I wasn't expecting to like the first two BLADE films, but I did. In fact, I loved them. They had a wild, kinetic energy balanced with an original and entertaining storyline. For what they were, they were practically perfect. Unfortunately, for everything BLADE: TRINITY gets right, it gets a few more things horribly wrong. The third installment is a disappointment in almost every conceivable way.
In the only part of Iraq not inhabited by terrorists or U.S. troops, a group of vampires excavate an ancient tomb and resurrect the first vampire. We have come to know him as Dracula, but this film would prefer you call him Drake as that name exudes danger while Dracula is soooo two hundred years ago. Drake (Dominic Purcell - EQUILIBRIUM) has been in hibernation for hundreds of years, disgusted with what his own race has been reduced to. We're told that he has never had to evolve. He's strong, can shapeshift into anything he comes in contact with and can walk around in the daylight. He's like the T-1000 except much bulkier. When confronted with this god amongst the undead, they do what any group in awe of their master would do. They order him to do their dirty work and kill Blade.
Blade (Wesley Snipes again) has gotten sloppy, and it's not just the direction. His displays have grown even more public. This allows the vampire clans to expose him on videotape as he hunts down and kills someone who was merely planning to be a vampire. There is a Federal Task Force led by James Remar who has been investigating Blade for some time. The videotape gives them the ammunition they need. They infiltrate his compound and capture him. After a boring interrogation scene played for laughs, Blade allows himself to be drugged while he waits for transport. Not content to simply let the Feds worry about him, the vampires break into the station, trying to take Blade for their own. Up to this point, I was not overly impressed with BLADE: TRINITY. But I told myself that at least it wasn't terrible. Then something happens, and the film becomes terrible. This is because fortunately for Blade and the paper-thin script, Blade is miraculously saved at the zero hour by a couple of vampire hunters.
Weaving a bow and arrow, Abigail, (Jessica Biel - THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE RULES OF ATTRACTION), the heretofore unmentioned daughter of his mentor, Whistler. Right by her side and chewing up the scenery is Hannibal King, played by Ryan Reynolds. You remember Ryan Reynolds. He was in VAN WILDER, also known as THE "I WOULD RATHER BE BEATEN TO DEATH WITH MY OWN SEVERED LIMBS THAN WATCH THIS AGAIN" MOVIE. A former vampire himself, he's there to lead the team and crack bad one-liners.
The two take Blade to their hideout where they reveal they are a chapter of an underground group of vampire hunters called the Nightstalkers. Just as the vampires are working to control everything, this group uses weaponry, surveillance and scientific research to combat the vampire problem. This is the first time the group has been mentioned in the Blade films' canon. You'd think that when the going got rough for Blade in either of the previous two installments, they would have shown up. You'd think Whistler would have at least mentioned to his pupil, "Oh yeah, I've been working with another group of vampire hunters who could help you out and probably prevent dozens of more deaths." But he didn't and why should he? The only purpose of the Nightstalkers is to fill in some gaps and inject youth and wiseguy charm into a franchise that didn't need it.
The group includes a scientist (an effective and unrecognizable Natasha Lyonne - THE SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS, ...BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER) who is working on a biological weapon that would wipe out all the vampires in one stroke. They call it Daystar but I call it "Deux Ex Machina." The problem is the current vampires' DNA strain is so corrupted it cannot be tested with any certainty. Before they can be sure it will work, they need to use it on Drake. Oh yeah, the scientist also has a little girl, so you just know she'll be put in jeopardy sometime before the end credits.
Meanwhile, Drake is set to lead a vampire takeover of the world. One problem, we never really learn how he plans to do this. There is no concrete plan put into place. Just having a muscle-bound guy on their side seems to be the entire strategy to taking over the world, vaguely, sometime soon. He is also said to have the power to make all the other vampires daywalkers, although again we don't know how this is done - what's the process, what is needed, when will this come to pass? The film assumes that by simply stating it they can make it so, and they are mistaken.
But what about the big Federal Task Force and the huge manhunt that should put barriers in front of Blade's war with the vampires? Forget about it. Once the Nightstalkers show up, the film drops them entirely and never mentions them again until the final two minutes of the film. They were merely there to distract the audience and put Blade in a position where he would need to be rescued. Pathetic.
And "pathetic" is a good word to use in regards to this sequel. The film is a diminishing return in every way. Let's start with Blade himself. In the first two films, he exuded cool and confidence. He could effectively lay the smack down and deliver a good one liner. He wasn't just brawn, he was personality - a dark and brooding hero that would send Batman crying home to his momma. Here, Blade is a shadow of his former self and it isn't intentional. He fights but all the tricks seem to be gone, all his moved cribbed from the last two films. Snipes used to look like he was having a lot of fun with the role. Here he just looks tired and a little bored. Remember the pathos that was injected into the Blade character - how Blade always struggled to keep his vampiric bloodlust in check while fighting the good fight? There is none of that this time around. Someone even tosses him an inhaler which he can hit off of when he's feeling under the weather, thus re-invigorating him. Blade's most interesting trait, his internal conflict between good and evil has been reduced to a nasty case of asthma. Blade's once-snappy dialogue is almost non-existent as all the so-called "funny" lines are given to Ryan Reynolds.
And let's talk about Reynolds. In film filled with bad ingredients, he's the worst. He's like a gnat in this film, always there, always buzzing around making noise. He is supposed to be a muscular hero but he fails in this miserably. When it comes to action, Reynolds is more Chevy Chase than Steve McQueen. His attempts at humor are absolutely horrible, perfectly suitable for another lame National Lampoon production where the bar is set close to the bottom, but unwelcome here. Remember the great dialogue from Wesley Snipers and Kris Kristofferson in previous installments. Or even Stephen Dorff's Denis Leary-esque villain of the first film? We've sunk a long way since then. The idea of humor here is when Reynolds warns a room of vampires, "I ate a lot of garlic and I just farted. Silent but deadly." Worst bit of dialogue all year. Midway through the film, Reynolds runs out of bad jokes and just resorts to saying "fuck" over and over again.
The villains are no better, ranging from the bothersome to the boring. And the dullest one of all is Purcell in the role of Drake. When Buffy fought Dracula, there were a few good laughs. But the confrontation was pretty anti-climactic and far from the battle royale one would expect. So it is here, but without the humor. Why should we be threatened by this guy? He hardly looks like someone we should be afraid of. Drake has the appearance of The Rock's Number One Fan. His facial expression rarely changes from that blank, somewhat amused stare. This Dracula is a wooden and non-threatening himbo, not the destroyer of worlds.
Drake has henchmen of course, and actually it's hard to tell who is in charge. After all, the other vamps basically resurrected him to do their bidding and make their own aspirations come true. No matter how much respect they feign for him, nothing can hide that fact. A smarter film would have explored this, but this is not a smart film.
The showiest of the bunch is Danica Talos (Parker Posey). Mark your journals everyone. This is the first time we can honestly say that Posey, winner of various indie film awards, turns in an absolutely horrendous performance. We've seen warning signs of this before. While Posey can turn in great performances in films such as HENRY FOOL and THE HOUSE OF YES, she is absolutely wasted in mainstream crap like YOU'VE GOT MAIL and THE SWEETEST THING. The only mainstream film that has really allowed her to show off her talents is the underrated JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS. This however makes the first time where one could honestly say her part was very much in the foreground and it's horrible anyway. As Talos, Posey's idea of evil is to wear a permanent sneer, strut around and throw temper tantrums. Once again the villains prove non-threatening as Posey plays more like a spoiled brat than anyone to be feared.
Fans of pro-wrestling will note that Triple H is also in the cast. His part is for the most part, pointless and doesn't demand a lot. He does an adequate job, saying some rude comments and beating people up. So no foul there I guess, but if you were honestly expecting a virtuoso performance, I'm afraid that says more about you than the film.
I haven't mentioned Jessica Biel's part yet and you might think that she's pretty forgettable. Indeed, she isn't given much to work with. But actually, she's one of the only pleasing things in the whole film. This marks the second time in a row (the first being the TEXAS CHAINSAW remake) where she has taken a role that could have been terrible and done something good with it. She is the one character in the entire film who seems to have fully realized her character. She is saddled with tons of handicaps that she works through. A bow and arrow is not the most practical weapon to use, even if some of the tips are explosive. The benefits of such a contraption are purely cosmetic. And why have her download a playlist of MP3s before going into battle? Why to create a promotional tie-in for both the iPod Mini and the BLADE: TRINITY soundtrack, why else (While we're on the subject, I wish slow and painful death to whoever sampled The Velvet Underground's "Venus In Furs" into another mediocre rap song.)? Still, she works through most of this if not with miraculous results, at least enough to make us want to see more of her.
The worst atrocities in BLADE: TRINITY exist behind the camera and are the fault of someone who should know better, David S. Goyer. This is the same person who wrote the first two scripts and thus was largely responsible for the original spin contained therein. This time out, the story feels uneven and unimportant. It's a film about conspiracies where we never learn the conspiracy. It's a film that pits Blade against the humans only to drop the humans. It's a film where the once powerful vampires now come across like schoolyard bullies with a few lawyers on the payroll. While BLADE II seemed a natural progression from the original, the third installment seems rushed and unnecessary. It makes no attempt to build on the vampire mythos. And of the original's originality? Don't make me laugh. In a film that is supposedly the ultimate culmination in the BLADE trilogy, the once intriguing secret war between Blade and the vampires is eventually reduced to a cliched mission to rescue a sniveling brat.
When Goyer is strapped for anything remotely entertaining, he piles on the comic relief. And that is a route he goes for quite a bit. It's practically the SUPERMAN III of the BLADE franchise. Vampire dogs are introduced for no reason at all. We are given lots of scenes with Reynolds and/or Posey strutting around doing nothing but a tired routine. We are forced to sit through pointless scenes like one in which Drake enters a vampire fetish shop and takes out his frustrations on the commercialization of his image. Hey, that's an interesting touch, let's move on from there. The idea of a world that has stopped believing in real monsters, in a world that has instead commercialized them by corporations which in many ways are sneakier and hence more monstrous than the monsters themselves? Why, that would be great! Oh wait, the film doesn't go there. It's just a scene given for comic relief... again. Oh well...
But if Goyer's writing is painful, his direction is a disaster. It's his first time in the director's chair and it shows. Just over a month ago, Don Mancini, the longtime screenwriter of the CHILD'S PLAY movies made his directoral debut with SEED OF CHUCKY and proved himself to be very sluggish behind the camera. It's the same thing here except while I enjoyed CHUCKY's rampant political incorrectness (Wanna make something of it?), we've already mentioned that there isn't a strong story to boost the film up.
Goyer directs with a bland eye. When he needs to spice up an action sequence or one of many montages, he resorts to effects used in countless music videos and car commercials. There is the standard shutter cam for the fight scenes and lots of dramatic slow motion shots of people walking towards the camera. The first two films also had their share of pointlessly showy camera work, but in this third installment nothing can inject life into the standard screenplay. Goyer's direction is not a complete loss. A few early action sequences actually manage to entertain. But so many scenes go south that when he pulls it off, we aren't so much impressed by his skill as we are thankful he didn't drop the ball once again.
It should be noted that there have been rumors of a troubled production. This includes Snipes making diva-like demands which included approval over every shot. We don't know if this is true, but it should be noted if it is. It's hard to make anything worthwhile in a creative vacuum.
It's very surprising that cinematographer Gabriel Beristain held the same duties on the gorgeous BLADE II. That film had lots of cool neons, bathing scenes in amber light and exploiting every shadow in others. I can't explain why Beristain decided to a complete 180 this time around, but it didn't work. The color scheme this time out is to drain some of the color from most, but not all, sequences. He then overexposes the negative so everything comes out bright. None of this makes much difference since most of the structures are whites and greys anyway. It just makes the whole film look dull. Forget ambition. $65 million budget aside, this comes dangerously close to looking like one of those low-budget Dimension hack-jobs, typically the kind that goes straight to video.
This film either made me feel especially bothered or exceptionally elitist and I'm not sure which. Much as I tried not to, I found myself venting some of my emotional frustrations in the one direction such feelings never go to... the audience. The reason is that despite all my protests, I could hear laughter in the theatre. I heard people as they exited saying the film was fun. Worse yet, I heard that it was a horror sequel so what were they expecting, something wonderful?
Yes! The first two BLADE films were so much better than they should have been. They could have easily been by-the-numbers comic book adaptations but instead they came fueled with energy and creativity - a wild mix of comic book heroes and villains, wild kung fu fights, an interesting horror-tinged storyline and characters that you honestly cared about. BLADE: TRINITY represents the fatal step the filmmakers avoided the first couple go-rounds, and yes it's very disheartening. This is a film so much less than its pedigree that I was filled with a sense of self-righteousness. I wanted to scream at the crowd, "People, don't be suckered in by this derivative trash. Everyone involved is capable of something better. And better is what you deserve. It's what we all deserve! Do not stand idly by as films continued to get dumbed down more and more. You have a right to entertained without being patronized. You have a right not to be coddled with lame comic relief. You have a right to recapture what was once so magnificent the earlier films you rightly look upon with fond memories This does not compete and you know it. It's trash, I tell you!" It should be noted that I may have just been working on too little sleep.
But unless you watch this film with the cloudiest of blinders on, it can make a cynic out of anyone. It's filled with too much comedy, not enough action and a poor excuse for horror. If you're a fan of Blade, you should know Blade is practically a footnote here. There is very little of what we know and love left in the old guy. He is around mainly to serve as a foil for the younger, prettier Nightstalkers.
They say BLADE: TRINITY is the last in a trilogy, but I wouldn't believe it. There is significant room left for sequels and possible spin-offs. If they do decide on expanding the franchise, I have some advise on a fourth BLADE film. First, wait a few years. Let a really good, original idea take shape and cultivate that into a good, solid screenplay. Remember what made the first two installments seem worthy of more to begin with, but keep an eye on how to expand the universe further. I even have your first scene for you: We fade in to the final moments of BLADE: TRINITY. Suddenly, Blade wakes up in a cold sweat. "Thank God it was all a dream."