In the months following the release of Sam Raimi‘s 2004 film, Spider-Man 2, three other comic book/superhero films were released. Although they represented a growing diversity in these types of films, they were certainly a mixed bag. First was Warner Bros. and DC’s solo Catwoman (Pitof), starring Halle Berry. The film is pretty terrible across the board, with poor writing, directing and acting combined with a severe misunderstanding of the character. Although largely forgotten except when listing worst films of all time, the larger negative impact of Catwoman was to set back comic book films with non-white and/or female leads. Film studios tend to be very conservative, preferring to greenlight safe, tested ideas rather than take chances. Despite the popularity of Berry and the character of Catwoman, Catwoman was a risky proposition. Its failure offered an example studios could point to when approving another white male superhero film rather than something with more diversity. This way of thinking is short-sighted and misguided, but it still happens.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, late-2004 also saw the release of Brad Bird‘s The Incredibles from Pixar Animation. Although not based on any pre-existing comic book property, The Incredibles remains one of the best superhero films made thus far. It honours the genre while questioning and subverting the tropes. It’s thrilling, funny, and has a lot of heart. Plus, the jazzy score and ’60s mod, retro-future production design are absolutely fabulous. The field of comic book films was widening at this time. Filmmakers were creating some of the very best of the genre — but also some of the worst.
Marvel’s next film and the final comic book film of 2004, David S. Goyer‘s Blade: Trinity, unfortunately represents the worst of the genre. The series began with so much promise, kicking off the modern comic book film craze with Stephen Norrington Blade (1998). Although very flawed, Guillermo del Toro‘s Blade II (2002) was the first Marvel sequel to be produced, and it got quite a few things right in terms of inventiveness and world-building. Blade: Trinity was the first Marvel threequel and, unfortunately, forebode the troubles Marvel would have in the coming years with its attempts to close out trilogies. The film is scattered, offers very little depth to its characters, seems to contract the world rather than expand it, wastes its new characters and, worst of all — it’s boring. Blade: Trinity ended the once-promising Blade series on a low note and, in a way, closed the first chapter of the Marvel film boom. And so, I will delve into the world of Blade.
In my articles, I tend not to dwell on the backstage drama behind films. I prefer to judge them on their merits alone and the intentions of the filmmakers. With Blade: Trinity, however, the on-set issues have almost surpassed the film itself for notoriety, and I think they are relevant to how the film turned out. I first learned of the drama in Patton Oswalt’s 2012 interview with Nathan Rabin for the A.V. Club.
Wesley Snipes makes an appearance in Blade:Trinity (Photo by Diyah Pera – © 2004 New Line Cinema / IMDB)
Most sources allege that the behind the scenes problems stemmed from star Wesley Snipes’ behaviour. He would be aggressive to people on set, mainly Goyer, who wrote all three Blade films and directed Blade: Trinity. Snipes apparently would refuse to report to set, preferring to smoke in his trailer instead. As a result, many of his scenes were completed with the use of a body double, and Snipes was only used on close-up shots. Much of the dialogue in scenes between Snipes’ Blade and Ryan Reynolds’ Hannibal King was improvised by Reynolds, who apparently tried to come up with the funniest non-sequiturs possible to be paired with the stone-faced close-ups of Snipes. This is most apparent in several group scenes featuring Blade and King’s team, the Nightstalkers. These scenes feature a lot of dialogue from the Nightstalkers describing their approach and intentions cut with very non-specific responses from Blade that sort of match. The film also seems to lose the focus on Blade as it progresses, adding to the scattered feeling of the plot. It also means that Blade does not receive a satisfying end to his three-film story, which is unfortunate. The next year, Snipes sued Goyer and New Line Cinema, claiming he was shut out of the creative process during production. Regardless of people’s intentions, the production of Blade: Trinity was troubled and strained, and it shows on screen.
Snipes was not the only source of trouble on the production, however. Goyer originally envisioned the film to be a post-apocalyptic tale, set after the vampires had taken over the world. This would have expanded the world of the film tremendously and raised the stakes, but the studio rejected the idea. Another major idea was to focus on vampires creating massive blood banks of captured humans as a type of final solution, but this was deemed too grim. So instead, they just threw something together with Dracula.
The conceit of Dracula being a real villain in the Marvel Universe exists in comics. In the early ’70s, comic publishers began to push back against the restrictive Comics Code Authority that was established in the ’50s. As a result, publishers were free to start producing horror comics again. Akinori Nagaoka and Minoru Okazaki‘s Tomb of Dracula (starting April 1972) introduced Dracula as a new Marvel Comics villain, and the series followed him as he was confronted by various vampire hunters and other monsters. The 70-issue series is notable for introducing such characters as Blade (Snipes’ character) in issue #10, Hannibal King (Reynolds’ character) in issue #25, Rachel van Helsing (the basis for Jessica Biel’s character Abby Whistler) in issue #3 and Frank Drake (a descendant of Dracula not featured in Blade: Trinity) in issue #1. In the Ghost Rider #28 comic (August 1992), Blade, Hannibal King and Frank Drake were reintroduced as a group of vampire hunters called the Nightstalkers. Thus, Goyer drew much of the inspiration for Blade: Trinity from the comics, but many of the ideas were not implemented very well.
The plot threads of Blade: Trinity are numerous and very disconnected, but I will attempt to summarise them. The film opens with a team of vampires, led by Parker Posey’s Danica Talos, awakening the first vampire, Dracula aka Drake, from his tomb in Syria. They hope Drake will kill Blade and make the vampire race more pure. Drake, however, ends up being a surprisingly minor presence in the film. He appears in a few scenes, mostly to menace people, and is pretty ineffectual until the climax. In his first encounter with Blade, for example, he runs away and endangers a baby in order to escape. Why would he not fight Blade right away?
In fact, none of the vampires in Blade: Trinity make much of an impact. Besides high-tech, windowless lairs and goth chic there is little of the vibrant, hedonistic culture that was nicely presented in the first two films. Both previous Blade films featured ruling vampire hierarchies and underground vampire nightclubs. The relatively few vampires in Blade: Trinity mostly sit around and scheme. Goyer seems to take for granted that audiences understand the culture and villainy of the vampires from the previous films, and does not need to show it in this film. The lack of strong villains is a serious problem and contributes to the overall sense of boredom throughout the proceedings.
Another plot thread introduced early in the film, and one rife with potential, is exposing Blade’s existence and mission to the world. I suppose the vampires were not content with unleashing Dracula on Blade, so they also manipulate him into publicly killing a human who he believes to be a vampire. As a result, police, FBI and criminal psychologists begin to publicly decry Blade and his clearly deluded mission to kill vampires. Blade becomes hunted by not just vampires, but also legitimate authorities composed of the humans Blade is meant to protect. One showdown with police ends with the death of Whistler, Blade’s longtime ally played by Kris Kristofferson. The fact that Whistler previously died in Blade, only to be found alive in Blade II, blunts the impact of his death here, but it is still effective. Once Blade is captured, he realizes the situation is being manipulated by the vampires and their human servants (“familiars”).
This is the second plan to deal with Blade by the same group of vampires, which gives the impression that two different Blade scripts were combined, taking the best ideas from each. This makes the film feel disjointed. Despite that, exposing and discrediting Blade in the media is an interesting idea. That is why it is so frustrating that the plot thread is essentially discarded once Blade escapes custody. So, the Dracula plan is underplayed and the publicity plan is discarded, leaving the film without a strong plot for its villains.
What takes the place of these plots for the majority of the film is the introduction of the Nightstalkers. Led by Hannibal King and Abigail Whistler, a previously unmentioned daughter conceived after Whistler’s other family was killed by vampires, the Nightstalkers are one cell of a larger, unseen guerrilla army bent on killing vampires. Scenes set at the Nightstalker base consist mostly of long stretches of exposition about their pasts, Drake’s history, and the various weapons they have developed. So many weapons. There are endless scenes either describing weaponry or showing the hunters suiting up for battle. The Nightstalkers’ major plan is a viral attack to kill the vampires. If they can successfully infuse it with Drake’s blood, it could become a plague (named Daystar) that kills all vampires around the world.
The Nightstalkers have a lot of screen time in Blade: Trinity. This seems like an attempt to generate a spin-off film, but it may have been necessitated by Snipes’ reluctance to be on set. Despite the time devoted to them, however, the Nightstalkers are incredibly shallow as characters. King has the clearest backstory, as a former vampire slave of Danica Talos who was cured and wants revenge. Reynolds spends most of the film spouting endless, seemingly off-the-cuff one-liners. Had I written this article before the release of Deadpool (2016), I would have judged his performance very differently and more negatively. As it stands, Reynolds brings the same affable energy to Blade: Trinity as he does to Deadpool, but to far lesser effect. Maybe Reynolds’ motormouth schtick only works when the film and world are built around it. In Blade: Trinity, it feels out-of-place and becomes grating. Abigail seems to have deep emotion, breaking down in the shower after a day of hunting familiars and screaming after the other Nightstalkers are killed, but the character is extremely thin. Biel clearly got in excellent shape for the role and seems proficient with her character’s chosen bow and arrow, but the script gives her nothing to work with dramatically. The other Nightstalkers are, as I just mentioned, killed, wasting talents such as Natasha Lyonne and Patton Oswalt with very small roles.
It is hard to determine how Blade: Trinity fills the time. Believe me, it feels less like entertainment and more like filling time. There is so little happening. We are treated to a montage of Blade, King and Abigail hunting familiars, only to be led to a prominent psychologist who Blade discovered to be a familiar earlier in the film. Why did they not confront him immediately? The human blood bank idea from an earlier draft of the film is presented in one scene as an example of the vampires’ cruel efficiency, but the scene is totally disconnected from the rest of the plot. Even the action in the film is dull. A climactic fight between King and Jarko, an imposing vampire played by wrestler Triple H, plays out like a practice run at half-speed. Much of the action is sloppy, with quick cameras moves, quick cuts, poor CGI effects and unnecessary slow motion used to mask the lackadaisical execution. Much of this can be explained by Goyer’s relative inexperience as a director (his second film), and his lack of clear style relative to predecessors Stephen Norrington and Guillermo del Toro. Despite all of the quick editing, Blade: Trinity meanders through most of its running time.
The film ends with Blade and Abigail invading the vampire headquarters to save King from captivity. Dull fights ensue, including a sword fight between Blade and Drake. That fight is particularly generic, a disappointment considering a duel between Blade and Dracula could have been a real showstopper. Ultimately, Drake is stabbed with the Daystar virus, releasing the plague for all vampires. As he dies, Drake tells Blade he will succumb to the vampiric hunger and be the next step of vampire-kind. This threat is perhaps meant to set up a sequel, finally introducing an interesting character idea for Blade as the film is about to end. Then Blade apparently parts ways with the Nightstalkers. The only piece of character development Blade: Trinity offers for its central character occurs when Whistler cautions that Blade may end up fighting alone. Whistler says this is his worst fear, and implores Blade not to let it come to pass. Goyer seemingly ignores this thread, like so many others, and has Blade ride out into the night alone as the film closes. Both the opening and closing narrations are spoken by Hannibal King, again diminishing Blade’s role in the film.
And so, the final Blade film loses its focus on Blade, and every plot thread. It seems comprised of half-baked ideas, endless exposition and unnecessary montages. The film is overlong, and yet not much seems to happen. The best sequels delve deeper into the characters and expand the world, but Blade: Trinity seems to do the opposite of of that. In 2006, Goyer developed a Blade television series with DC Comics mainstay Geoff Johns. The series ran for 13 episodes before its cancellation. Sometime before August 2012, the film rights to Blade reverted back to Marvel, allowing them to make the character a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel also reacquired the rights to Daredevil, the Punisher and Ghost Rider around the same time. But while Daredevil and the Punisher have received Netflix series and Ghost Rider appeared in season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Blade has not yet appeared. On the one hand, this should not be surprising as, despite repeated attempts, the character has never really caught on in the comics. On the other hand, I believe that Blade’s unique and surprising success early in the comic book film boom means the character deserves better. I hope we will see the Daywalker on-screen again sometime.
Jessica Biel, Wesley Snipes, Ryan Reynolds — the trinity of Blade: Trinity
(Photo by New Line – © 2004 New Line Cinema / IMDB)
Stan Lee Cameo Corner: No Stan Lee in the whole Blade trilogy. That puts Stan at 5/10 cameos.
The first ever post-credits scene on a Marvel film! Daredevil had mid-credits scene, but this one is at the end. The credits end with “WORD” being displayed, then we see Blade driving his car. Not too exciting, but the first!!
The first comic book film featuring Ryan Reynolds, a longtime comic book fan who began his 13 year odyssey to make a Deadpool film while making Blade: Trinity. Unfortunately, he would first make X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern.
Composer Ramin Djawadi would return to Marvel Films to score Iron Man
Next Time: The first Marvel spin-off film and first female-led Marvel film. Unfortunately, that film is Elektra.