14. Blade/Eric Brooks (Wesley Snipes, Blade, 1998; Blade II, 2002; Blade Trinity, 2004)
As a relatively minor character in the comics, Blade seemed like an odd choice for a character to base Marvel’s first film in nearly a decade, considering the staples of Marvel (Spider-Man, the X-Men, etc) were still yet to hit the silver screen.
Still, it did make some amount of sense, as since the character dealt with vampires the film could be used as more of a horror/monster movie rather than a superhero movie (which people had slight misgivings over considering it was so recently after Batman and Robin).
As minor as the character may be, the movie and Snipes’s portrayal really put the character on the map and made him popular.
The first movie was quite good. Although I mentioned that they could have chosen a more horror/monster movie route, it definitely feels like a comic book superhero movie, thanks to the fast pace and story structure.
As for Blade himself, Snipes does a great job playing a stoic badass who doesn’t speak that much but makes it count when he does. This was a departure from the much more talkative and arrogant Blade of the comics, but it’s a great cinematic choice. He is cool and collected, and always is prepared and has contingency plans which as seen to satisfying effect in the films. The fact that he (despite not having any other vampire weaknesses) still has a blood lust that is being suppressed with increasingly-less-effective formula also makes the character more compelling and gives him a bit of a “potential time bomb” edge.
And they didn’t forget about the human elements of the character, either, which are mostly on display with his relationship with Whistler. We really see and feel the relationship between Blade and can see how much his paternal figure means to him, and we feel for Blade when Whistler “dies.” The relationship with the female lead in the first movie is also interesting, as the relationship between her and Blade remains platonic. There is some chemistry between them, but they’re only working together, they don’t fall for each other or really even mention the possibility. At the end of the film, we can feel his pain as he gives up the potential to become fully human because he knows there are people out there who need saving from vampires and his unique skill set makes him the man for the job.
Blade II is an even better film, very well directed by Guillermo Del Toro. The character of Blade continues to be very satisfying, especially in the way some of his contingency plans and his tendency for being “one step ahead” of other characters (best exemplified when Scud thinks he’s surprising Blade by revealing he’s a traitor and that the bomb was a dud, but Blade already figured this out and replaced it with a real bomb, which he satisfyingly uses to blow Scud up). He’s forced to work with a team of vampires who, until the Reaper threat showed itself, had actually been trained and were planning to take down Blade himself, creating some good tension. Blade makes sure to come prepared, however, and we’re continually impressed with how efficient and calculating he is.
The character doesn’t have a huge amount of depth or anything, but we also get more character insight and a pretty good arc in the second film, as we see Blade have to come to terms with his previously black-and-white view of “all vampires must die.” We see him considering his viewpoints as Nyssa raises the argument that she was born a vampire and can’t help it, and we see Blade struggle with some new conflicting feelings, which culminates as he refuses Nomack’s offer to join him since the two of them both want vampires dead.
And then we get to the third film…which, in classic superhero trilogy fashion, is an enormous let down. Actually, “let down” isn’t strong enough – it’s a terrible movie, and very hard to sit through. Blade himself loses all of his charisma, and it seems like Snipes is here only to collect a paycheck. He doesn’t seem like an awesome badass anymore, he seems like a tired older guy who’s sick of all this vampire stuff and just wants people to leave him alone and get off his lawn. He spouts off a few terrible one liners. He has zero chemistry with his two sidekicks, he seems to regard them as nuisances (Reynolds much more so than Biel) and never even really has an arc where he learns to appreciate or accept them, or any arc, really. The worst part, though, is the fact that in the early parts of the film, Whistler dies (which in and of itself is a bit redundant, seeing as how he already “died” in the first film) and Blade’s reaction isn’t much. This is a cheap device used because they remembered the genuine emotion at Whistler’s “death” in the first movie so they recreate it, for real this time. Blade’s relationship with Whistler was the most humanizing aspect of the character, and his reaction to his father figure’s death in this movie is nothing even remotely close to the feelings we felt in the first film. And then throughout the rest of the movie, he barely thinks or talks about Whistler at all, despite the fact that Jessica Biel’s character is Whistler’s daughter. Couldn’t the two of them had some quiet moment where they talk to each other about Whistler and how much he meant to both of them? Nope, can’t waste time on a scene that isn’t people shooting vampires that’s set to techno music.
As I mentioned in the Maguire analysis, there are some characters that I can overlook the bad films they appeared in, but I don’t know, something about Blade Trinity and the way Snipes was totally checked out really did kind of ruin some of the mystique and coolness of the character. I mean, come on, after the credits ended, they showed text on screen that literally just said “Word.” WORD? WORD? You seriously just threw “Word” up on screen after the credits…because the film featured a cool African-American protagonist? What? If this film was written by someone different than from the first two films, I would probably be willing to overlook it, but this one was also written by Goyer (who also stepped into the director’s chair for this one, a big mistake) so I have to assume this was the ending he wanted all along and take that into consideration.
I’m not punishing Blade in terms of his overall ranking because of Trinity, but I will punish him slightly by making him the highest rated member of the “Great” tier instead of the last member of the “Excellent” tier.
Which leads us to…
The Excellent Tier
This is the penultimate tier. The top seven are in the “Elite” tier, but these next six are right up next to them.
13. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, 2011)
Seeing as we never really got to see too much of Charles Xavier as a young man in other mediums (I’m sure we saw it a little at some point in the comics, but I don’t remember seeing any issues with a young Xavier in them myself) this character was largely new, and had a very difficult role in the film – they had to create an essentially new character who would be believable turning into a character we’re familiar with in 40 years, while also creating essentially a new character with his own traits as well. Obviously, Charles can’t act the same way 60-year old Professor X did, people behave differently when they’re in their 20s than they do in the 60s, but we still need glimpses and to believe that he COULD become the man we’re familiar with.
Given that task, the filmmakers did a great job. When we first see him as an adult, Charles is a little bit of a party guy, but not excessively so. His intelligence and knowledge is put on full display as he uses his intelligence to try to pick up girls, a great way to incorporate elements of the character we know while still letting us know that this is a version that is younger and more immature. We also see him using his mind reading powers only to the extent of “guessing” her favorite drink – that’s maybe a bit unethical, further letting us know he isn’t fully mature, but we also get some sense of morals as a less ethical telepath could obviously use his powers well beyond that extent.
Since Xavier’s defining trait is his intelligence, the filmmakers could have gone the easy route of showing young Charles as a nerd or an outcast. They wisely chose not to go this route, as he’s still incredibly intelligent but also respected, and seems to be quite popular at Oxford.
Throughout the film, McAvoy plays Xavier expertly as a very likable guy with lots of natural charisma, committed to his morals and wise but still with a lot of maturing to do. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that this is the younger version of the Professor X we’re all familiar with.
The most important thing about the movie and the character, of course, is his interaction with Fassbender’s Erik. While I thought that having them introduced and then separated all within the span of one film might be a bit rushed (or at least, have the film take place over a longer period of time), McAvoy and Fassbender sell the relationship completely. They reaffirm that they are friends, but the movie makes sure to show you and doesn’t just rely on telling (like, say, the relationship between Tony and Rhodes in Iron Man 2). They nail all the big emotional moments, like when Charles is going into his mind to find the suppressed memories, but also nail the small ones as well – the scenes where they are just hanging out and talking, the more whimsical ones where they are out and about collecting members of their team.
I was surprised that the film ended by having Erik become Magneto and leaving and then having Charles become paralyzed, as we saw the two still working as partners when they visited Jean Grey in the X3 flashback, and Xavier also was shown walking in Wolverine. I had no idea until then that they were purposefully ignoring the continuities of the two bad movies like Superman Returns did. (I didn’t remember the Cerebro dialogue that made this film’s depiction an inconsistency, and I assumed the Stryker we saw here was the father of the one we know.) The other mistakes may have been errors or plot holes, but there is no way they forgot about the fact that X3 showed them as still working together and Xavier walking. It was a deliberate choice. And I kinda liked it. Why let the continuities of two bad films get you down? Just ignore them, it made for an ending that was (despite being a bit rushed) more climactic and we get to see the natural results of what we expected.
12. V (Hugo Weaving, V for Vendetta, 2005)
Housekeeping note: Is V really anything resembling a superhero, or should I have not considered him one and left him off this list? It’s definitely up for debate in the graphic novel, but I think he pretty clearly fits the criteria of this list in the movie. He’s a character with artificially enhanced physical and mental capabilities from a lab experiment, who wears a costume and has a codename to disguise his identity. So that alone, I think, qualifies him for either superhero or supervillain status. Regarding which of those two categories he fits into, in the comic book version it’s left up for the reader to decide for themselves if he’s a hero or a villain, and the movie version clearly has him as a protagonist and the people he fights against are clearly “bad guys.” So being as there are two votes and one of them is “Hero” and the other vote is “Abstain,” Hero wins and V gets entry onto this list.
There is a lot that can be said about V for Vendetta and how it compares as a film against the graphic novel. A lot has been changed – most primarily, the fight between fascism and anarchy is more or less changed into being a fight between extreme neo-conservatism versus modern liberalism. The leader of this fascist dictatorship, Adam Susan/Sutler is changed from being a fascinating and sympathetic man who thinks he’s doing the right thing into a pretty stereotypical comic book movie villain.
But this analysis isn’t about those nuances – it’s about V as character. And to be sure, V is dramatically softened. He’s given a kind hearted and romantic edge that was missing from the graphic novel version. The comic book V is absolutely brutal, stopping at nothing to eliminate everything that’s in the path of his goals, and his human side is barely felt. With the movie version, however, we absolutely feel V as a character, and recognize that he is a human underneath it all, and feel his motivations and have sympathy for him.
Is the movie version better? No, I wouldn’t dare to say that. The comic version V fulfills his own role, being an ambiguous being who dies while letting the audience decide whether or not the character was a hero or just a costumed vigilante who went too far – and while, yes, the movie version may have went too far in making V sympathetic in the eyes of the movie-going audience by having him be much more noble and a protector of innocents and more "power to the people" instead of pure anarchist, the character is still quite compelling. But the version where we can see his human side, although its different from the comics, I found to be quite compelling and tragic in many ways. I'm not saying I think the ruthless cold hearted comic version should have been changed to be more sympathetic, I just think there's room for both.
While I understand that Moore purists wanted to see a much less sympathetic and true V on the silver screen, I still think the complaints were mostly from comic book purists and that the character of V himself was excellent onscreen despite all the changes.
Most of all, I enjoyed the hell out of Hugo Weaving’s portrayal. I’m sure Moore purists are angry that the elements of his death and its aftermath (and the nature of the government he’s rebelling against) aren’t exactly the same as the comics and will will elicit some rage, but nonetheless, I felt that this movie was great despite its deviances, and V himself is portrayed masterfully and well deserved of a spot in the “excellent” tier.