My favorite thing about Throwback Thursdays is that it gives me an excuse and an opportunity to revisit old childhood favorites that I remember loving, but have all but forgotten the specific details of. For this week’s installment, I bring you Blade, the iconic vampire movie starring Wesley Snipes. This movie was the reason I started to love vampires, but watching it all these years later, I was no longer as impressed with it as I was when I was twelve. But I feel like that’s bound to happen to most things we love as children, and Blade was still an enjoyable, grungy, bloody, and sometimes outright entertainingly disgusting vampire romp.
Spoilers for the 1998 movie below.
Blade begins with a pregnant woman—who was bitten by a vampire—giving birth to a boy. Fast-forward to the “present”, and we meet Blade (Wesley Snipes), the grown up boy. He’s a vampire without any vampire weaknesses, except for the thirst for blood, which he suppresses with a special serum. Blade has made his mission to kill as many vampires as possible. He’s got a mentor/partner Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), and they hunt vampires because, well, vampires are evil and kill people (including Blade’s mother and Whistler’s family). Along the way, they also meet Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright), a hematologist who is bitten by a vampire (she subsequently is able to stop herself from turning into a vampire using her medical knowledge). Blade’s main adversary in the movie is Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a young vampire who sets out to summon the Blood God using an old vampire text and requires Blade’s blood to do so.
The first thing I notice when watching this movie now is the grungy and bleak 90’s aesthetic. It’s all muted gray, white, black, and sandy tones, and the red of blood—the only bright color—sets the perfect tone for the movie about a lonely warrior fighting a losing war. Although I have to say that I wasn’t expecting it to be so gruesome, what with charred corpses that still walk and vampire heads swelling and exploding in bad 90’s CGI.
The main reason I enjoyed rewatching this movie, funnily enough, is because I was able to find plenty of parallels with Harry Potter. I love certain fantasy elements, like a different fascinating but scary world hiding in plain sight, a hero with powers to save the world, and a mentor and friend(s) to help him, and although Blade and Harry Potter are very dissimilar, they both share these elements.
I like Blade as a hero, and particularly as one of the rare Black heroes. Again, like Harry, he’s parentless, had a rough childhood, has special powers his enemies don’t possess, and he’s snarky—oh so snarky (it’s so great). However, while Harry was left a small fortune by his parents, Blade has to steal to survive and fund his operation. He also grew up pretty much friendless, except for Whistler. Additionally, as a hardened hero, Blade is, in turn, a little more morally ambiguous: he refers to himself as something worse than vampires and doesn’t hesitate to use Karen as bait. He’s also a trained and disciplined fighter (all the fight scenes are awesome!).
Speaking of Karen, she’s a very cool character too. She takes the information about the existence of vampires in stride and immediately sets out to find a cure for herself (and Blade). Blade saves her after she’s been bitten by a vampire, but later on she works with Blade on equal terms, and he never tells her to hang back. In the end, she’s kidnapped to lure Blade into the vampire lair, but she’s saved from becoming a damsel in distress when she saves herself and Blade. As a female scientist myself, I always enjoy watching female scientists kick ass and use science to solve problems, but I particularly enjoy Karen’s character because she’s just a little bit selfish and she sticks with Blade even though she doesn’t like him, because that’s her chance at staying alive long enough to find a cure to stop herself turning into a vampire.
That being said, I feel like some aspects of Blade and Karen’s characters could be found problematic in terms of Black representation. For instance, the movie makes several references about Blade stealing watches to pay for things: he pays for things and services in stolen watches and remarks “What do you think finances this operation?” when Karen questions him going through a dead man’s things. In and of itself, this perhaps means nothing, but all the white superheroes have unlimited funds, whereas Blade, the one black superhero that I know of with his own movie, had to live on the streets and steal. Although this could be a reflection of real life where many Black people (and people of color in general) often don’t have the same opportunities as white people, it’s still disheartening to see our one Black superhero be portrayed this way. Also, while I love having a female character who saves herself and the hero and doesn’t become a love interest, Black women having no one to save them but themselves is also a common trope, suggesting that there is no one who wants to save them. Fortunately, this is mitigated a little by Blade saving Karen at the very beginning.
Altogether, I still find Blade enjoyable all these years later because it blends some of my favorite genre elements, such as a fantastical world hiding in plain sight and a lone hero fighting against evil. It’s also great to see a fantasy action movie starring Black protagonists, both of whom survive, even though some aspects of their characters could be problematic. If anything, I think it’s worth rewatching just for the aesthetic and awesome action scenes.