Mahershala Ali has been announced as the MCU's Blade, despite appearing in the franchise previously - but he's not the first actor to do so. Marvel's panel at San Diego Comic Con 2019 was packed with reveals and surprises, as Kevin Feige laid out his vision for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While some of the announcements were widely expected in advance of the panel, such as the Black Widow and The Eternals movies, others took fans by surprise. With attendees still reeling from Natalie Portman taking on the Mighty Thor guise in Thor: Love & Thunder and verbal confirmation of a Fantastic Four movie, Marvel had one last bombshell in store: Mahershala Ali would be playing Blade.
Blade was one of the earlier Marvel characters to taste success on the big screen, with Wesley Snipes portraying the vampire hunter in a 1998 movie and two further sequels. Due to the darker and bloodier tone of the Blade comics, however, it was thought that the character may never make the transition over to the more family-friendly MCU. As such, Mahershala Ali's casting as Blade for Marvel's Phase 4 came as a hugely welcome surprise to fans, but this isn't Ali's first rodeo in the franchise.
Ali had a main role in the Netflix MCU series, Luke Cage, portraying season 1 villain, Cottonmouth, and this creates a paradox of sorts. Although the enormity of the MCU's output means that each project doesn't always feel connected to the wider canon, and inconsistencies sometimes emerge because of this, fans know that all the titles released under the Marvel Studios banner are meant to exist within the same universe and, therefore, casting an actor in two separate roles feels somewhat counter-intuitive. However, Ali is not the first actor to appear within the MCU in more the one capacity.
Alfre Woodard also featured in Luke Cage, playing Mariah Dillard, the cousin of Cottonmouth. Woodard enjoyed a significant supporting role as Dillard, taking inspiration from the Black Mariah comic book character, and made her Luke Cage debut in 2016 but, in that same year, the actress also had a small role in Captain America: Civil War. Playing the live-action version of the comics' Miriam Sharpe, Woodard was the grieving mother who confronted Tony Stark after losing her son in the Battle of Sokovia, spurring Iron-Man on to support the Sokovia Accords.
Likewise, English actor, Laura Haddock, is best known for playing Star Lord's mother in both Guardians of the Galaxy movies. However, Haddock briefly appeared in the very first Captain America film as a girl asking for an autograph. This role was later retconned, with the fangirl being identified as Quill's grandmother. Another instance of an actor going on to play a descendant of their original MCU character exists in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where Kenneth Choi appeared as Principal Morita, having already played Howling Commando, Jim Morita, in Captain America: The First Avenger.
While Haddock and Choi's double duty has been explained within the MCU's canon, Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard's dual roles remain unaddressed and this is perhaps an indication of how Marvel Studios currently views its Netflix output. Following the advent of Disney Plus, every Marvel series on Netflix was axed, and even before this massacre, the shows had only a superficial connection to the wider MCU. Ali's casting as Blade, despite previously appearing as Cottonmouth, perhaps suggests that Marvel Studios has a detached view of its Netflix series. Or maybe after 11 years, it's become too difficult to find an actor who hasn't already appeared in a Marvel movie.
After the Blade announcement, many fans will likely be glad that this is the case. Marvel's choice of actor for the part has been roundly praised since the SDCC reveal, and to avoid hiring Ali simply because he featured in Luke Cage would've prevented a fantastic casting choice for a relatively minor reason. With that said, casting an actor in two MCU roles does detract somewhat from the franchise's sense of being interconnected and may damage the shared universe ethos moving forward, requiring increased suspension of disbelief from viewers to buy that a single actor can be both a Harlem criminal and a vampire hunter.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021