is deliberately written as one-dimensional and his only appeal to the viewer is that he is incredibly cool.
We watch the Blade movies for the pure entertainment and escapism of seeing Wesley Snipes, in the role that he was born to play, doing battle with vampires through a dizzying combination of martial arts and inventive gadgets. Because Snipes oozes such energy, devotion and fun to the part, the audience cannot help but have a great time too. ‘Blade Trinity’ robs us of even that. At this point we have seen every conceivable way that you can kill a vampire and by the time the one billionth baddie disintegrates into ash in the climax, you are just about ready to tear your eyes out. Snipes himself looks equally bored.
And who can blame him? ‘Blade Trinity’ commits the worst sin of all in actually forgetting what its own title is. It can seriously hurt a movie when the lead actor looks bored to be there. But when the writer/director stops caring about the main character, how can the audience? The film becomes an instant and irredeemable failure. The takeover of the piece by Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds starts subtly enough but you soon realize that, despite the fact he is the only entertaining thing on screen, the character of Hannibal King is delivering so many zingers per minute, it is actually undermining Blade, who is relegated to providing deadpan stares of disgust and disapproval. Blade becomes the straight man in a buddy comedy. At least Blade is on screen during those scenes. In the third act, King is captured by the villains and chained up in front of Park Posey’s head vampire for what amounts to practically a stand-up comedy act as Reynolds unloads comic insults by the bucket-load. In a perfect example of the film’s tonal inconsistency, we cut back and forth between this farce and Jessica Biel’s character cradling the dead body of her friend, taking an emotional shower and training for the final battle. Meanwhile, the audience is left to casually glance at their movie ticket which they could have sworn said ‘Blade’ on it.
To add insult to injury, the other Nightstalker characters are among the most lazily written I’ve ever seen, which is saying something given that practically all of them only get one proper scene of dialogue before being killed off. Patton Oswald is stereotypically cast as the nerdy tech guy and is far too talented to be wasting his time here. The ‘black guy’ makes his entrance in a car playing loud rap music and has such limited personality that he makes Common’s role in ‘Terminator Salvation’ look richly layered. Natasha Lyonne plays the resident scientist of the team, who is blind solely for the reason that some filmmakers find it necessary to inflict some physical handicap on those types of characters to emphasize the triumph of mind over body. Even worse, her character is, after what is supposed to be an emotional death scene, revealed to be utterly pointless to the story as our heroes are introduced to another random Russian/European tech guy who is able to finish her work on the vampire killing virus she was working on, before vanishing from the film not two minutes after we meet him. Finally, Lyonne’s character has a daughter who is also kidnapped for the climax but has zero bearing on the plot, to the extent that the film itself realizes this and does not even give her a proper exit.
We can only be marginally upset with characters that have no impact on the story. Where ‘Blade Trinity’ really marks the end of the series is in its portrayal of the vampires themselves. If you remember my piece on the first film in the series you will know how much I loved the portrayal of Blade’s enemies as young, sexy and vicious predatory creatures of instinct who lived life for all its worth and didn’t let anyone stand in their way. They were dangerous, smart, evil, and you could not wait for Blade to turn them to dust. Even the villains in the second film were developed characters with personalities and motivations. The villains of ‘Blade Trinity’ are cartoonish imbeciles without one shred of menace to them. What would you expect when Parker Posey is cast as their leader?
This portrayal of modern vampires seems to be intentionally farcical as the crux of Dracula’s character is that he has become disgusted with how far his race has fallen from glory and that he would rather retreat into the shadows, curl up and die rather than be their savior. It is an interesting angle and could have worked very well in the film were it not for the fact that Dominic Purcell is the most miscast actor to play Dracula in cinema history. I would be tempted to call his the worst portrayal as well but he would have to duke it out with Richard Roxburgh’s turn in ‘Van Helsing’ for the trophy.
Absolutely everything that could go wrong with Dracula in ‘Blade Trinity’ does. Rather than casting some unnatural looking European actor that immediately unsettles the audience, we get a beefy Australian who is not in the least bit frightening. The appearance, presence and power of the character is built up rather effectively over the first act care of Ryan Reynolds’ exposition and we tingle with anticipation at the thought of the fireworks which will occur once the patriarch of vampires goes head to head with the Daywalker. And what happens during that epic clash? Dracula runs away, then faces Blade using a baby as a shield, and then runs away again.
Rather than building on the idea of a Dracula who is ashamed of what vampires have become and his reluctance to pull them out of the gutter, the film completely forgets the character feels that way after his introductory scene. In fact the villains don’t have any kind of scheme to pull off except for killing Blade. Dracula simply stands in the wings doing nothing until he decides to join in the hunt, again for no clear reason. There is no antagonism. There is nothing propelling the story forward. There is no real threat for Blade to conquer. And this isn’t some random villain we’re talking about. The whole series has been building up to the appearance of Dracula and we get nothing out of it.
So I guess I didn’t like ‘Blade Trinity’ very much. I could go on even longer but we’re out of space here. It really has been stunning looking back on the film, seeing all of its deeply routed flaws at a basic screenplay level and realizing this is the sole product of David Goyer. Goyer may not be the best writer in the world but the man has a definitive ability for adapting comic book properties. He may not be able to claim total ownership of the Nolan Batman movies but a large part of constructing their brilliant storylines has to go to him. With the Blade series, we are talking about something that Goyer not only adapted but practically created himself. He set the tone, created the world of credible, modern vampires operating in plain sight, made us fall in love with its electrifying main character, and then he personally threw it all in the gutter. I understand how it all went wrong but I will never understand why Goyer allowed it to happen.
Speaking of things I cannot understand, Elektra got her own spin-off movie. Join me next week and I’ll tell you all about it.