Directed by: Guillermo del Toro || Produced by: Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Patrick Palmer, Avi Arad
Screenplay by: David S. Goyer || Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Norman Reedus, Luke Goss, Thomas Kretschmann, Matt Schulze, Danny John-Jules, Donnie Yen, Karel Roden, Marit Velle Kile, Darren Crawford, Tony Curran, Santiago Segura
Music by: Marco Beltrami || Cinematography: Gabriel Beristain || Edited by: Peter Amundson || Country: United States || Language: English, Czech, Romanian
Running Time: 117 minutes
The original Blade (1998), written by David S. Goyer and directed by Stephen Norrington, is one of my favorite films and one of the first truly “adult” motion-pictures I ever watched. Though technically considered a “comic-book film” given its source material, the original R-rated vampire action flick was more of a dark, ultra-violent noir-thriller that resembled little of its comic inspirations nor any modern day superhero movie. Its sequel, also written by Goyer and directed by Mexican filmmaker and Gothic extraordinaire, Guillermo del Toro, recalls the greatest elements of its predecessor (e.g. emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, Wesley Snipes’ cool demeanor, buckets of gore), but showcases a more pulpy, colorful aesthetic reminiscent of typical comic book adaptions (e.g. Watchmen , V for Vendetta ) and trades late ’90’s techno music for early 2000’s hip hop.
For the most part, these “upgrades” work, not only distinguishing Blade II from the original movie but also playing to del Toro’s aesthetic strengths as a director. Blade II’s hip hop soundtrack is a natural fit with the material, given its numerous gangster homages, its African-American lead, and del Toro’s eye for style. The film’s more colorful palette aides this style, as does its impressive, arguably superior (to Blade ’98) fight choreography, courtesy of guest star Donnie Yen.
Perhaps the movie’s greatest improvement over its predecessor is its villainy. I was never a fan of Stephen Dorff as Blade’s main antagonist, the upstart Deacon Frost who sought to summon the “Blood God” La Magra, who made for a rather forgettable final boss fight. This time around, Luke Goss stars as Jared Nomak, patient zero of a mysterious new strain of the common vampirism virus, dubbed the Reaper strain; these new, mutated vampires devour both humans and normal vampires alike, and their ferocious, parasitic design remains one of del Toro’s most memorable achievements.
Though the Blade films have never been the most emotional or thematically complex action pictures on the market, both films lend slight, if obscured depth to their title character. Snipe’s eponymous protagonist is always kept at arms length from his audience, as well as most of the characters in each film. He’s a classical dark, brooding archetype, the strong, silent man-of-few-words badass who articulates most of his characterization through endless screen presence and unforgettable action moves. Still, both in the original film and this sequel, Blade is granted purposeful, conscientious, momentary humanization through either family ties, his genetic legacy, or his subtle but heartfelt relationship with his mentor/father-figure, Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson).
Bringing back the latter was a smart move, as Kristofferson offers Snipes invaluable humanity and a sardonic, grizzled soundboard off which Snipes can comment and react. What’s more, Snipes has a few moments of sexual tension with costar Leonor Varela; the Chilean actress visibly struggles with either a Western accent or the English language in general, but her physical acting is personable and she has good chemistry with both Snipes, Norman Reedus, Ron Perlman, and the rest of her vampire cohorts. Her relationship with Blade never evolves into a full-blown romance, which is appropriate, but their underplayed, almost flirtatious interactions lend depth to both characters.
Much of Blade II unfolds like a zombie-movie rather than a straightforward vampire-thriller, but Goyer and del Toro don’t forget to place the ultimate villainy on the deceptive, two-faced vampire overlords before all is said and one. In many ways, Blade II feels like an upgraded remix of the original, doubling down on aspects that worked the first time around (the aforementioned close-quarters-combat, gore, and title character), but lessens or removes elements that didn’t work as well (the lackluster villain, bad CGI, etc.). The few elements that feel novel are del Toro’s color scheme, the hip hop soundtrack, and the lack of Stephen Norrington’s iconic neo-noir lighting. Though I miss the latter, del Toro’s visuals, action, and tone are so strong that I’m fine with his interpretation of Blade and his world, and moreover, it prevents his sequel from being a mere polished retread of the original.
The missteps of the film are, once again, elements of Goyer’s screenwriting, namely his dialogue, and a few digital FX that stuck around despite del Toro’s penchant for practical FX. A few cornball lines stand out from the cool ones, and several shots of CGI “stunt doubles” contaminate otherwise impeccable, intense action sequences. Why the fuck would you sign off on those terrible CG FX? What’s their point?
In any case, Blade II is a welcome chapter in the manly action subgenre of vampire movies. Most people associate the creatures of the night with female-centric or metrosexual offerings such as True Blood (2008-2014), Vampire Diaries (2009-present), and Twilight (2008-2013), but thanks to Wesley Snipes and Guillermo del Toro, every now and then we get a welcome injection of testosterone into the source material. Thanks to a few aesthetic updates replicated in later R-rated graphic novel adaptations, and plentiful respect for the violent DNA of the ominous, brooding original, Blade II is a winner of a sequel.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Though its very nature precludes it a wide audience, Guillermo del Toro’s love for Gothic pop culture and Wesley Snipes’ career-defining role make for a powerful action filmmaking combination, and produce one of the few superior genre sequels made strictly for adults. If you dislike hip hop, violent fight scenes, and vampires, there’s not much to recommend here, but for fans of any of those three things, or hardcore action in general, Blade II is a notable, unique piece of cinema.
— However… the film continues to struggle with questionable CGI and hokey lines, like its predecessor, if at a lesser frequency. The digital characterizations of Snipes and a few co-stars look especially bad.
? It has been said, “Be proud of your enemy and enjoy his success.” In that case, I should thank you.