SDCC 2019: Marvel to reboot ‘Blade’ franchise with Mahershala Ali


Following tradition, Marvel Studios offered several tantalizing details about the fourth phase of its cinematic universe at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. The production house’s most surprising announcement is that it’s rebooting the “Blade” franchise with two-time Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali in the lead role. According to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, Ali got the job after arranging a meeting with him right after winning his second Oscar in February.

As of this writing, Marvel has not clarified whether Ali will topline a new “Blade” movie franchise or TV series. However, as the studio gave details on its film and television output through the end of 2021, the project probably won’t see release until 2022 at the earliest.

Ali previously worked with Marvel Studios on the first season of Netflix’s “Luke Cage.” On the show, he played gangster and nightclub owner Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes. He also voiced Uncle Aaron in 2018’S “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

The Origin of Blade

Marvel’s decision to produce a new “Blade” project represents the studio coming full circle.

After years of legal battles and false starts, the company decided to produce films featuring its iconic library of characters directly. Thus, Marvel Comics founded its own film division in 1996.

At the time, Marvel’s move was quite risky as in the late ‘90s superheroes film weren’t very popular. Warner Bros.’ Tim Burton-produced “Batman” series was in the process of winding down while attempts to build new franchises around “The Phantom,” “Steel,” and “Judge Dredd” failed miserably. Besides, the corporation was then in the process of emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Undeterred, the publisher sought to co-produce a series of cross-media adaptations by partnering with the big studios.

First up, Marvel partnered with New Line Cinema to bring British vampire hunter Blade to theaters. As opposed to his cinematic counterpart, the comic book iteration of the character was an unremarkable supporting player in series headlined by Dracula or Ghost Rider.

Director Stephen Norrington and screenwriter David Goyer reconceived the property as an R-rated, gritty horror-thriller that incorporated superhero tropes. Additionally, the filmmakers cast action star Wesley Snipes as Blade, reimaged as a stoic American martial arts expert. The film proved to be an unexpected hit, grossing $131 million against a $45 million budget.

The Birth of the MCU

Fox agreed to produce an “X-Men” movie after seeing “Blade’s” box office success. Like “Blade,” 2000’s “X-Men” eschewed the bright colors and exuberance of the comics in favor of a muted color palette and grounded tone. The Hugh Jackman-led film became a bigger hit than “Blade,” grossing $296 million against a $75 million budget.

Buoyed by those early successes, Marvel was able to make film adaptations of “Daredevil,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Spider-Man.” In 2005, Marvel secured $525 million in financing from Merrill Lynch. With its new cash infusion, the studio chose to make “Iron Man” its first solo production two years later.  Released in 2008, the $140 million budget “Iron Man” became a commercial juggernaut that made $585 million at the box office.

In tandem with Christopher Nolan’s rebooted “Batman” franchise, “Iron Man” helped codify
superheroes as the most successful sub-genre of the modern era.

In 2009, Disney acquired Marvel Studios for $4 billion and began work developing its subsidiaries properties into a deeply interconnected film franchise. With the financial and marketing support of the House of Mouse, “Marvel’s The Avengers” grossed $1.5 billion and proved the viability of the “cinematic universe” production model.

Today, Marvel movies have burst more than $22 billion worldwide and have inspired the production of a host of (mostly failed) cinematic universes from other studios.

Rusty and Dull

While the first “Blade” helped Marvel become a major Hollywood player, the years haven’t been kind to the franchise. In 2002, New Line Cinema released “Blade II” to solid reviews and a respectable box office tally of $155 million. However, the property went off the rails with the production of 2004’s “Blade Trinity.”

According to supporting player Patton Oswalt, the film had significant production problems stemming from conflicts between Snipes and director David Goyer. As a result, the once icy and hyper-focused Blade comes off as distracted and unengaged in the film. Furthermore, “Trinity” suffered from directing much of its focus to setting up a spin-off starring Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel.

Upon its release, “Blade: Trinity” became both the worst reviewed and lowest-grossing film in the franchise. In 2006, Goyer attempted to reboot the franchise as a best-forgotten TV series starring rapper Sticky Fingaz. Since then, the property has been dormant, even after Marvel acquired the film rights to the franchise in 2011. In 2018, Snipes said he was in negotiations with the studio to reprise his most iconic role, but that obviously won’t be happening.

Following the “Blade” revival announcement, Kevin Fiege gave an interview where he graciously noted, “there’d be no ‘Blade’ without Wesley.” He also said Ali would “destroy” in the role of the Daywalker.