When Blade hit theaters in 1998, the story of a daywalker hunting vampires in the dark underbelly of Los Angeles captured many imaginations and, as it would turn out, set the stage for the Marvel Cinematic Universe a full 10 years before Iron Man flew into theaters and kicked off one of the biggest movie franchises of all time.
So, how did Blade - a movie that many are still surprised to find out is even based on a comic - provide a template for the MCU? It all comes down to some bold cinematic decisions made by director Stephen Norrington, star Wesley Snipes, and screenwriter David S. Goyer. The fact that it's not clear that it's based on a comic upon first inspection sets it apart from the comic book movies that came before and set a tone of fantastical realism that the MCU would come to embrace.
From well-constructed and high-energy fight sequences to a well-balanced blend of humor and grit to the way it sets the stage for its sequels, it's hard not to appreciate how the action-horror film laid the groundwork for the cinematic juggernaut a decade before Phase 1 ever began.
Unlike so many superhero movies before, and admittedly after, Blade doesn't spend half (or more) of its runtime explaining the daywalker's background and upbringing. Instead, it uses a few minutes of opening screen time to show how he came to be - his mother was bitten by a vampire while in labor and he was born as a human-vampire hybrid - and then the movie cuts 30 years into the future as an adult Blade goes to town, dispatching vampires at a rave in Los Angeles. Whatever else there is to learn about the character is told in small bits of dialogue.
While the MCU has admittedly told a lot of origin stories, they've also known when to pull back and just get fans into the action. This is why, when it comes to the MCU's version of Spider-Man, fans didn't have to trudge through yet another scene of Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider or another dramatization of Uncle Ben's demise. He was already a friendly neighborhood web-swinger doing his best to keep his bit of New York safe.
Blade was introduced in 1973 by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan and served as a supporting character in other heroes' adventures for over two decades before getting his own short-lived solo title in the mid-'90s. Blade was never part of Marvel's main lineup, and he definitely wasn't a household name before the film, which catapulted the character into the spotlight.
When it came time to create the cohesive MCU, the decision to turn to Iron Man to lead the franchise left many fans scratching their heads. While Iron Man had long had his own solo title, he was firmly part of Marvel's B-squad. The same could be said for Thor, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the entirety of the Guardians of the Galaxy. However, through superb storytelling and compelling on-screen portrayals, they've all become every bit as ingrained in the public consciousness as Captain America or Spider-Man.
There is a delicate balancing act to Marvel's storytelling when it comes to telling big, explosive, fantastical stories that still remain grounded in reality and feel like they could be taking place in a world audiences recognize. Unlike Batman's Gotham City, with its Tim Burton-influenced art deco pastiche, or Superman's Metropolis, most MCU movies take place in New York or Washington, DC. They exist in places we know.
This all started with Blade, which manages to seamlessly blend the complex mythology of vampire society with realistic settings and storytelling. Blade hunts vampires, but he does it in the streets of modern day Los Angeles, making it feel as if we could all walk down the wrong alley one night and stumble across the daywalker dispatching a bloodsucker.
While Blade and his nemesis, Deacon Frost, both appear as characters in Marvel Comics, Blade's mentor, Abraham Whistler, is an invention of the film's screenwriter, David S. Goyer. However, Whistler made his screen debut three years before the film came out when Marvel used Goyer's character in an episode of Spider-Man: The Animated Series.
When it comes to the MCU, the filmmakers are equally unconstrained by remaining dutifully faithful to comic book lore. The Avengers' Phil Coulson, for example, was created specifically for the early-phase Marvel films, while Thanos's motivation for using the Infinity Gauntlet was completely revamped for the movies. Looking through the films, fans can find any number of characters and events that, while divergent from their source material, help the films tell a more compelling story.