In keeping with the serious tone, Wesley Snipes was hired to play Blade. At this point, the actor had lost some of his early 90s sheen from the days of Passenger 57, Demolition Man and White Men Can’t Jump, but there was enough star power there to immediately stake a claim that this was not going to be an experiment in camp. That message might not have been as clear if the original choice for Blade, LL Cool J, had gotten called up instead. As demonstrated by Steel in 1997 – wherein Shaquille O’Neal portrayed the armour-wearing, Superman-inspired hero – casting someone with true acting chops and presence is key to a superhero movie’s success.
It also helped that Snipes was a comic book fan. In the years leading up to, and after Blade, Snipes was intent on starring in a Black Panther movie, a character who will be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe next year. Perhaps Snipes appreciated the regality and the almost Shakespearean quality of the Black Panther’s story, but in Blade, Snipes could be a Western hero. Like The Man With No Name, he rides into town to clean up the rogues, the killers and the criminals, who in the world of Blade are a secret cabal of vampires who move humans around like pawns.
As Blade, Snipes was unflappable and stoic, but far from being some kind of vampire Terminator. Blade isn’t robotic, he’s driven. As vampire henchman Quinn observes, “Now this here is a man who takes his job just a little too seriously.” But there’s humor, too, like when Blade tortures the horribly obese vampire librarian Pearl for information with a UV light, or when he robs one of the vampire “Familiars” with a louche remark about funding his one-man war on vampirism through robbery because, “We’re not exactly the March of Dimes.” Then later, when Frost and his goons attack Whistler, Snipes lets the pain of losing his father figure play out in his eyes. He practically says nothing in the whole scene, and while that could be seen as limitation on the part of Snipes’ ability, you can see Blade’s internal struggle with the grief he’s feeling on his face. It’s subtle, but it’s there.