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Undeadpool: A Look Back at Marvel's First R Franchise

By Joe Starr | Marvel Movies | February 8, 2016 |

By Joe Starr | Marvel Movies | February 8, 2016 |

Deadpool drops this week, and while rumors fly about how exactly it fits into Fox’s X Universe, one thing is for certain: it will have a lot of bad words in it. It will also have a lot of blood. Bad words, blood…maybe boobs? Will Deadpool go for the R-Rated EGOT of bad words, blood, and boobs?

(In the R-Rated EGOT, the letters all stand for words that start with B)

I have to admit, I am more than a little curious about Marvel’s return to R-rated territory, because the first time they took a trip to the ‘no kids without an adult’ world it was, for lack of a better word, pretty fucking awesome.

I’m talking, of course, about 1998’s Blade. Blade is a very important superhero movie. Not only is it responsible for 17 movies worth of Kate Beckinsale in a leather jumpsuit, but this movie’s runaway success sparked the inspiration for Marvel’s movie division and the eventual greenlighting of Iron Man. It hammered home X Men and Spider-Man as sure things. On the Distinguished Competition side, it made David Goyer a go-to guy for comic book films, making him instrumental not only in the early stages of Iron Man, but in the Nolan Batman films as well. And…Man of Steel. Eh, you either die a hero or live long enough to become a villain.

Actually, let’s pump the brakes. If we’re going to talk Blade, let’s do it with the proper soundtrack.

Much better. Now you’re in the mood to talk Blade AND play laser tag. Let’s do it.

Starting with the obvious: Blade is awesome, and aside from a few bits of bad CGI, this movie is still super watchable. This is easily one of my top 3 ‘oh, this movie is on? We had better just sit and watch it then’ movies. The story of a vampire/human hybrid hunting Gadzooks and Hot Topic-sponsored bloodsuckers, with the help of his buddy Kris Kristofferson, has everything you need in a hard R vigilante superhero movie: cool fights, one liners, and career MVP Donal Logue chewing scenery like he hadn’t eaten in years.

The first Blade movie was timed perfectly. It landed in that weird few months of the late 90s where everyone loved wearing black and listening to house music. It felt timely and new- we hadn’t seen a movie that opens with a douchey club guy being led into a blood rave held in the back of a meat packing plant. We probably didn’t even realize we needed one until we were watching it.

The clothes, the tone, the emphasis on the soundtrack: these are all major ingredients in the Blade serum, but the crucial element is Blade himself: Wesley Snipes. He’s perfect in this movie. It’s tough to tell where Blade stops and Snipes begins. If you had any interest in arguing ‘Marvel’s most perfect casting,’ I’d be happy to throw the ‘Snipes as Blade’ card onto the table next to RDJ’s Iron Man and Jackman’s Wolverine.

And yes, Snipes is apparently a crazy person, but honestly? Whoooo caaaaaares? He’s awesome in almost everything he’s in, and Blade is the master class of Wesley Sniping.

Blade II ups the ante by bringing in director Guillermo Del Toro to tell the tale of Blade being forced to work with the vampires to hunt a creature that hunts vampires and humans alike. Looking back, it’s a pretty awesome ensemble for a comic book movie. I don’t know about you guys, but the elevator pitch of ‘Blade teams up with Ron Perlman, Donnie Yen, and Daryl from The Walking Dead’ is more than enough to get me interested.

The movie’s tone is bleak and scary, and really benefits from Del Toro’s mastery of on-camera world-building. Unfortunately, it also suffers from a bit of Del Toro’s ball-dropping, and ends up missing the mark a bit. I mean it’s good, but come on: ‘Blade and Donnie Yen fight vampire-eating vampires’ should be an easy home run.

Which leads us to Blade: Trinity. Let’s be honest: this movie is kind of a disaster, but with strokes of brilliance sprinkled throughout. Some of that brilliance is of the ‘so bad it’s hilariously great’ variety, and some of it is legit.

On the ‘So Bad It’s Great’ list, we have indy darling Parker Posey, doing her best Stephen Dorff impression as the film’s big bad. “It’s the day we kill Blade, ya’ll!” WWE wrestler Triple H as a massive ass-kicking vampire who mostly wears tucked-in polos? Check. A very unscary Dracula who has decided to call himself Drake and looks like a frat guy trying to fit in by talking about ‘The Prodigys’ at his first rave? He’s here. The amount of work it looks like Kristofferson has had done on his face since the last movie? Terrifying.

But there’s plenty of legit great in this movie, too. There’s the stories of Wesley Snipes only communicating via post-it note and signing them ‘from Blade.’ Because fuck yes, Wesley Snipes is an awesome, crazy person who hates taxes and bless him for it. There’s also the introduction of a separate vampire-hunting cell fronted by Jessica Biel. And you know what? The fact that she totally has to listen to her ‘MP3s’ (it’s so weird that this movie is somehow more dated than the first one) while she fights is so ridiculous I am embracing it as awesome. It’s the natural evolution of a franchise that opened with a blood rave.

Of course, the most important part of Blade: Trinity (for the sake of this article) is the introduction of wisecracking ex vampire Hannibal King, played by a collection of beard and abs known to the world as Ryan Reynolds. A spinoff franchise about Reynolds and Biel was apparently not in the cards in 2004, but the world seemed to really like the idea of Van Wilder killing people with swords, cracking smug one liners and dropping eff bombs enough to put it on the backburner and let it percolate for a decade.

Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out what that ‘sugar frosted fuck’ line means, too.

One of the coolest things about Blade is the fact that the superhero that launched the comic book film arms race was a black guy. Listen to any argument you’ve ever heard about how a movie with a non-white male lead is a box office risk, and remember that Blade is the reason that these movies are getting made in the first place. This movie always sticks out in my head when the conversation about the importance of representation comes up- more specifically, of a joke from LA comedian Ed Greer, that I’m going to paraphrase and butcher, so you should absolutely follow him on Twitter and get it from the source. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Blade. I have never seen someone soooo black kill so many people that were sooo white and have a room full of people cheering him on.”

Time will tell if Blade returns to the screen- in my opinion you can drop that trilogy directly into the Marvel Universe. It totally fits, especially with the darker Netflix shows. I really want to see Daredevil tangle with Wesley Snipes. And sure, it’s been awhile since Blade came out, but so what? It’s taken ten years for the dream of Ryan Reynolds graduating from supporting character, with swords, who makes dick jokes to leading man, with swords, who makes dick jokes to come true. So why not bring back Blade, the MCU’s first and fucking raddest R-Rated black superhero?

In the words of the day-walking badass himself,

Yeah I don’t know what it means, either. But holy fuck, it’s cool.