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-[Film Reviews]-, Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

‘Blade Trinity’ (2004): The Curse of the Threequel

Directed by: David S. Goyer || Produced by: Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, David S. Goyer, Lynn Harris

Screenplay by: David S. Goyer || Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Parker Posey, Natasha Lyonne, Dominic Purcell, Triple H

Music by: Ramin Djawadi, RZA || Cinematography: Gabriel Beristain || Edited by: Conrad Smart, Howard E. Smith || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 113 minutes

One of the most disappointing yet understated final installments of a Hollywood trilogy in the modern era is David S. Goyer’s Blade Trinity. The disappointing second sequel, or threequel, is a Hollywood phenomenon so common it could be defined as a feature of the industry: The Matrix Revolutions was a comedown from even the divisive Matrix Reloaded (both 2003), The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) lost much of the mojo of Stephen Sommers’ previous two films, and The Rise of Skywalker (2019) was the least of a trilogy of new Star Wars films that were, collectively, a waste of potential. Third-act letdowns are prolific in modern comic trilogies beyond Blade, too, which makes sense given how pervasive big-budget comic-adaptations are in Hollywood: The Dark Knight Rises (2012), X-Men III (2006), and Spider-Man 3 (2007) were all comedowns from their respective trilogies’ second installment peaks.

Top: Parker Posey (center left, foreground) and her vampire colleagues lack screen presence and charisma. Bottom: In the movie’s final set-piece, Wesley Snipes locks blades (pun intended) with Dominic Purcell.

What makes second sequels in trilogies so difficult to execute is a subject of ongoing debate; some explanations involve new writers, directors, or producers taking over for established filmmakers from the previous two films, while other culprits include the inherent difficulty of concluding a multi-film narrative in a logical fashion that pleases most fans. Whatever the reason for a given trilogy’s lackluster conclusion, though, even most casual moviegoers acknowledge that, while first sequels can often equal or best their predecessors (e.g. Empire Strikes Back [1980], Aliens [1986], Terminator II [1991]), second sequels almost never do (e.g. The Bourne Ultimatum [2007], War for the Planet of the Apes [2017]).

Case in point is the third original Blade film, which ended the prototypical 2000s vampire comic franchise on a sour note. The character will presumably be rebooted as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe [2008-2019], starring Mahershala Ali as of this writing (August 2021), but the grungy tone, adult language, and explicit violence of the earlier films are unlikely to return. That’s not to say that David S. Goyer, writer of all three original Blade films and director of Trinity, makes a great case for the Blade character’s cinematic merit with this 2004 film. Trinity had a troubled production, which involved its star and producer Wesley Snipes’ toxic relationship with his costars and Goyer’s role as director, among other things. The end result is a poorly paced, edited, and characterized action flick that plays as a pale imitator of its far more effective predecessors, Stephen Norrington’s original (1998) and Guillermo del Toro’s first sequel (2002).

If you’re interested in what I thought about a second Blade sequel, you know the general tonal outline and title character archetype by now: Blade (Snipes) remains a veteran, dhampir vampire-hunter trained by grizzled veteran and father-figure, Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who eliminated both an upstart vampire renegade (Stephen Dorff from Blade) with ambitions of unleashing a vampiric demon, as well as a genetically engineered race of “super” vampires (Luke Goss et al. from Blade II) immune to traditional weapons made from silver and garlic. Goyer, to his credit, wraps this third chapter with the most classical of blood-sucking villains, Dracula (Dominic Purcell), a sensible choice for Blade’s final opponent.

The film itself is a wet blanket, however, as Goyer’s inexperienced direction, Wesley’s uncooperative on-set behavior, and the supporting cast’s lack of range feel obvious throughout the final product. When minor castmembers like Parker Posey and Paul “Triple H” Levesque aren’t mishandling their cornball lines, the film lurches from one awkward action sequence to the next via stilted inter-scene edits that mangle the story’s pace and intra-scene edits that obscure much of the action’s choreography. I don’t know how many of these pacing and choreography problems are a result of Snipes’ behavior behind the scenes or Goyer’s incompetent leadership, but the end result is that Blade Trinity feels like an unfinished mess. How unceremoniously the film kills off Kristofferson (the second time his character has died in the trilogy) in the first act is the least of this film’s worries.

Most frustrating of all is the film’s use of Purcell, its main villain, as Dracula’s character design and abilities are revealed way too early and Purcell’s performance itself, far too limited for our antagonist to feel imposing or dreadful in any way. While Luke Goss’ Nomak felt more than a match for Snipes in Blade II and even Stephen Dorff’s vampiric gangster had memorable moments, Purcell has zero charisma as a graphic novel version of Dracula and his fight sequences opposite Snipes feel flat and unathletic. Given how problematic most of the cast’s performances are despite the presence of big names like Snipes, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds (his first superhero role, as a matter of fact), and Patton Oswalt, though, I suspect at least part of Purcell’s lackluster villain is a function of Goyer’s bad acting direction.

From left to right, Jessica Biel, Snipes, and Ryan Reynolds do what they can with David S. Goyer’s mediocre script and worse direction.

Blade Trinity is, to be blunt, a wet fart of a conclusion to this identifiable, otherwise charismatic action franchise that now feels like a relic of a bygone Hollywood era. The days of the straightforward, uncensored, mid-budgeted genre film are long gone, at least on the big screen, and while I don’t look forward to a watered down, PG-13 Blade remake for the Marvel Cinematic Universe crowd, it’s hard to defend the last installment of the title character’s original cinematic depiction given its failures on so many technical and storytelling levels. Unfocused pacing, dull, poorly edited action sequences, and bland performances all around make Blade Trinity a classical example of the disappointing Hollywood threequel.

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Blade’s second sequel is as much a letdown as any final installment in any major blockbuster trilogy, with its genre attributes (e.g. action sequences, special FX, monster designs, etc.) feeling more boring than fun, while its characterizations and story lack the sheer tenacity and grindhouse pulp of its franchise predecessors.

However… David Goyer’s core ideas of Blade fighting the prototypical suckhead, Dracula, as well as Blade himself being the “future” of the vampire race, are interesting.

—> NOT RECOMMENDED

? All this time, my people were trying to create a new kind of vampire when one already existed. I don’t need to survive. The future of our race rests with you. You fought with honor; I respect that. Allow me a parting gift, but remember this: Sooner or later, the thirst always wins.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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