Wesley Snipes: Return to Action

Wesley Snipes will return to the big screen in The Expendables 3. It’s an exciting move that many fans have been waiting for. Since dominating the screen as a proven and highly capable action actor in the 1990’s, Snipes racked up an impressive CV and created a long list of memorable characters.

He also successfully transcended genres throughout his career, dabbling in everything from action to comedy and drama and working on critically acclaimed, culturally significant titles under renowned filmmakers like Spike Lee, Walter Hill, Tony Scott and Abel Ferrara. It’s a bridge many have crossed but less have managed successfully, maintaining credibility as an action performer while still dedicating themselves fully to the dramatic side. In fact, we’re now seeing this more often as even the most physically skilled action stars are expected to deliver the dramatic goods but, at a time this was easily overlooked in favour of cheesy one liners and tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, Snipes used his dramatic background and committed fully to the role. Go back and watch his early work and I believe you’ll see a grittier, darker side compared to most at the time.

The Expendables 3 will see his much awaited comeback, both to the big screen and appearing alongside his action star contemporaries. Here’s hoping we see more great work from him soon after.

I took this opportunity to visit some of my favourite work from his days, broadly, on the action platform. Whether he was fighting, shooting, slicing and dicing or ordering a gang hit, these were films which showed an edgier, testosterone-fuelled side. So, as great as they are, I deliberately haven’t included Jungle Fever or White Men Can’t Jump in here. In short, they’re simply not action orientated. Let’s be clear: Snipes has way more than 10 solid action films to his name but, in the interests of a faithful, deliberated top 10, I’ve had to dissect my personal favourites and those I feel show him at his best. There are others I could have included with more space but here it goes...

10. Rising Sun (1993)

Snipes starred alongside Sean Connery, Harvey Keitel and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in this gritty Michael Crichton adaptation. In the story, two cops investigate a murder which may be tied to high-powered Japanese businessman with connections to the Yakuza. As a drama-heavy crime story, Snipes got the chance to handle both the physical and dramatic side of a renowned literary work, whilst sharing top billing with Connery. The East meets West theme is always a bonus!

9. Drop Zone (1994)

In this underrated early 90’s action spectacle, Snipes’ US Marshal pursues a fearless team of skydivers whose skills have taken them to the top echelons of high tech crime. On top of being an all round cool, stylish popcorn movie, the film features truly impressive stunt skydiving sequences which still look incredible today.

8. Brooklyn’s Finest (2009)

It was great to see Snipes take on a meaty supporting role in Training Day director Antoine Fuqua’s genre homecoming. The story revolves around three Brooklyn cops with very different outlooks whose lives intertwine and eventually collide one night on the job. Snipes shared the screen with the likes of Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke in his first theatrical release since Blade: Trinity.

7. Undisputed (2002)

When the world's heavyweight champ, played by Ving Rhames, is sent to prison, everything points to an inevitable showdown with the penitentiary's undefeated fighter, played by Snipes. With both the prison officials and connected inmates calling in favours to organise a showdown event, the champ must literally fight for his freedom. Walter Hill’s tightly woven sports drama was a great showcase for both leads and went on to inspire Isaac Florentine’s hugely popular sequels, starring Scott Adkins. Both Snipes and Rhames excel in their oles.

6. Demolition Man (1993)

Snipes played a psychopathic crime lord opposite Sylvester Stallone’s fearless cop who are cryogenically frozen and return in a future where crime has been eradicated and authorities just aren’t capable of responding. In this new age, Stallone’s old-school methods are the only solution to the crime problem. Demolition Man was a major sci-fi action hit and the success of the film even spawned a video game and a short adaptation from DC Comics.

5. King of New York (1990)

In Abel Ferrara’s gothic crime drama, Christopher Walken leads the ensemble cast as drug kingpin Frank White who is released from prison and vows to use his enterprise for charitable means. However, this won’t stop the cops who are hell-bent on bringing him down. Snipes plays a supporting role as Detective Flanigan, one of the tough cops gunning for the boss. The film remains a hugely underrated crime classic and plays to Ferrara’s predictably raw, uncompromising style.

4. Passenger 57 (1992)

One of Snipes absolute best straight-up action films of the 1990’s. Snipes plays John Cutter, an undercover security operative whose plane is hijacked by a dangerous criminal and his crew. As if it needed explaining, it’s up to Cutter to save the plane, the passengers and bring the bad guys to justice. The film works well thanks to a tight script, classic genre formula, strong performances, great action and one liners. This one really stamped Snipes on the map as a new action star to watch. So remember: "Always bet on black!"

3. New Jack City (1991)

Mario Van Peebles directed and co-starred in this urban crime classic. The story is structured around the crack cocaine war in the USA which was prominent as a contemporary news story. In a powerhouse lead performance, Snipes plays Nino Brown, a rising drug dealer and crime lord who faces strong opposition from the cops and, in particular, Ice-T’s tough undercover agent. The film remains an acclaimed landmark of the urban crime genre which doesn’t exploit its subject matter.

2. Blade (1998)

Snipes’ biggest franchise to date also features a character he truly made his own - a human-vampire hybrid who protects humans from vampires. The original is loosely based on the Marvel Comics character, but more importantly, took a totally straight and serious delivery and didn’t adhere to the spoofy, lighter tone many were expecting. The film is violent, action packed (with excellent choreo) and Snipes is shown in, quite possibly, his most badass form at that time, obliterating hordes of vampires left, right and centre. A modern genre classic.

1. Blade II (2002)

While I remain a huge fan of the original, I do prefer this sequel. Complimenting the tone, style and set up of the first film, Guillermo del Toro’s darker tendencies knock Blade II out of the park as he brings the narrative and key ingredients of the first film into an even more horrific setting. This became the most commercially successful Blade film of the whole trilogy and surpassed expectation as a sequel which was at least as good as the first, if not better. What’s more, Snipes was reaffirmed as a fighting force in this titular role – with every single element heightened. Sadly the third film, in my view, really dropped the ball, but nothing can detract from the first two movies which remain unsurpassed as decidedly adult comic adaptations and cornerstones of the genre.

So there you have it!

Finally, go ahead and revisit the The Expendables 3 trailer below and let’s hope there’s plenty more Snipes-style asskicking to follow.