We live in the golden age of comic book related content, there’s no two ways about it. For a solid fifteen years, we have had nothing but success after success, with nearly every Marvel and DC based property making a killing at the box office, even—for the most part—the ones that weren’t even that good. This success is usually attributed to the release of the first X-Men movie in the summer of 2000. It makes sense. It was the first big, theatrical blockbuster based on a Marvel comic. Except that it wasn’t.
Two years before X-Men, there was Blade. And Blade paved the way for everything. Before it, Marvel had only one theatrical movie and it was the notoriously panned Howard the Duck. After that came straight-to-video versions of The Punisher and Captain America, plus a low-budget Fantastic Four from Roger Corman that was never intended for release. These years were more than a rough patch, these were the Dark Times. It was Blade that turned it all around, taking a little known comic book character and creating an exciting, powerful blend of horror and action.
It not only did everything right in terms of adaptation, it took the opposite route of every previous attempt to bring a Marvel property to the screen. Blade was not treated like a comic book movie and that is its greatest strength. He doesn’t wear the exact clothing of his comic book counterpart, he’s not going up against the same monsters, by and large. At the same time, it’s inherently Blade. The spirit of the comic book character and the world he inhabits are completely intact.
Blade manages to be extremely faithful to the origin of the character on the page while creating something new for modern audiences. It’s treated specifically like a blend of horror and action. That’s the selling point, so much so that you can tend to forget that it’s actually a comic book movie. It’s actually kind of amazing to me how ahead of its time this film was and how barely remembered it seems to be now. I mean, it was even doing black-leather, over-filtered martial arts a full year ahead of The Matrix.Even in the grittiness and the wisely over-the-top violence and action, some core comic book concepts and tropes come through. You still have a central villain and not only that, but the villain is responsible for the hero’s origin. Blade and Frost is as hateful a rivalry as that between Batman and the Joker or Wolverine and Sabretooth.
Blade is a solid comic book adaptation, probably the best of its decade. It’s one that seems to be losing its audience with each passing year, which is a shame. You can absolutely see its influence on the much larger phenomenon that was X-Men.
Maybe most importantly, Blade made money. It wasn’t made for a ton and feels much more expensive than it actually was. It proved Marvel could work at the box office and allowed for bigger and bigger budgets for Marvel properties as time went on. Now we live in a world where we average between two and four Marvel movies a year, with two or three TV shows on the air at any given time.
I sometimes actually wonder if we would ever have even had these long-gestating X-Men or Spider-Man movies had Blade never proved it could work. We probably would have, eventually, but it doesn’t change the fact that this was a sleek, solid horror-action-thriller that still doesn’t get the credit it really deserves.