Monday, August 10, 2009

“I think someone wants to talk about vampires.”

At last we reach the end of our current vampire slaying romp with Wesley Snipes. In 2004, series writer David S. Goyer stepped up to take the helm of the franchise for Blade Trinity. The film looked at is the “extended, unrated” cut on the DVD (if you care about that) which runs about 122 minutes. Let’s see how it stacks up to the first two.

A group of vampires seek out the great granddaddy of their race to try and put a stop to that pesky dhampir that keeps killing them. Before that can happen though, the vampires try and neutralize the Daywalker by setting him up to kill a mortal familiar of the vampires in a very public way to get the law breathing down his neck. Captured, our hero is rescued by a band of young vampire hunters called the Nightstalkers. Things escalate as both sides try and find some kind of “final solution” to the war between them.

Blade: Wesley Snipes plays the sociopathic half-vampire once more. While he still has the look and the movies for killing vampires and all that, some of that fire he had in the first two movies is missing. Maybe its because Blade is once again forced to work with a large team of characters that vie for the spotlight. Maybe its because he now plays the mentor figure to a young vampire slayer. He does get some cool lines (he gives a gravely “koochie-koo” to a baby he just rescued) as well as his only real emotional outburst in the entire trilogy after his safe house goes up in smoke along with his mentor. Its surprisingly effective as a character moment.

Whistler: Kris Kristofferson once more, but he doesn’t last very long in the film before he goes kablooey and dies again (for real this time. At least until they make another movie) when the feds storm Blade’s safe house. That’s a shame, since he doesn’t get much of a chance to be the surly badass we’ve come to know and love.

Danica Talos: Parker Posey is the more or less mastermind to put down Blade this time. A pretty, spoiled “rich bitch” its her idea to find the very first vampire so that he can take down Blade once and for all. She doesn’t do a bad job of things, but after the first two movies, she just doesn’t seem quite as interesting as the main villains of those films.

Asher Talos: Danica’s brother, played by Callum Keith Rennie. He’s…her brother, defers to her leadership…and that’s about it.

Jarko Grimwood: Paul Levesque, better known as Triple H, as Danica’s metal-fanged hulking enforcer with a pet Pomeranian. A vampire Pomeranian. Yes, he’s a wrestler, but he’s not bad as the bad guys’ big guy, gets some fun lines, and has a pretty cool brawl at the end of the film. Out of the villains, he seems to get the most mileage out of his characterization.

Abigail Whistler: Jessica Biel plays Whistler’s heretofore unknown illegitimate daughter, which works about as well as it sounds like it should. After Whistler’s death, Blade takes her under his wing, since she’s the last legacy of his dead mentor. She’s pretty good in a fight and really good with a compound bow (which, having taken archery as a kid, I find Jessica Biel drawing back a bow extraordinarily hot). Sadly, she doesn’t get a whole lot of good dialog and the whole “Whistler’s unknown daughter that he trained in vampire slaying but never once thought to mention to his star pupil” thing just doesn’t work out. Also, the movie loves the idea that she loads up her iPod (product placement!) with music for when she hunts. Its not a very good slot for a character trait, but the film keeps trying to hammer home how badass it is when she puts the earbuds in, like shit’s about to get real. Its…very difficult to take that seriously.

Hannibal King: Ryan Reynolds pretty much steals the show here as the smartassed former familiar and ex-boyfriend of Danica Talos. The character was drawn from the comics, but I don’t think that that version of King was as cavalier with the quips. Regardless, he gets the best dialog, does the best delivery, and chews every scene he’s in. Easily the best character in the movie, he gets major badass points for intentionally pissing off Blade at every chance, wearing a bull’s-eye on the back of his bullet proof vest (and a tasteful “Hello, my name is Fuck You” on the front), and for endlessly taunting the vampires when he gets injured, and later captured. Rather than break or stay silent, he just keeps jawing off to his ex, no matter how many times he gets smacked around.

Drake: Dominic Purcell (the guy from Prison Break) is the first vampire, the one people called Dracula and so on. An ancient evil, dug up in the Fertile Crescent to solve the problem of Blade, he’s a rather disappointing character, largely on account of being a jumble of things. He’s an ancient shape shifter, has a mouth that can open up like the reapers in the second film, and can walk around in daylight without ill effects (which, okay, Bram Stoker’s Dracula could do that). He’s also presented as a kind of uber-predator and a proud warrior guy at the same time, and for some reason the first vampire’s natural form is a demonic, chitinous cousin to that dude from Legend. I have a problem with this, since the second movie clearly established that vampirism in this series was some kind of virus. What virus mutates a human into a chitin-armored demon shape shifter??? It doesn’t make sense. We’ve had one writer for the entire trilogy, so I mean, what was he thinking when it came to that? Was it supposed to look cool and imposing? Was it studio meddling? Anyway, Drake gets one pretty cool scene where he’s wandering around town and enters something like an independent Hot Topic that stocks nothing but Dracula merchandise (Dracola, Drac plushies, Drac vibrators). Watching him stare in absolute confusion at all the bizarre merch they made out of his name was pretty funny.

Hedges: Comedian Patton Oswalt, the guy who voiced the main character in Ratatouille, is the replacement tech guy and, well, he’s a pale shadow of Whistler. Hell, he’s even a pale shadow of the chain smoking Scud.

Sommerfield: So, the nerdy brains of the Nightstalkers, the one who comes up with some kind of genetic bomb to kill vampires is a blind woman with a little kid named Zoe. This wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily, except the Nightstalkers also never bothered to think that perhaps putting the blind woman on monitor duty might not be the best idea. Also, I think she wears high heels at some point near the end, which, I don’t want to sound insensitive, doesn’t sound like a safe footwear choice for a blind person trying to find out if there’s an intruder in the place… Well, you get the point. Basically her death is there to give Abigail’s character a traumatic rude awakening and fuel her desire for vengeance.

Dr. Edgar Vance: A psychologist who examines Blade after the cops catch him. Its actually a pretty funny scene since it goes about as well you’d think, and the guy voiced Mentok, the Mind Taker on Harvey Birdman. Just thought I’d share.

Let’s see, the special effects are largely good. Dying vampires are more incendiary than in the last film, the reaper-faced dogs are well done, and that cool but impractical UV arc thing is suitably cool and useful in exactly two combat situations. Drake’s true form isn’t very good. The full body costume is okay for what it is, but just that. This is supposed to be the Big Bad Vampire, the cloth from which all other bloodsuckers are supposedly cut, and its not impressive and difficult to take seriously.

For a directorial debut, David Goyer has some good things going and some bad things. The good includes being pretty good at framing a shot, letting the action scenes speak for themselves without an over reliance on quick cuts and close ups. The lighting isn’t anything terrible, but nor is it nearly as atmospheric as the first two films.

The worst thing the film does visually is the preposterous number of slow motion slowdowns. While the fight scenes largely avoid that nonsense, you could easily make a drinking game out of this movie whenever a character jumps, is running or whatever other scene the filmmakers feel needs extra DRAMA. You could probably shave off a few minutes of film if the slow-mo stuff was removed. Occasional slow-mo is okay, using it this much knocks you out of the suspension of disbelief.

It wouldn’t be a Blade movie without David Goyer writing the script. Credit is again given to Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan for creating the Daywalker. It still feels like a Blade movie, but, well, something’s wrong. The second movie bordered on the line of “too many characters to juggle,” but that was mostly the Bloodpack, and most of them died in action anyway. This one pretty much replaces the Bloodpack with the Nightstalkers, but the support team gets, depending on your mood, either not enough time to endear you to them, or too much time on screen which sucks away development of more important characters. Interestingly, the “Nightstalkers” themselves were an actual team in comics in the early 90s featuring a trio of Blade, Hannibal King and some guy named Frank Drake. The movie version works better as a power trio. Whistler getting killed off for real this time doesn’t really have any bearing on the plot, its just an excuse for Blade to “need” the new kids, and to give Abigail some gravitas.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some interesting ideas presented. The vampire “final solution” is just creepy when you think about it (and see it). Watching Blade interact unsuccessfully with human society is a nicely done way to show you just how outside the normal he is. The network of vampire slayers laying low across the world in little cells fighting a guerilla war in the shadows is also kind of cool. There’s definitely some fun stuff in there, but the whole doesn’t equal the sum of its parts.

Music’s appropriate and good for what its supposed to do here. Original music by Ramin Djawadi and the RZA, along with yet more hip-hop and techno that helps drive action scenes forward.

Blade Trinity is, in the final estimation, nowhere near as good as the first two. Its still fun, but filmmaking and storytelling choices show that the franchise is losing steam. It doesn’t run out of gas, but by the end, I realized that, while we’ve had our fun with these movies, and much fun was indeed had, its time is passed, Blade’s story is told, let’s move on, before the franchise loses all footing and slips down the slippery slope of franchise decay.

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