Franchise Killers: Blade: Trinity
The original Blade came along at a time when comic book movies were deemed “too risky”. The year before, a hat trick of comic-based failure consisting of Batman and Robin, Steel and Spawn all struck out at the box office. Marvel movies weren’t cool yet, so the first Blade was sold as a low-budget vampire movie rather than the adaptation of a comic book. Blade was a decent enough hit to generate two sequels and a TV series. Writer-director David Goyer clearly had plans to carry on the Blade franchise. In fact he seemed to be using the third Blade movie to set up a series of spin-offs. But instead, Blade: Trinity killed the series and ended up with everyone embroiled in a bitter lawsuit.
The story of Blade: Trinity and in many ways the entire Blade series starts with Goyer. Goyer is a comic book geek through and through. After the Blade movies, he went on to write most of the movies based on DC Comics characters Batman and Superman. But he started off writing action movies like the Jean-Claude Van Damme flick, Death Warrant and the Van Damme-less sequel to a Van Damme flick, Kickboxer 2. At the time, a Blade movie had been in development for a while. New Line didn’t really know what to do with it, so they were thinking of doing a spoof. It was Goyer who convinced them to take the material seriously.
Goyer’s horror-action hybrid attracted Wesley Snipes to star and Stephen Norrington to direct. While Blade didn’t break any box office records, it did well enough that a sequel was released four years later. Norrington declined the opportunity to direct the sequel, so Guillermo del Toro was brought on board. Like the first film, Blade II was a modest hit despite mixed reviews. It performed well enough for New Line to greenlight a third film in the series.
When neither Norrington nor del Toro would agree to direct the third film, the door was opened for Goyer to step into the director’s chair. Goyer had made his directorial debut two years earlier with the drama Zig Zag which costarred Snipes. So it would seem that going into Blade: Trinity, Snipes and Goyer had a decent working relationship. But whatever relationship they had worked out on their previous collaborations would come crashing down while making the final Blade movie.
What caused their relationship to sour was a power struggle. Snipes was a producer on all three Blade movies and as far as he was concerned, that made him the boss. Or at least a boss. He was used to calling the shots on the Blade films. Goyer, on the other hand, was just the screenwriter on the previous films. He had less influence over the final product than the star or the directors. But for Blade: Trinity, he was the writer and the director not to mention getting a producer credit.
Consolidating the power of multiple positions, Goyer was in the driver’s seat this time. Originally, Goyer wanted to use his authority to set Blade III in a vampire apocalypse. He had tried to sell New Line on this premise for Blade II as well. But for budgetary reasons, New Line passed. Instead, Goyer came up with the idea of having Blade fight the most famous vampire of them all, Dracula. That may sound cheesy, but it does stay true to the character’s comic book roots. Blade made his first appearance in The Tomb of Dracula in 1973.
In the comic books, Blade was not a vampire. Not even a half vampire. He was a vampire slayer who worked with a group called the Nightstalkers. Hannibal King, a private detective who worked with the Nightstalkers, was actually the one with vampiric tendencies. Goyer decided to include a version of the Nightstalkers in Blade: Trinity much to Snipes’ dismay.
The movie version of Hannibal King was played by box office poison, Ryan Reynolds. The Hannibal King of Blade: Trinity is a former vampire so as not to step on Blade’s toes too much. Goyer also introduced the character of Abigail Whistler who was played by box office poison, Jessica Biel. The movie’s casting director was really tempting fate casting those two in the same movie! Talk about a movie that was doomed to fail right from the start.
When Snipes realized he would be sharing the screen with sidekicks, he did not take the news well. Kris Kristofferson, who played Balde’s sidekick in the first two movies wasn’t happy about it either. But, Snipes was really pissed. He began acting erratically on the set. Snipes spent as much time as possible in his trailer and reportedly would only answer to the name “Blade”. Eventually, he had a showdown with Goyer and the director told his star that if he was unhappy, he should quit. That didn’t go over well.
On the director’s commentary for the movie, Goyer says that in one scene, they had to use CGI to make it look like Snipes opened his eyes because the actor refused to follow direction and do it himself. It’s the Hollywood equivalent of taking your ball and going home without breaking your contract.
But before we come down too hard on Snipes, let’s not forget that Goyer wrote and directed this turd of a movie. With Snipes marginalized, Blade: Trinity was Goyer’s baby. And it was not something to be proud of. The previous Blade movies, were far from critical darlings. But if you enjoyed action-horror hybrids, they were a cut above other movies in the genre. Blade: Trinity, was several cuts below that. Unless you are one of the two people who thinks Ryan Reynolds is the funniest man alive (Ryan Reynolds being the other one), then Blade III is almost unwatchable.
When the movie flopped, it killed interest in future Blade movies. Snipes sued New Line and Goyer claiming that he wasn’t paid the full amount of his salary and that his involvement in the movie had been reduced to accommodate Reynolds and Biel. There was speculation that Goyer was interested in spinning off a Nightstalkers series that would free him from having to continue working with Snipes. But the failure of Blade: Trinity killed that possibility as well.
It turns out Snipes had bigger worries than the future of his franchise. Two year later, the actor was charged with tax evasion. He ended up serving a three year prison sentence. Goyer went on to write every non-Marvel superhero movie, but his directing career took a major hit. Biel and Reynolds continued to struggle with their status as box office poison. Reynolds seemed like he might break out a couple of times, but nothing came of it. There was a short-lived Blade TV show on Spike TV, but the franchise has remained mostly dormant since then.
Of course with the Marvel resurgence, there has been talk of resurrecting Blade. Snipes very publically announced that he had been in talks with Marvel. Marvel seems content to go in a different direction if and when they chose to revisit the character.
Let’s break this down:
How many movies in the series? 3
How many of them were good? Critics will disagree with me, but I say 2
Health of the franchise before it died? Never a massive franchise, but healthy in relation to budget
Likelihood of a reboot? If Marvel can make a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, you have to think they will find a place for Blade somewhere. Maybe Netflix.
Any redeeming value? Patton Oswald has some great stories about Snipes’ dickish behavior.