– Summary –
Director : Guillermo Del Toro
Cast : Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Pearlman, Danny John Jules, Leonor Valera, Norman Reedus, Thomas Kretschmann, Luke Goss, Matt Schulze, Donnie Yen, Karel Roden.
Year of Release : 2002
Length : 117 minutes
Synopsis: A new breed of mutated vampires is unleashed, and Blade must team up with his arch-nemesis pure-blood vampires to defeat them.
Review : Blockbuster action epic from master-visualist Del Toro, Blade II is one of those rare examples of a sequel being as good as, if not better than, the original.
Stylish and frenetic, tinged with the mysterious horror elements Del Toro is renowned for, Blade II sees our valiant half-vampire/half-human hero having to team up with those he normally hunts, the vampires, to try defeating a new breed of mutated vampires that threaten all their existences. Guillermo Del Toro comes to the Blade franchise as a completely different kind of director to Stephen Norrington, more visual and stylistic, less action oriented in the way Norrington conveyed things with the original film.
That said, Del Toro stepped up to the plate in a big way, bringing his macabre visual style to bear on the franchise and it’s a delight to watch. The action, the camerawork, all radiate a love of the genre that’s both pleasing and effortless.
Wesley Snipes returns as daywalker Blade, able to exist in both the darkness and the light thanks to his now missing associate, Whistler, again played by Kris Kristofferson. We pick up the action a few years after the events of the original film, and we find Blade in Prague, hunting down his missing friend. While on mission, he is asked to help the regular, normal vampires to defeat the Reapers, as the new mutated breed are known. Initially reluctant to help assist his sworn enemies, he eventually recants due to the fact that the Reapers represent a newer, more powerful threat that could possibly rewrite the future of humanity, something Blade won’t stand for. He joins forces with a group of vampire mercenaries known as the Bloodpack, a team trained by the vampire elders to defeat Blade himself. By doing so, Blade appears to be going against everything he’s stood for all these years, however, the truce between Blade and the vampires is tenuous at best.
It’s fair to say that the writing team behind Blade, who returned for this venture, have upped the ante on the character in a big way. By removing the character from his known world, and the world in which we are familiar with him, and shoving him into a new, and dangerous mission, adds to the character development (such as it is) of the film. Although beset by some rather inane banter between Blade and the Bloodpack, Blade II manages to skirt the fantastical and descend into a somewhat believable thrill ride of blood, gorging violence and hyperkinetic action fest. The Repaers are a truly horrific invention, a great villain for Blade to encounter and a cool twist on the monster/horror film’s for which Del Toro has generated a legion of fans. His work in more recent fare such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy is indicative of his inventive, fluidic style of filmmaking, a sense of imagination that is both obscurely twisted and remarkably pure. We see the glimpses of this in Blade II, as Del Toro takes a fairly formulaic character, with little emotional weight behind him, and generates a thrilling, exciting film filled with bravura set-pieces and some remarkable special effects.
David S Goyer, the man who wrote both the original and this film, and who would go on to write and direct the third film in the franchise, seems to me to have a great handle on how the character should be portrayed, at least, dialogue-wise. Blade ain’t a great orator, he’s a man who talks with a weapon or his fists. Punch or shoot first, ask questions about it later. Goyers script gives a little humour to Blade, which is a carry-over from the first film, but amps up the black, terrifying darkness that blankets the proceedings like a warm breeze. Del Torro allows Blade to become more social, even giving him a connection outside that of Whistler, in Nyssa (Leonor Varela) the daughter of the chief vampire villain, Damaskinos, who has unleashed the Reaper virus upon the world to destroy almost every living (and unliving) thing. Nyssa’s connection to Blade, even though strained at best, is enough to humanise him somewhat and allow us to generate some sympahy, some empathy, towards him.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with the film is the inclusion of Norman Reedus, as Scud, Blade’s replacement for Whistler while the old man is held captive by the vampires. Reedus just isn’t cut out to act, and even though he has a starring role in perhaps one of the greatest cult films ever made in The Boondock Saints, his performance here is howlingly awful. The man simply lacks a screen presence alongside even the lesser performers here. It’s the biggest flaw, and perhaps the one reason I can’t give this film full marks.
Snipes, again, is superb as the powerfully resilient daywalker: he roars through the film in a blur of fists, digitally enhanced body-double animation, gunfire and body blows His final battle with the lead Reaper, Nomak, is a superhuman affair that I never get sick of watching. It’s cement-cracking, ceiling splitting, thunderously cool battle action, with the fate of the world at stake. Snipes doesn’t expand his acting repertoire here, it must be said, and I doubt people ever expected him to. He’s almost a walking cliché, his dialogue pretty much a series of one-liners and gruff, machismo-ridden fluff designed to sound cool as a mobile ringtone. But he carries it off, his conviction within the character allowing us the ability to overlook the one-dimensionality of the man to focus instead on the broader, overarching issues.
For me, this is one of Guillermo Del Toro’s more interesting films, and a much more impressive work than, say his earlier stuff like Mimic (vastly underrated, but still very odd) and The Devil’s Backbone (which I found to be excellent, if a little puzzling) for a complete adventure within the opening and closing credits. The back-story of Blade has been told in film 1, so the action can kick in immediately, which it does. Del Toro has little patience for the subtler moments of the film’s storyline, and instead seems to want to fire on ahead, all pistons cranking, to the denouement that is coming with the sacrificial moment of truth when sunlight, anathema to vampires, falls upon one of them. I mentioned earlier that I felt that Blade II was in many ways a superior film to it’s immediate ancestor. I stand by that statement in that the action is more fluid, the storyline is more grungy, darker and more vital, almost as if you can see the pulse of the film beating just beneath the surface. There’s a raw quality to the film, even aside from it’s obvious technical wizardry, that generates a more sinister, more angsty tone belying the comic-book DNA that wafts throughout every so often. It’s a brutal film, told with finesse and a style that’s simply staggeringly beautiful to watch.
Blade II lacks nothing for the action movie fan. It’s soundtrack will remove the paint from your neighbours walls, twist your bowels into a knot and spit you out of your mind with a giant hole in the middle. The action is frenetic, barely pausing for breath, and the cast are all (with the exception of Reedus) more than up for the challenge of bringing Blade and his world to life. Blade II is exciting, action packed stuff.