When a film series fills a studio’s coffers and wins approval from critics and fans, its producers are often protective, making sure nothing will upset their lucrative franchise’s profitability. However, despite such safeguards, it’s almost inevitable when creative egos clash, causing irreparable harm to the series, leading to poor box office and negative responses, and suddenly the party is over. It’s an adrenaline rush not unlike a football team marching the ball down the field with precious few seconds left in the game: will they beat the clock and win, or will their heroics fall short in heartbreaking fashion? In the case of the Blade movies, the producers threw the ball into the end zone and hit the uprights, negating the play and victory.
After the financial success of Blade II, New Line executives were looking for a new director for the next installment, Blade Trinity, and screenwriter David S. Goyer, having written Blade and Blade II, campaigned successfully to take over the directorial reins. Allowing a successful, ambitious screenwriter to direct a movie isn’t new in Hollywood: guys like David Mamet, Charlie Kaufman, Christopher McQuarrie, David Koepp, and many others have advanced to the top job behind the camera with varying results. I suppose many screenwriters are wary of giving up their ideas to filmmakers who lack the same vision or are biding their time until they can become a successful writer-director hyphenate. I’m reminded of the commentary track on The Limey DVD, in which screenwriter Lem Dobbs bemoans to director Steven Soderbergh the many changes made to his script in the filming process. It’s an entertaining track, one of the best I’ve heard (the film is brilliant too), but it reminds me that many a screenwriter is insecure about their precious “children,” unwilling–or unable–to go along with the collaborative process of filmmaking. There have been many directors who have circumvented the screenplay, ignoring or downplaying the importance of a screenplay as a blueprint, opting for what they believe to be a superior vision (I’m looking at you, Mr. Altman!). But there are many directors who respect the screenwriter’s vision. If you want your screenplay to exist onscreen unfettered, you’d better secure your director’s chair. I marvel at the dedication and multi-tasking a director needs in order to create a coherent film: guiding a multi-million-dollar production along with little delay seems intensely stressful to me (I wouldn’t be able to manage the craft-services table effectively), but there are many personnel who help a director achieve their vision onscreen. In the case of Blade Trinity, having screenwriter Goyer behind the camera proved disastrous; the success of the first two Blade movies was remarkable for a little-known comics character, but Blade Trinity ensured that the adventures of the Day Walker did not continue.
It’s no secret that David Goyer and Wesley Snipes did not get along during filming: at the time of Blade Trinity’s release, Snipes refused to participate in promoting the film and there were rumors pointing to Snipes’ combative behavior, allegedly going as far as to refuse to open his eyes for a scene–CGI eyes had to be created and placed over his eyelids in post-production! Whether it’s true or not, it’s interesting to note that Snipes appeared in Goyer’s directorial debut, the indie crime drama, Zig Zag (2002), filmed after Blade II wrapped production, so I speculate that the two may have clashed if Snipes thought Goyer was out of his element as a director. Based on Blade Trinity, my theory feels justified. With the introduction of so many supporting characters who take up a lot of real estate at the expense of the titular hero, it’s understandable if Snipes was unhappy. Sharing the screen with the Bloodpack in Blade II wasn’t an issue, as their presence didn’t detract from Blade’s storyline, but the inclusion of Ryan Reynolds’ wisecracking Hannibal King and Whistler’s never-before-mentioned daughter, Abigail (a masterful mannequin impression by Jessica Biel), and their team of offbeat vampire slayers, The Nightstalkers (Carl Kolchak ought to sue for copyright infringement) drains Blade Trinity of its life force. There’s yet another cabal of nattily-dressed vampires, led by former ‘90s indie-cinema queen, Parker Posey, looking to destroy Blade once and for all–they’re in cahoots with the chief of police, a popular, smarmy TV psychologist, and the FBI! Oh yes, the principal antagonist is a kind of a big deal among vampires and their familiars: the formerly-known-as-Vlad-the-Impaler himself, Dracula. That’s a lot of characters crowding the Day Walker’s monolithic mission!
Vampire Cabal 2.0 dig up a long-slumbering Dracula in the Middle East because after the failure of resurrecting La Magra, the Blood God, in Blade, and the loss of vampire ruler Damaskinos in Blade II, they need a win on the scorecard, or at least someone to show them how to rule over humanity. Meanwhile, the FBI and local police work together to track down Blade and Whistler because Blade is uncharacteristically sloppy in letting his presence be known whilst turning vampires to ash; I’m actually surprised it took so long for law enforcement to track down a guy who runs around in sunglasses, black leather jacket, and Japanese word in hand. Kris Kristofferson’s Whistler is killed off early in the film and Blade is arrested, interrogated by the FBI, and framed by smarmy psychologist-cum-familiar, Dr. Edgar Vance (John Michael Higgins wasted in a thankless role). Enter the Nightstalkers, who free Blade from custody and show him that he’s not alone in the war against the vampires. They have new weapons, particularly a manipulated virus that will wipe out the vampires, but they lack Blade’s experience and solemnity. It’s all a bit of narrative baggage that eventually gives way to the not-so-climactic battle between Blade and Dracula. The plot does have potential on the page, but it’s Goyer’s inexperience with directing that bogs the film down with extraneous characters, missed opportunities, sloppy editing, and ill-timed attempts at humor that create an inconsistent tone. Blade Trinity, besides being a terrible title, does disservice to Wesley Snipes and his iconic role, and the blame falls solely on Goyer. If he wanted to write and direct a vampire-slaying team movie, he should have done so: the focus on the Nightstalkers pushes Blade offscreen, which is ridiculous—moviegoers paid money to see Blade!
Blade Trinity feels like a slog, despite a running length under two hours, and it’s because it’s dull. Painfully dull. After the frenetic visual delights of the first two films, Blade Trinity looks flat, filled with a muddy color palette–it feels like Goyer stuffed his film with characters and subplots to overcompensate for his limited visual skills. The climactic battle between Blade and Dracula is the most egregious example, a superhuman battle that is diluted by the muted color, drab setting (ooh, an office building!), shoddy editing, and awkward camera angles. If there’s a scene that should stand out, especially in this film series, it’s fighting the most iconic vampire of the silver screen, but Goyer demonstrates that he’s ill-equipped to handle it–I’d rather watch Vampire Pomeranian vs. Hannibal King! With a cast that includes Natasha Lyonne, James Remar, Patton Oswalt, Eric Bogosian, and Parker Posey, Blade Trinity should have been a lively affair, but again, Goyer’s leaden direction tramples any spark of life. Bogosian is a supremely talented playwright and actor, wasted in a small role as a pontificating TV talk show host; I wish he could have given Goyer some tips on how to inject some energy in many key scenes. The Nightstalkers team is a wasted opportunity, reducing a group of talented actors to little more than cameos—it’s not surprising that Dracula is able to massacre nearly the entire team because they’re so forgettable. They’re introduced and then dispatched quickly for the sake of the slow-moving plot. I’d be remiss if I didn’t get this off my chest: can we please have a moratorium on Hollywood Goths? I suspect Goyer is poking fun at cinematic Goth stereotypes with the scene of Dracula walking into a horror-themed store run by a couple of extreme Goth clichés (bloody posers) staring at a box of Count Chocula incredulously, but it’s neither funny nor necessary. Dude, I get it, your exclusive wardrobe of black tees and jeans (judging by his numerous appearances in documentaries), coupled with being weaned on The Dark Knight Returns and ‘90s Vertigo comics makes you an authority, but miring the film in tired ‘90s Goth clichés in 2004, parody or not, does you no favors.
Ryan Reynolds as wisecracking Hannibal King irritates greatly, a pastiche of Mallrats-era Jason Lee and Reynolds’ own raunchy comedy, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. In 2004, Reynolds was still a big comedy draw, so I can only assume Goyer was given studio notes along the lines of “Hey, the Blade movies are exciting and Wesley Snipes is awesome, but everything is so dark! Couldn’t you punch it up with some jokes? That Ryan Reynolds is a cut up!” I realize that Reynolds is now beloved for his metatextual Deadpool films, but in Blade Trinity, Reynolds had yet to perfect his comic timing—a couple of seasons in a pizza place with some guys and a girl in the late ‘90s wasn’t sufficient training. Oh but wait—Reynolds is also dreamy, so his muscular transformation, coupled with his jocular disposition, was a sure-fire ploy to bring in drooling Reynolds fans. I didn’t mind the inferences to Hannibal’s past relationship with Parker Posey’s vampire character, Danica Talos, but introduced near the end of the film, it’s too little, too late.
Posey was in a transformation of her own, having shifted from being part of the Hal Hartley repertory of actors and titular star of Party Girl to mockumentary star and go-to comic relief in big studio films (see also Superman Returns) in the ‘00s. Her disaffected acting style, which can be uproariously funny, doesn’t work here—I can’t tell if she’s supposed to be funny or gravely serious; I suspect she took the paycheck and amped it up (the vampire fangs don’t help), as I doubt there was little input from Goyer. Dominic Purcell is miscast badly as Dracula, from the beefy physique to the sleepy dialogue delivery. Again, Purcell’s Dracula is victim to a clichéd ‘90s fashion aesthetic and his shifts between craven killer and honorable warrior illustrate the film’s tonal issues: are we supposed to feel bad that Drac got awakened by these arrogant vampire whipper-snappers, or tremble in fear at his ancient bloodlust and ferociousness? The problem with using Dracula as a villain is that the character has already been portrayed by so many iconic actors that it’s nearly impossible for an actor to break through with a startling new interpretation (Buffy the Vampire Slayer had the exact same problem in a forgettable episode). But wait, I forgot about Jessica Biel! No, actually I didn’t. As Whistler’s daughter, she brings nothing to do an already-thankless role as an iPod-wearing vampire slayer, devoid of characterization other than a cocky hand gesture to vampires before a fight ensues. Was she listening to Evanescence? I really don’t remember—her character is that forgettable. Killing off craggy Whistler in favor of the athletic, unknown-to-us-or-Blade daughter (so much for that father-and-son dynamic) feels like the result of a studio note asking Goyer to get rid of the “geezer” for the sake of youth.
Blade Trinity isn’t a complete failure–there are some enjoyable touches, such as Goyer’s use of the arcane Esperanto language: several of the city flags in Blade’s unnamed metropolis are the green-and-white Esperanto flag and Whistler is seen speaking to a newspaper vendor in Esperanto (and not the vampire language, as many viewers assumed). There’s even a direct reference to Leslie Stevens’ 1965 Esperanto-language horror film, Incubus (hey, I wrote about that film here!): Hannibal watches it on TV while recuperating from recent battle wounds. Even if Goyer composes a shot as static as Kevin Smith, it’s still fun to watch Blade and his new friends turn vampires into smoldering ash, especially if they’re former WWE wrestling stars (Can we please have a moratorium on wrestlers on film?). And that vampire Pomeranian, Pac-Man, steals nearly every scene he’s in–the vampires’ genetic manipulations might have been disastrous, but they did create an endearing undead mascot!
Blade Trinity is a victim of success: for every box office high, there must inevitably be a reckoning, as too many behind-the-scenes actors vie for power. I might be unfair at shouldering the blame primarily on David Goyer, but as writer and director, he’s the public face of the film, the principal author, so he’s fair game. I commend him for giving a couple of talented filmmakers the blueprint for turning a little-known comic-book character into a franchise game changer, but as a hyphenate filmmaker, he squanders that good will in Blade Trinity. There is an inconsistent, choppy style at work, which is either the by-product of an inexperienced and overwhelmed filmmaker, or the victim of studio meddling, or possibly both. The end result is a disappointing mess that was rejected by moviegoers and film critics. The success of the Blade films did spur another wave of superhero films and the creation of various “cinematic universes,” for good or bad, but I’m grateful that the films opened my eyes to genre fare and not just to indecipherable arthouse fare. The adventures of the Day Walker will continue in the form of an upcoming Marvel movie from the House of Mouse, but, sadly, despite wanting to suit up again, Wesley Snipes won’t be reprising his iconic role—he passes his sword to Mahershala Ali, another fine actor who will likely be very good in the role. I’m not excited about upcoming superhero movies (Warner has ignored my pleas for a Booster Gold and Blue Beetle buddy comedy), but I will await a new Blade film with curiosity: I only hope the filmmakers realize what worked well in Blade and Blade II and avoid the problems of Blade Trinity, a film that isn’t just dull, but forgettable.