HEAT VISION

Why 'Blade' Doesn't Need to Be Rated-R

Don't be surprised if the price audiences pay for seeing the vampire hunter share scenes with Spider-Man and Captain America is that his edge won’t be quite as sharp.

The Daywalker is venturing back out of the shadows, with two-time Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali playing Blade in an upcoming project. The Comic-Con announcement came 15 years after audiences last saw the vampire hunter on the big screen, and much has changed in the landscape of superhero films since then. Blade (1998) gave Marvel the film presence that would set it up to rule cinemas in the 21st century. Although Stephen Norrington’s film didn’t present itself as a superhero movie, and few audience members knew the comic book history of Wesley Snipes’ character, it impacted the projects that were brought to screen both in terms of Marvel’s library and the influx of action-horror movies. Two sequels and 21 years removed from that film, the introduction of Blade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe raises several questions about how the character, known for his R-rated blood-letting and choice words among his film fans, will fit alongside a multitude of costumed heroes. The answer may lie within some of Blade’s most recent comic appearances.

While it was easy to imagine the character fitting in with the now-defunct, and seeming no longer canon, Marvel Netflix series, the sword-wielding vampire set loose in a world of family friendly PG-13 entertainment may be a strange brew. But if Phase 4 is an indication of Phase 5, which Blade will presumably be a part of, then strange brews seem to be the flavor of Marvel Studios’ post-Endgame menu. The biggest question facing Blade isn’t whether he’ll be sporting the black leather outfit similar to Wesley Snipes' or if he’ll go for the super-fly threads he sported back in his debut in The Tomb of Dracula No. 10 (1973). It’s whether or not Blade will be able to exist as an R-rated property within the MCU.

Despite the rarity with which Disney produces R-rated films, Bob Iger told The Hollywood Reporter last year  that there was a place for R-rated properties like Deadpool, “as long as we let the audiences know what's coming, we think we can manage that fine." So could Blade follow suit? Like Deadpool, Blade has often existed on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, and given the horror basis there’s no reason why Blade couldn’t provide fountains of blood and graphic vampire-slaying violence. But the precedent set by Deadpool and star Ryan Reynolds at 20th Century Fox makes a more compelling argument for an R-rating, given that it is more recent and more successful a business model than New Line’s Blade films nearly two decades old. Now this may be tough for some to hear, but there isn’t a Marvel character introduced within its primary line of books (not Marvel Max for example) that requires an R-rating in order to be adapted. R-rated superhero films are a great means for creators to stretch themselves and create a new energy within a crowded marketplace, but Blade has existed in comics for almost 50 years, and, again excepting the Marvel Max series, he’s done so without pushing the line above the upper crest of a PG-13.

As a horror fan, I’d love to see Blade emerge in the MCU with an R-rated fury, but as a comic book fan I understand that in this day and age it’s far more likely that we’ll see slain vampires bursting into flames, crumbling to dust and turning into green goop than leaving behind buckets of blood, limbs and viscera. Vampire mythos are built entirely around blood, but whether through Marvel Comics or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, pop culture has managed to get away with quite a bit of maturity on quite little blood. It’s similar to the case of Venom, in which some had the expectation that the film would be R-rated but the comics rarely supported the necessity of such a rating. It’s possible that Ali pushes for an R-rated film, given that this is his passion project and he certainly has the clout, but don’t be surprised if the price we pay for seeing Blade share scenes with Spider-Man and Captain America means that Blade’s edge won’t be quite as sharp. And make no mistake, Blade interacting with his fellow Marvel heroes is part of the ultimate goal here.

When it comes to predicting how Blade will fit in with the rest of the MCU, modern comics serve as the best example. Prior to the films, Blade mostly existed in his own corner. The Tomb of Dracula, while part of Marvel continuity, wasn’t a superhero book. And although Blade eventually shifted closer to the world of superheroes, notably in the 18-issue Nightstalkers (1992-94), which saw Blade fight supernatural threats on behalf of Doctor Strange, he still rarely mixed with Marvel’s marquee names. While Snipes’ films didn’t lead to Blade becoming as prominent as Wolverine unfortunately, the character was heavily influenced by those films though sales haven’t supported an ongoing series since 2007, despite fan demand being high. Instead, Blade staked out his territory within team books like Captain Britain and MI: 3, X-Men and Mighty Avengers in the Ronin guise. Over the past few months Marvel Comics, perhaps aware of the Comic-Con surprise, has been building Blade up to become a more integral part of its comics. He recently joined the Avengers, leading the charge in the War of the Vampires storyline that sees Dracula overthrown and several new vampire threats, including the imposing Shadow Colonel, make their debut. He was prominent in Marvel’s big 2019 event War of the Realms and will soon join Marvel’s new ongoing Strikeforce, which sees the vampire hunter join forces with Hellstrom, Monica Rambeau, Angela, Winter Soldier and Spider-Woman. Blade is currently living his best life and has never been more prominent within Marvel Comics.

It’s entirely plausible, given the horror emphasis of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, that we see Blade appear in the post-credit scene of that film, leading to his solo film. But I don’t expect Blade to be the same loner he was back when he made his first onscreen appearances. Ali is one of the biggest names Marvel Studios is adding to its roster, currently being rebuilt following the exit of longtime mainstays like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. With Marvel Comics introducing new vampire threats in its central book, making Blade an Avenger, and giving him a new team, Marvel Studios will have plenty of new mythos to pull from when it comes to giving Blade a place within the MCU. R-rating or not, the future for Blade couldn’t be brighter. Good thing he can take the sun.

  • Richard Newby
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