Monday, June 25, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Blade: Trinity (2004)

I must admit, I enjoyed the first two films of the Blade trilogy tremendously. Much more, in fact, than many of my friends and cohorts in the critical community. I felt that the first two efforts did a number of things exceedingly well in terms of both the superhero and action genres. In fact, the original Blade (1998), in some fashion, pointed to the style of action and fighting popularized by The Matrix (1999) a year later. And, the same film also featured one of the all-time great opening scenes of any superhero or horror movie: a vampire "rave" with a sprinkler system that doused the dancers in human blood. That's a classic and iconic beginning. And ghoulish as hell.

Truth be told, I enjoyed Blade II even more. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it achieved what I thought impossible for a superhero sequel: it was actually a scary film; a balls-to-the-wall horror film as much as an action/martial-arts venture. The worthwhile sequel pitted Wesley Snipes' Blade character against a feral vampire breed that had to be hunted down and eradicated, and Blade joined up with a team of surly vampires (including Ron Perlman...) to stop the brutes before they could destroy the human race. It was sort of like Blade meets Aliens; but for me it absolutely worked on all thrusters.

I write all this prologue not because I necessarily expect everyone to agree with my assessments of the Blade films (I'm apparently dangling alone on a half-broken branch here...), but merely because I wanted to establish that there were some interesting touches in the previous franchise films; and that I had no trouble whatsoever appreciating those touches. The movies gave me a good, exciting time, and I appreciate that, especially when terrible superhero films abound - crap like Elektra, Catwoman, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Ghost Rider, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, X3 and Daredevil. Need I go on? In such company, Blade is frigging Shakespeare.

But Blade: Trinity does not live up to the legacy of entertainment established by the earlier Blade films. Bluntly stated, it's a superficial, corny, CGI-fest that commits two terrible crimes. One, it's unremittingly boring. And two, it drifts far afield from Wesley Snipes' character, the protagonist of the film series.

Love him or hate him, Snipes has always strutted front and center in the Blade films. Personally, I love his portrayal of the Daywalker. Snipes is intense but not talky or over-the-top; and he's occasionally really funny, even though he doesn't often crack jokes or one-liners. Snipes invests the Blade character with gravitas. He's a terrific anchor for this particular superhero series. He also moves brilliantly. Some of his action poses look like they came right out of the comics; and when he does it, these poses somehow seem natural.

Think about it: what other modern superhero has remained consistent under the stewardship of one actor through a trilogy of films lately? I can think of only one actor besides Snipes; and that's Tobey Maguire in the Spider-Man films. We've had a procession of Batmans (Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney and Bale), for instance. Sure, there's the X-Men, but the focus there changes in each film from one actor to the other. Patrick Stewart was almost invisible in X3. (And given the quality of that film, may I say, good choice, Captain Picard.)

Snipes re-connects powerfully with his iconic role in Blade: Trinity, but his heroic efforts are to almost no avail. He's saddled with two "young" sidekicks who steal precious screen-time from him. First, there's the terribly annoying Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King - a walking collection of bad jokes. And then there's vanilla (but hot) Jessica Biel as bland Abigail Whistler. From the moment these new characters appear on the screen, one can immediately sense what is occurring here: someone behind the scenes is co-opting the Blade franchise to build another franchise for these characters. And frankly...that sucks. One doesn't go to a Blade movie to see other characters kick vampire ass. That's Blade's job. This sort of switcheroo is disrespectful to Snipes as well as long-time fans. The films have succeeded wildly - with him as the anchor and star - and so rightfully the expectation is that this third film would continue the legacy and actually be about Blade. However, that's not the case. He's been asked to front a product that isn't authentically what it should be.


Worse, Dominic Purcell - an actor I admire tremendously in series such as John Doe and Prison Break - is badly miscast as "Drake" (Dracula...), the villain in Blade: Trinity. Again, I like this actor so much..but he's just not right for the part of the ORIGINAL vampire in history, the Ancient Evil that threatens the world and the human race. He's also undermined by his ridiculous costumes. In one sequence Dracula looks like a gay biker, and in another (wearing what appears to be a bustier...), he resembles a cross-dresser. In his first big confrontation with Blade, Drake runs away from the Daywalker on a merry chase, and my wife Kathryn rightly asked at this point: "why is he running away if he's the most powerful vampire in history?" Watch the scene and see if you can figure out why he runs. Like much of the movie, this scene makes no sense. Later scenes establishing his menace and power don't work because we've already seen him flee Blade like a scared little girl.

Not much holds together in this film. There's a scene involving a human "farm" where homeless people are exploited as living blood banks for vampires. Blade and Abigail destroy one such factory, but we are told there are hundreds. Really? How come we never see Blade destroying any of them besides this one? This scene just happens with almost no fanfare and then ends without anybody ever commenting on it or the farms again. Likewise with the threat of the new virus that can annihilate all vampires (must contain Charlton Heston's blood...). We are informed by the maker of the virus that the experimental bio-weapon might also kill Blade (since he is part vampire...), but when Blade utilizes the virus in the finale...nothing. He doesn't cough, sputter or even sneeze. The audience is also told that the self-same virus can spread to all vampires, thus ending their dominion. So why, at the end of the film, isn't Blade using this virus to hunt down all remaining vampires, especially since they have enacted a "Final Solution" against humans (the blood bank farm thingie)? Blade:Trinity lurches from idea to idea, but none of these ideas seem to connect, or impact the narrative.

With Hannibal's lame wisecracks constantly undercutting the tension, Drake not offering much menace, and a crappy plot line, Blade:Trinity proves a rather underwhelming superhero film. Even worse, it's cut together in the manner of an Underworld or Aeon Flux, meaning that the action is virtually incoherent. As though the director (writer David Goyer) has no vision when it comes to on-screen geography, or spatial relationships. The editing is relentlessly choppy, so that even Snipes' ultra-cool moves (another reason to see these films...) get lost in the shuffle.

Watching Blade: Trinity, I felt that the whole enterprise was flying on auto-pilot. That another buck was being squeezed out of a franchise I had once enjoyed, and that worse, that franchise was being hijacked for the purpose of stealing a future buck! There's not a single surprise in the film; nary an interesting new development. There isn't a moment of authentic excitement or a moment of true horror. It's all familiar and worn out.

The one unexpected bright spot in the film, and I know many critics disagree with me on this point, is Parker Posey, playing the vampire villainess Danica Talos. Posey - a veteran of the Christopher Guest films - seems to realize exactly what kind of celluloid dog shit she's stepped into here and so makes the absolute most out of every terrible line, and every silly moment on camera. Posey walks the walk; she talks the talk (through uncomfortable-looking fangs...) and brings, at the very least, a level of charm and self-awareness to the proceedings. People may object to the way Posey camps things up, but like Snipes, she is just about the only other performer in the film who registers as an individual.

So this is a whopping disappointment. The movie came out a few years ago, and I waited this long to see it because of the bad reviews. I should have waited even longer. I saw this and then Hostel right after it. Let me just say that Hostel - so disturbing and visceral - resonated with energy, originality and terror in a way this exhausted franchise film never does. I'm not a big fan of the "torture porn" or "gorno" film as they are called these days, but Hostel is dangerous and transgressive and alive to the possibilities inherent in fear cinema...exactly what a horror film should be. Blade: Trinity is a snoozer.

7 comments:

  1. Having recently watched both BLADE II and BLADE III, I'm siding with BLADE III.

    The original BLADE set up the race (both senses of the word) allegory/subtext and can be thought of as the "message movie" of the series. He comes to be an interesting, sympathetic hero by the end. Metal-techno, ADD editing, and soulless whoosh are the flaws.

    BLADE II is premised on "vampires that eat vampires," or "super-vampires" and plays for more like one of your hated UNDERWORLD films. Ron Perelman is reduced to a single, slender dimension. Light - emitted from grenades - travels down corridors like water. Franchise mythology comes to be taken far too seriously.

    BLADE III, in comparison, is parodic "high camp" that is unabashedly an ensemble job. It reminds me of MODESTY BLAISE in that it is so whacked in so many broken directions as to be the subversive cousin of the genre it comes from. The actors almost all look like they are in on the "joke"...the punchline to which is "everybody gets a paycheck, we're laughing all the way to the bank." Characters, names and motivations are seemingly thrown into a blender and splattered across the screen. Its like decoding a dream.

    BLADE III is to the BLADE franchise as CASINO ROYALE is to the world of Bond. It is either a hyper-BLADE film or an anti-BLADE film. In this sense, it is far more fascinating and fun to watch than BLADE II, and discounting the semi-original social subtext, the original film. Just my $0.02

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  2. Well, Kevin, you've certainly given me a lot to think about there.

    I can't deny that Blade III is high camp...I just wonder if that was the intent. Or merely the result.

    Also, I don't know that the comparison to Casino Royale works for me. That was a Bond film I loved; one that actually bothered to tell a well-constructed story coherently. And the editing was quite good -- not the mishmash we have here.

    Are you saying that Blade III's narrative is as developed and coherent as Casino Royale's? That it's characters move us in the same way and are as "real" as those we have there?

    I'm just curious. I'd like to hear more of your thesis on this. I know I'm out on a limb liking the first two Blade films as much as I do, but I'm fascinated by your high estimation of Blade III.

    Did I miss the joke? Is it the film's intent to deconstruct the Blade universe, to coment on CGI crapfests Like Underworld, to satirize Blade himself? Is that the point?

    Best,
    John

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  3. John -

    I am talking about the 1967 CASINO ROYALE...that might qualify my view a bit. This original version of Casino Royale is an incoherent mess that becomes something quite more interesting than a typical Bond film because of its self-smug view. It was an anti-Bond film - not only because the plot was precipitated around Bond decoys, but also because it refused to give us the payoffs of any of the previous bond films. It is an emblem of the excesses and poor choices of its age.

    BLADE III is similar, historically and aesthetically. It has a vast ensemble cast (a mis-cast, if you will: Ryan Reynolds is no super hero, Parker Posey no super villain, Jennifer Biel no super hero), confused action, and some moments of intentional camp, as well as many moments of unintentional camp. I think that it is a bit of a BLADE franchise spoof. Its got that "gang's all here" mentality, shows what the war between humans and vampires has degraded to, and mixes extreme humor (Patton Oswalt - a WM alumni) with suggestions of pathos.

    What I'm arguing for is not "intention," which I know you hold dear, so much as "result." Watching BLADE: TRINITY, regardless of actual intention, becomes all of the things I mentioned above because of the the system under which it was made, the types of films it unconsciously mimics, and the true and fictitious lives and careers of its stars.

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  4. Hey Kevin,

    aaah, now I get it. Thanks for the clarification, my friend. I was thinking 2006 Casino Royale and going - "huh?"

    Best,
    John

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  5. Michael A. De Luca1:33 PM

    I was at my local Rite Aid pharmacy, shopping for deoderant, when I spied "Blade Trinity" on a rack for six dollars. I felt no impulse to reach for my wallet.

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  6. Darren J Seeley1:18 AM

    While I liked Blade Trinity, it doesn't compare to the first two films. I also liked the extended version than the theatrical.

    But I'm happy to know that I wasn't alone on my reaction to Ryan Renyolds' Hannibal King. In addition, I am making a comment on this because I noticed since this film, it seems:

    * Venom is said to get a spinoff from Spider-Man 3;

    * Silver Surfer is said to get spun off from Fantastic Four 2;

    *The upcoming Wolverine boasts spinoff possibilities for Gambit and Deadpool, the latter being played by Renyolds.

    It seems the track record doesn't bode well for Wolverine. There are characters hogging the spotlight and time and/or or a main selling point of a film (such as FF2) while the characters (and actors) that should get screen time are casually put into a corner.

    Blade Trinity missed a golden opportunity: there are two scenes in the film that got my hopes up when I first saw it. Both were never taken advantage of:

    If the Daystar can wipe out vampires, what would have happened if Drake turned the little girl? Better yet, what if...

    There is a line Danica says to Hannibal King about turning him back into a vampire. I clapped and cheered in the theatre, and got funny looks (I recall this as I was the only one) because the Daystar idea was established. The banter between King and Blade was established.

    Now King is forced to fight Blade to stop Daystar, in order to save himself and the girl!

    Never happened.

    I know in pointing this out, I am doomed for eternity.

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  7. The jokey Ryan Reynolds RUINED this film for me. David Purcell was a scy fy movie of the week monster. How Purcell even has a career in film is totally beyond me?!?! Loved Parker Posey. Jessica Biel was her usual unbelievably hot and gorgeous self. Snipes just collected a check, a check he probably did not pay any tax on. It's the old 3rd film of a trilogy curse again.

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