Blade Trinity (2004)

The script for this third entry into the Blade franchise was written by David S. Goyer, who had already written the script for the previous two films. This time around, however, he also directed the film. That would be of little note, were it not for the fact that this shoot has become legendary for the infamous deterioration of the working relationship between Goyer and his star (and producer) Wesley Snipes, to the point where the director and his leading man were only communicating via hand-written notes.

 

Like the previous two films, Blade Trinity is a stylised action film based on an interesting but simple plot. In this case, the new “big bad” Blade faces is the creature the Dracula myth has been based on (according to the lore of the film). Facing down this ancient vampire, Blade gets some help from a young group of hunters, the Nightstalkers, but he has little confidence in them and is not entirely happy he has to work with them.

 

When it comes to our anti-hero and his side-kick, this film is no departure from the previous course of the franchise, so there is little to say about the roles and performances of either Snipes (Blade) or Kristofferson (Whistler). They do what they did in the previous two films.

The vampires in this film are somewhat pale. The Dracula character is interesting, and actor Dominic Purcell does a good job in the role, but he is not given much to work with. His character gets no meaningful back-story, and his motivations stay vague. The leading vampires who teamed up with him are not very well developed as characters, and the scheme they are allegedly working on is never really explained. Callum Keith Rennie and Paul Levesque do a fine job here, but are underused. The most prominent vampire in this group is played by Parker Posey, and she employs a ridiculous accent and is giving a whole new meaning to the word “overacting” (although this might not be her fault but a choice by the director). And given that we learn little about these vampires’ grand scheme, and that all three of them appear rather incompetent, Posey’s overacting and accent are simply two of a number of issues that mean that you never take these vampires seriously or perceive them as a real threat.

On the side of the Nightstalkers, we have similar problems. Most of the second-tier characters are mere decorative pieces, whose character properties seem to have been picked off a white-board at a brainstorming session (the blind single mother who is well versed in science and computers; the nerdy weapons’ expert, the black car nut), and while the acting is good, each of the actors gets more or less only one short scene in the limelight. Which is a shame, because underusing Patton Oswalt is almost a crime.

The two leaders of the group fare better. Not that I would call them well-rounded characters, but at least the actors are given the screen-time to do something with their roles. Jessica Biel convinces as the dedicated vampire slayer, both physically and in terms of her performance (which might be the best in the film), although the writing tells us too little about her. Ryan Reynolds has a character with a decent back-story, and he convinces in the action sequences, but his acting choices (possibly also the fault of the director) and his delivery mean that his quippy lines, which are often unnatural anyway, stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a shame, because most things about this character should work, but the delivery ruins a lot of it. It is, however, not merely an acting and directing problem, but also a writing problem. Because apart from the delivery, there a numerous other aspects why the “funny lines” Reynolds is given do not work. They are often coming without real motivation, are coming seemingly out of nowhere, and are not really connected to anything that is said before or after. The comedic non-sequiturs provide no real interaction with any of the other characters, and they often do not fit tone of film. In short, they feel shoehorned in.

 

No matter how much Snipes sabotaged the production with his antics (and I believe Patton Oswalt has a lot to say about this in interviews, podcasts, and stand-up routines), when it comes to the tonal difficulties the buck stops with Goyer, the writer, and Goyer, the director.

Both Posey’s and Reynolds’s performances are symptomatic of a problem with Goyer’s approach to this film: the film tries to be “self-aware”. Other such elements are the cut&paste Nightstalkers members and the quippy and short-thrift way in which the Nightstalkers are introduced by way of a “self-aware” exposition; as well as the infamous scene with the Goth shop and the Dracula vibrators.

The problem with such a “self-aware” approach is that, if you fail to pull it off 100%, you end up with a bit of a tonal mess. And that is pretty much what happened with Blade Trinity.

 

Visually, the film is a mixed bag. Some of the ideas are good. For example, having the final battle take place in a multi-storey building with lots of open spaces and glass floors, etc., gives that battle a nice three-dimensional component. Negative things include fake-looking clouds of CG-blood that seem to have been edited in to some of the fist-fights – practical effects would have been the much better choice. And then there’s also the silly appearance of CG vampire dogs and the over-ambitious design of the “big bad”; although both are influenced by an idea of the second film, so are – in a way – justified.

 

The film also has a number of good elements and ideas. The attempt (though botched, one might argue) to rejuvenate the franchise by including the Nightstalkers was certainly a valid idea. And acting-wise there is at least one (very minor) supporting character that is joy to watch: a celebrity psychologist played by John Michael Higgins.

The film’s most interesting idea might be the fact that the vampires’ tactics against Blade include a PR-war, using “fake news”, videos that are designed to steer public opinion, and interviewees that aim to distract. This is a very interesting angle, and one that feels especially relevant today.

 

So, in spite of all its problems in writing, acting and tone, Blade Trinity is an absolutely fine vampire action film with a number of interesting elements, high production values, and enjoyable fight scenes. It is undoubtedly the weakest film in the franchise, but for me the gap between those films is not all that huge and Trinity still qualifies for a 6-out-of-10 rating. And given Patton Oswalt’s account of the troubled production and on-set shenanigans, it is a miracle the film still turned out to be as solid as it did.

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