The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding with both Phase Four and Phase Five on the horizon. One of the titles we're eagerly anticipating is the new Blade movie, starring Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali as the titular vampire hunter.
Here's what we know about the movie so far.
It promises to reinvent the Marvel Comics 'daywalker'
Although he wasn't Marvel's first black comic book character (that would be Black Panther), Blade made a significant impact on readers. He first appeared in the July 1973 issue of the comic book 'The Tomb of Dracula', landing right in the midst of a time of significant cultural upheaval. With America grappling with the Civil Rights movement and the Blaxploitation craze taking movies by storm (Shaft et al), Blade was uniquely positioned to take the medium of graphic novels by storm.
Also known as the 'daywalker', Blade is half-human, half-vampire. Created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, the character's abilities include martial arts, swordplay, superhuman stamina, and an ability to heal. These are the traits that Blade has inherited from his vampire enemies, but he's blessed with the advantage of being able to walk around in the sunlight – hence, 'daywalker'.
During his time, Blade (aka Erik Brooks) has been affiliated with various Marvel groups including the Avengers. There's a lot of history to distill in the upcoming Marvel movie – we wonder what elements of Blade's lore will be distilled into the storyline.
One of the most intriguing storylines involved him becoming an ally of Doctor Strange in the Nightstalkers comics, assisting in a battle against Dracula and the Darkholders. With Benedict Cumberbatch now firmly entrenched as the big-screen Sorcerer Supreme (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is coming in Marvel Phase Four), can we dare hope for an awesome cross-over movie?
By the time Mahershala Ali makes his debut as Blade in Marvel Phase Five, which one assumes is still some years away (especially given the current pandemic circumstances), we'll likely be prepping for a third Doctor Strange solo film. Maybe this will be the one where the characters join forces? Imagine that – shifting dimensions and slaughtering bloodsuckers in one movie. We're down for that.
The movie will be written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour, a New York playwright and scriber on HBO's acclaimed Watchmen series. Here's hoping that she will bring some radical ideas to the party.
It will be another showcase for Mahershala Ali's talents
He's the recipient of two Oscars, for Moonlight and Green Book, he's played comic book villain Cotton Mouth in TV's Daredevil and he's voiced Prowler, uncle of Miles Morales, in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There's no denying that Mahershala Ali has got both the acting chops and the comic book credentials to do justice to Blade.
For our money, it's hard to top his soul-stirring performance in Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. Ali takes a character who could so easily be stereotyped, drug pusher Juan, and transforms him into a wise character of paternal strength. In watching out for troubled young central character Chiron, Juan makes a strong impact on the narrative, despite only appearing in the first third of it. It's a testament to Ali's inherent charisma and gravitas that he claimed the Oscar despite not racking up many minutes of screen time.
The character of Blade also means a great deal to Ali himself. He recently told The Tight Rope podcast: “[My desire to play Blade was] married with being so inspired by Wesley Snipes’ work and what he had done. And how much had changed since his iteration of Blade, and how that had really sort of ushered in this era of Marvel and DC, sort of like comic book stuff." Ali continued:
"Since they were having conversations about bringing it back into being, I just wanted to be considered for it because I had definitely a connection, at least in my mind, to Wesley Snipes going back to high school. People use to joke and say that we looked alike and all this stuff. I just brought it up as someone who really wanted to take on that [Blade] role and tackle that.”
Ex-Blade Wesley Snipes has given his blessing
Talking of Wesley Snipes, who portrayed Blade to memorable effect in three non-MCU movies, he's given Ali the go-ahead. Snipes told Den of Geek: "We haven’t talked about characterizations or how he should play it or anything like that. I can’t imagine that call ever coming in. That would be really strange. But we did communicate about how much we appreciate each other’s work, and how I’m comfortable with saying, ‘Hey man, go rock it, baby. If you got it, do it.'" Snipes then elaborated:
"It ain’t gonna be easy... But if you got it, let’s go. I got your back 1,000 percent. Let’s go."
It's perhaps easy to underestimate Snipes' role in the evolution of comic book movies. In 1998, at the time of the first Blade movie's release, comic book cinema was not the all-consuming force we know it was today. In fact, just a year prior to Blade, the industry had been forced to suffer the ignominy of Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin.
Snipes, therefore, made history as a black comic book character in a Marvel big-screen adventure long before Black Panther reached our screens. Clad in his black trenchcoat with katana in hand and reserves of cocky attitude, Snipes' portrayal brought style and dignity to comic book movies in an era when they were distinctly lacking. He reprised the role in 2002's Blade 2, directed by Guillermo del Toro, and 2004's Blade: Trinity, co-starring Ryan Reynolds.
Kevin Feige has teased what to expect
More often than not, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is the one putting forward the ideas. However, during Comic-Con 2019 he told Fandango that it was Mahershala Ali's idea to reinvent the character and that he was the one who approached the studio. Feige explained:
"We have, for years, wanted to find a new way into Blade. We love that character. We love that world. Now with Dr. Strange, and the supernatural elements coming into the MCU, it felt like we could definitely start exploring that. Mahershala wanted to come in and meet with us. And when Mahershala wants to meet, you take the meeting. And I think he had just come off of his second Academy Award. And we were talking very polite and he was talking about what a fan he is, and then he just cut right to it, and was like 'Blade." And we were like, 'Yes.'"
It may be a critical chapter in Marvel Phase Five
Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains shrouded in mystery. We know that we can expect Black Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2 (assuming they aren't folded into Phase Four at the last minute), but there are important gaps to be filled in.
One can be fairly sure that Ali's debut as Blade will be an important factor as the MCU expands to take in new characters and teams. (This will also reportedly include a new-look Fantastic Four and X-Men.)
Can Ali put the ghost of Wesley Snipes to rest and emerge with a daywalker for a new generation? Let us know what you think @RegalMovies.