"Blade Trinity": Third Time’s the Curse
There are few challenges in the moviemaking world more daunting than producing quality sequels, and many of Hollywood’s more accomplished artists have been humbled by it. Only the Bond franchise seems relatively immune, perhaps because it adheres so relentlessly to its core formula. Most are not so lucky: the latest installments of the Star Trek, Matrix, Alien, and Star Wars series all have legions of detractors. Joining this inauspicious group is Blade Trinity, which has the added stigma of hailing from Marvel Comics’ superhero stable—a group of films with a very spotty track record of late. Certainly the odds of Blade breaking the sequel jinx seem low.
This time around David Goyer, writer of the first two Blade installments, comes on to direct as well. His previous scripts, though not exactly masterpieces, were very tight, but this time around either Goyer or the studio apparently felt the need to reinvent the franchise, and the Blade formula suffers for it. The heretofore missing ingredients? Comedy and a marketable supporting cast. Yes, “comedy.” The first two Blade films were dark, violent, mean, and occasionally quite scary. In Trinity the horror has been softened and the mood lightened, thanks to the introduction of goofball Ryan Reynolds and beauty Jessica Biel as the Nightstalkers, Blade’s much cheerier partners.
Say, all this is beginning to sound awfully familiar: two dark, critically praised films about a lone hero, followed by a cheesy sequel awash in guest stars. Yes, Goyer has made the Batman Forever of the Blade franchise. At least it doesn’t hit Batman and Robin territory.
The story opens with a team of vampires, led by Danica Talos (Parker Posey), resurrecting Dracula, ancient king of the vampires, whom they entreat to eliminate their nemesis Blade. Blade (Wesley Snipes) and partner Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), meanwhile make their grand entrance in a big fight/chase scene with dozens of vampires, culminating in Blade’s killing of a familiar (a human in the employ of the vampires) that is inconveniently witnessed by police. Acting on a tip from the vampires, a large police force descends on Blade’s riverfront hideout, killing Whistler and capturing a distraught Blade captured. At police headquarters, pretentious TV psychologist Dr. Vance conducts the interrogation and, revealing himself to be a familiar, drugs Blade and ushers in a team of disguised vampires led by Danica, brother Asher (Callum Keith Rennie), and heavy Jarko Grimwood (wrestling’s Triple H). That’s when Nightstalkers Hannibal King (Reynolds) and Abigail (Biel) burst in. After reviving Blade, the three escape back to the Nightstalkers’ warehouse hideout, where the blind scientist Summerfield and a few other members are based. Hannibal reveals that he has a plan. No wait, wrong franchise. Actually, Hannibal reveals that Dracula is still alive, and that Summerfield has come up with a virus that will somehow kill all vampires if it can be injected into Dracula’s blood. And with that, the hunt is on.
Amongst all the silliness, one interesting issue I haven’t seen much explored does get raised. In most films the humans who come in contact with a vampire are governed exclusively by fear, but here the familiars actually admire the vampire lifestyle and wish to partake by being bitten. Apparently it’s the Lost Boys syndrome: you know, you get to look good and never grow old. Perhaps this is veiled satire on youth’s obsession with mimicking the finely sculpted physiques and spotless complexions of glamorous pop divas and Hollywood heartthrobs. If so, it’s a satirical jab undermined by the presence of the well-chiseled Reynolds and Biel.
As in his first two Blade outings, Snipes is obsessive, laconic, and generally pissed off, and I wouldn’t have him any other way. It’s not what one might call a deep performance, but the star brings all the bad attitude the role requires and then some. Reynolds, clearly recruited to add some levity to the story, provides a sardonic, self-deprecating charm that suggests a mix of Indiana Jones and Conan O’Brien. It’s too bad he couldn’t be given cleverer dialogue. Biel, I guess, is along to sex up this very manly franchise—she does that handily but is also fairly convincing as an action heroine. Kristofferson plays Blade’s grizzled conscience with as much dignity as possible. Relative unknown Dominic Purcell gives a borderline performance as Dracula. He is sometimes convincingly haughty and menacing, but at other times he flirts with camp. From there the cast goes way downhill. As a snarling, jaded socialite, Posey delivers a ludicriously over the top performance that would upstage even Adam West’s most cartoonish nemeses. And John Michael Higgins as Vance seems to think he’s acting out a smarmy Saturday Night Live skit, and not one of the better ones either.
As with its predecessors, Trinity is all about the action, of which there is no shortage. It’s all very well done, apart from Blade’s corny Matrix Revolutions-like clash with Dracula, but it doesn’t really up the ante. We do get a decent car chase this time, although I don’t think the fights quite measure up to the second film. As mentioned, Reynolds does add some comedy to the mix, but most of the time he fires duds. In one of his better lines he reveals that he eschews MTV hipsters in favor of David Hasselhoff. Surprisingly Blade also has two good funny lines, both involving a word I unfortunately can’t repeat here.
Except for its very hokey opening in a tomb, the special effects hold up quite well, although there isn’t anything overly ambitious. Still, for my money you can never see enough vampires exploding in a cloud of ashes and bone fragments. One slightly weak spot is the design of the shape shifting of Dracula’s monstrous form. When he is merely standing in the shadows it is very creepy indeed, but when he is performing martial arts moves in broad daylight it becomes rather comical. The music continues the same sort of pounding techno beat from the previous films, some of it supplied by appallingly obvious plugs for the iPod.
There’s a large number of special features on offer, as one might expect on a film that badly needs big DVD sales. Apparently a Blade Marvel comic is included, but unfortunately it wasn’t available for this review. Goyer chairs two commentaries, one with Reynolds and Biel and one with the production staff. The former generally consists of dull, random anecdotes with the occasional funny line from Reynolds, while the latter explores the technical aspects of the film’s production. Inside the World of Blade Trinity is a nearly two-hour “making of” marathon which relates some interesting production detail regarding set design, visual effects and the editing process, but there’s an awful lot of self-congratulatory crap to wade through. (Unwisely, Goyer repeatedly states that most sequels aren’t very good.) And if that isn’t enough Goyer for you, he next interviews himself on the challenges of both writing and directing the movie. The Blooper Reel supplies the usual boring goofs and one moment of comic genius when a hilariously out-of-character Blade swoops down onto a street during a stunt shot and suddenly starts vigorously squeegeeing a car’s windshield. There are a few mildly interesting galleries on the vampire transformation effects and the film’s weaponry. Finally there is a cheesy, tacked-on alternate ending (with the Nightstalkers showing up in China to combat werewolves) that screams “spin-off.” It’s worth watching if only to see Reynolds throw Goyer (playing a thug) across a table.
Sadly Blade Trinity does not measure up to the expectations set by the first two films, and its modest reception may spell the end to a solid franchise. It seems to me that in focusing so intently on a possible Nightstalker film, Goyer took his eyes off the ball. That doesn’t mean that the Blade faithful won’t get something out of it. The action’s not bad, and, ah, there’s always Ms. Biel. Still, it would be a pity if the critics’ pen proved the deadliest stake of all.
Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly identified Barry Pepper as Asher Talos.