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Blade: Trinity   C

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Davis S. Goyer
Writer: David S. Goyer
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Parker Posey, Dominic Purcell, Triple H, Natasha Lyonne.

Review by Rob Vaux

More than any comic-book franchise, the Blade films are dependent upon their leading man. Though other creative forces make their presence known (particularly in Guillermo del Toro's superior second installment), this has always been The Wesley Snipes Show. The title vampire hunter is a custom fit for Snipes' on-screen presence, and the actor clearly relishes every chance to indulge in his character's badassery. It's telling, then, that the third Blade film forces him to share the stage with a pair of newcomers -- suggesting that there wasn't enough to fill 90 minutes unless they tacked on some gimmicks and diversions.

That being said, the gimmicks and diversions have their share of charms. Once again, Blade is pitted against the legions of undead who control an unknowing mortal world through proxies and minions. He's armed with plenty of high-tech toys from his craggy partner Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), which the film has fun trundling out. The gadgets have always been a staple of this series, and director David S. Goyer -- who's been Blade's screenwriter since the beginning -- finds some keen new ways to update traditional vampiric banes into the 21st century. The best is a sort of gigantic cheese cutter married to a lightsaber, though the more pedestrian UV bullets and jet-black muscle cars carry plenty of effects-laden punch as well.

On a more human level, the new sidekicks are eminently watchable. Realizing that he can't operate alone, Blade reluctantly teams up with the Night Stalkers, a group of fellow hunters whose principal members gobble up an inordinate amount of screen time. Their function in the film is obvious: Whistler's bow-toting daughter Abigail (Jessica Biel) is there for sex appeal, while the wise-cracking ex-bad guy Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds) provides comic relief. And they do those jobs as well as anyone. Biel is, um, healthy, and while Reynolds often comes across as unduly smug, he possesses fine comic timing and hoards the lion's share of the best lines.

And yet, if they're such strong additions to the proceedings, why do they feel like more of a distraction than an asset? Perhaps it's because so much of the rest of the film is running on fumes. The vampires themselves lack the rotting magnificence of del Toro's villains, content instead to sneer a lot and make the usual vague proclamations of doom. Their centerpiece is the ancient founder of the vampire race (Dominic Purcell), a Mesopotamian strongman known as Drake who's gone by other similar-sounding names over the centuries. As a threatening presence, he's merely adequate: not so much bad as supremely predictable. So too, do the action scenes and overall thrust feel overly familiar. Goyer keeps the pacing up, but cribs a great deal from earlier films and offers little new beyond the nifty weapons and some arch humor. The fights are decent, but unremarkable save for the fact that they hold our attention. In light of that, the new characters are essentially Band-Aids, covering up the otherwise stale expectations of New Line's naked franchising.

But the final proof of the pudding comes in the simple fact that we don't see nearly enough of Snipes. He's in good shape here, aging but still possessing the right combination of physical grace and snarling charisma to keep us engaged. In too many scenes, however, he's competing with Biel and Reynolds for his due share of the spotlight. At times, the movie shifts completely away from him, relegating Blade to the sidelines while the other kids play in his sandbox. Had he struck better chemistry with his co-stars -- or had they not had such emphasis placed upon them -- he might have pulled us through on force of personality alone. The Blade films kick-started Marvel's line of adaptations, bucking the odds by becoming the first in that pantheon to achieve a breakout hit. But if Blade himself can't carry a movie with his own name on it, then perhaps the time has come to hang up the stakes for good.

Review published 12.07.2004.

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