Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Blade: Trinity

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 December 2004 at Regal Clark's Pond #1 (first-run)

Getting back to something's roots is generally thought of as a good thing, but that may not be the case for New Line's Blade franchise. Part of the problem is that the general public considers Blade's roots to be the first movie, while screenwriter/director David Goyer is all too aware that Blade was a comic book character first.

Not that there was a "Blade" comic before the success of the first movie; the character first appeared in a 1970s horror series named "Tomb of Dracula". It's a clever reference when the movie starts with vampire archeologists uncovering said resting place; less so when one character actually whips out a copy of the series' first issue. But comics are Goyer's thing (in addition to the Blade movies, he also did scripts for Hellboy and Batman Begins, with The Flash in development), and a couple of the sillier comic tropes get some use: Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristoferson) gets the Jean Grey "For Crying Out Loud, Is He Dead Again" Award, and his daughter Abigail (Jessica Biel) places in the Green Arrow "Seriously, The Compound Bow Is The Best Weapon For Urban Combat Ever" category. Wacky ideas about evolution abound.

The latter is kind of disappointing, since one of the good things Trinity mostly retains from its predecessors is the idea of taking a supernatural story concept such as vampires and placing it in a science-fictional context. Neither the humans nor vampires are terribly interested in musty books or prophecies; the vampire hunters are more likely to genetically engineer a virus to take the bloodsuckers out. That the science used is chuckle-inducing is somewhat forgivable, since the science-over-superstition theme is a good one that deserves to appear in better movies.

So what goes wrong? Well, there's the cast. Or, more specifically, the performances.

After the movie ended, it was not hard to imagine a day early on during shooting when Ryan Reynolds looked around, realized he could walk away with the movie and nobody else would offer any resistance. Wesley Snipes, for all anybody can tell behind his dark glasses, could very well be sleepwalking. Jessica Biel doesn't seem to have much to do other than stand around with her bow, looking good; maybe she'll be Jennifer Garner when she grows up. Parker Posey angrily chews scenery as the villainous mastermind, perhaps distressed over what a once promising career has come to. Dominic Purcell goes the "too full of himself to be truly malevolent" route as Drake. Natasha Lyonne has a lifeless extended cameo as a blind geneticist. They're in a movie about vampires, but aside from Posey and Reynolds, they might as well be zombies.

Ah, Ryan Reynolds. The character he plays, Hannibal King, was more noteworthy for his iron will than his smart mouth in Tomb of Dracula (King was a "vampire detective" who resisted the urge to drink blood or use his vampiric powers), but here is written to Reynolds's strengths. Sort of "what if Berg from Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place was a badass vampire hunter?" He gets just about every good line in the screenplay and delivers them in sarcastic, laid-back style. This could be the part that makes him a movie star in the way that Van Wilder didn't. It's an entertaining performance, but is it a Good Thing for a comic sidekick to so completely dominate an action movie?

Ultimately, these weaknesses have to be laid at Goyer's feet. He's not a bad screenwriter, but his work here suggests that he does his best work with a strong collaborator. Snipes, if you remember, was pretty darn good in the first two Blade movies, but offers nothing in this one. Same with the rest of the cast. He also seems to subscribe to the premise that anything is cool when you film it in slow-motion; there are actually two shots of Abigail putting her headphones on, because she likes to listen to MP3s as she dispatches the undead. It's comical. The action scenes also don't have the same zing as they did in the first movie (it doesn't help that Drake has the annoying habit of turning into a CGI monster just when things are getting good).

It's an open question how good a movie this would have been if Guillermo del Toro had directed it instead of doing Hellboy; maybe he would have been able to coax something out of Snipes, or curbed some of Goyer's fanboy tendencies. Or maybe not. At any rate, this will probably be the last Blade movie, although there's talk of spinning Reynolds and Biel off into a "Nightstalkers" movie. I must admit, I might go for that, although I'd maybe like someone else in charge of it.

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