For this third instalment in the vampire-slaying franchise, scenarist David S. Goyer – whose commitment to Marvel Comics includes writing the David Hasselhoff TV movie Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD – steps up to replace Blade’s Stephen Norrington and Blade 2’s Guillermo del Toro as director. The formula is much the same, but repetition has worn it down – the established aspects seem rote, and the newer frills are a mixed blessing.
As in the earlier instalments, half-vampire hero Wesley Snipes is pitted against a more dangerous breed of undead while a vampire establishment hovers in the background. Here, in an effort to up the stakes, the main menace is not a new mutation like Blade’s Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) or Blade 2’s insect-mouthed Reapers but the progenitor of all vampirekind, called Dracula or Drake but having more in common with Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned than the character from ‘Bram Stoker’s fable’. This allows for bursts of self-referentiality, with a glimpse of the Marvel comic (Tomb of Dracula) where Blade made his four-colour debut and an odd, scenes-we’d-like-to-see bit as the hulking vampire prince wanders into a goth joke-shop and is appalled at the range of Dracula merchandise on display from vampire vibrators to Count Chocula breakfast serial.
A problem is that off-the-peg muscle man Dominic Purcell is the latest in a run of disappointing screen Draculas, from Dracula 2000’s Gerard Butler to Van Helsing’s Richard Roxburgh; in recent years, the only impressive Dracula has been the dancer Zhang Wei-Qiang in Guy Maddin’s Dracula Leaves From a Virgin’s Diary. Dracula ought to be Blade’s most formidable foe, and give him a tougher fight than the less-iconic villains he polished off in the earlier films, but Purcell – augmented by a lot of CGI for his dragon-face moments – is just a vacuum, too-easily bested in the finale.
The greatest entertainment value comes from indie pixie Parker Posey’s bizarre turn as a trashy vampire bitch, who is supposed to have ‘fangs in her vagina’ (no confirmation is forthcoming) and struts through like Sandra Bernhard in Hudson Hawk trying every possible acting style in the hope of getting some effect. For the most part, she’s terrible – but at least she’s interestingly terrible, and fits with a script that includes vampire pomeranians and unusually inventive insults (Hannibal calls ex-lover Danica ‘thundercunt’). Just as Dracula is constantly upstaged by minions, Snipes’s glum, dour, tattooed and unlikeable hero is done no favours by the teaming with Jessica Biel’s bare-midriff Buffy clone and Ryan Reynolds’ funky-talking Hannibal King. A long-standing Marvel also-ran, former vampire Hannibal popped in and out of Tomb of Dracula, Doctor Strange (where the kill-all-the-vampires-in-the-world stortyline originates) and Nightstalkers and here gets more expository dialogue than everyone else combined.
The most pertinent line comes when he quizzes Blade about what he intends to do if vampires become extinct and gets only a blank look. The actual ending ducks the issue by not confirming whether the plague has wiped out all of Blade’s enemies and having him ride off like the Punisher on a war which never ends. Even if there are one or two vampires left around, it might be an idea to call it a night now.
Originally published in Sight & Sound
Postscript: I suspect the problem with this casting was that the earlier Blade movies had featured actors who could (and have) played Dracula – Udo Kier, Thomas Kretschmann – so this one had to come up with a different take, but we got an Australian muscle guy bigged up by the script as the most dangerous man on Earth but upstaged by almost everyone in the film (especially Parker Posey, who really goes for the throat in this one). At the time, critics were hard on Purcell – but it’s really the material that lets him down. He’s shown, especially on Legends of Tomorrow, that he can be a very funny, surprisingly affecting player if given interesting things to do. As for being the most miscast Dracula … YDD has a long way to run, and there are a lot more terrible Draculas to come.